Tours are the backbone of a great donor cultivation program for your school. Taking donors, and potential donors, on a tour of the school's campus showcases all of the things that are most important to the school: students, teachers, and facility.
Tours are important, but many schools struggle to figure out exactly how to use tours for maximum fundraising impact. In this article, we’re going to take a look at a simple plan for using tours to raise more money and engage more donors.
The Purpose of School Tours
The primary fundraising focus of school tours should be relationship building. Whether the person taking the tour is a current donor, a prospect who hasn’t given, a parent of a current student, or an alumni member, a tour is a fantastic way to deepen the relationship the person has with the school and with the fundraising team. Because relationship-building is so important to the school's development program, set the goal of having a member of the school's fundraising team spend at least a few minutes chatting one-on-one with everyone over the course of the tour.
Getting People Through the Doors
When it comes to tours, one of the biggest concerns that school fundraisers have is how to get enough people to come to the tour to make it worth their while to hold the event. Remember, though, that for most schools, having five or six people come for a development-focused tour on a regular basis would be a huge win. You don’t need 50 people to come in order for the tour to be a success.
One of the most important things you can do to ensure the school tours are full is to get others in the school’s network to come and to bring along friends and colleagues. Doing so will help you quickly grow the school’s fundraising network. Start with your school’s parents. Try to get as many of them as possible to attend a tour, and ask them to invite grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, etc. Ask each of your board members to help host a tour and to bring along a couple of colleagues or friends. Reach out to alumni and ask them to come on a tour, and to invite some of their classmates who they are still in touch with. Then, ask current donors to come and to bring along a friend.
In order to be successful, you will want to have tours on a regular basis, with each scheduled well in advance. This way, your staff can constantly be on the lookout for new prospects to attend. Many schools schedule tours every month—or every other month—and plan their tour schedule up to a full year in advance.
Your Tour Itinerary
The best school tours follow an agenda but are casual and flexible. Remember, the goal is to build relationships—if one of the attendees wants to visit his old locker, or spend extra time in the science lab, you should be prepared to do so.
I have found that the best tours last 60-90 minutes. I like to start my tours with an informal discussion talking about the mission and history of the school. This can take place in an office or conference room, or in an unused classroom, and is often accompanied by coffee or soft drinks, and snacks. Then, I lead the participants on a tour of the facilities, highlighting academics, sports, the sciences, student life, and anything that makes the school stand out. Then, we move back to a comfortable spot for a short wrap up discussion. If you’re doing the tour during the school day—and you should, if possible—be sure to spend time observing and meeting the students, faculty, and administrators, including the head of school or principal.
The Fortune is in the Follow Up
When it comes to fundraising tours, the fortune truly is in the follow-up. It is great to have lots of people come through the school for development tours, but if you’re not following up with those who attend, you are missing most of the value of the tours.
The best way to follow-up is with a short note thanking the person for coming through the school, sent within a day or two of the event. Mention in the note that you will be following up by phone to get the person’s thoughts and comments. Then, within 2-3 weeks of the tour, call each person who came to ask what they thought of the school and if they have any questions or ideas. These calls can be short but should be two-way conversations, not a monologue delivered by the development team. During these calls, try to figure out where the person’s interests lie within the school (English literature? STEM? The field hockey team?) to help guide your future fundraising efforts. After the call, continue to follow up with your tour attendees. Add them to your newsletter list, invite them to events, and move them towards an ask.
School tours can and should be an integral part of your institution’s fundraising program. Hold tours on a regular basis to build deeper, more meaningful relationships with prospects and current donors. Then, be sure to follow up with attendees to move them into the donor cultivation process.
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