Understanding Your School’s Donor Universe

April 18, 2017 Joe Garecht

The fundraising process starts with your prospects. Your goal, as a school development program, is to identify which individuals, families, and businesses within your network are good prospects for fundraising, and then to cultivate those prospects before asking them to give.

School fundraising is unique in that most K-12 schools have a defined “donor universe.”  That is, most schools have a built-in network of potential donors that are fairly easy for your school to reach. The donor universe for most schools includes the following segments:


Your students’ parents are the most easily accessible prospects for your fundraising program.  Parents have almost daily contact with your school through their children, and are highly motivated to see your school succeed.  On the other hand, most of your parents will likely already be paying tuition and fees to your school, so getting them to become regular or major donors to your school will require an excellent case for support.

Grandparents and Other Family

Another key segment of your donor universe are the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other family members of your current students.  These prospects have a warm connection to your school, but aren’t as motivated to give as your students’ parents.  These prospects are most often reached through events, participatory fundraising and transactional methods like sales and raffles.  That being said, smart schools also look to this segment (and in particular, grandparents) to become mid-level and major donors.


Your former students are perhaps the best prospects for your school’s fundraising efforts.  Alumni know (and hopefully love) your school and generally want to ensure that you can keep providing a great education to future generations.  The trick for K-12 schools is keeping in touch with young alumni during their college and post-college education so that they still have a warm relationship with the school once they enter the workforce.

Local Businesses

Small businesses in your community can be a good source of sponsorship and fundraising dollars for your school.  Generally, local businesses that donate do so because they want a marketing avenue to reach current students, parents, family and alumni.  These businesses will most often donate through event sponsorships and other marketing / sponsorship opportunities.

Knowing Your Donor Universe is Important

It is very important that schools understand these four segments and how they apply to their own institution.  As we talk though your school’s fundraising plan, donor communications, board fundraising and more later this year as part of our ongoing fundraising series, you will need to develop specific strategies, case statements, and communications tactics to reach each of these donor segments.

Take some time to think through how each of these segments have traditionally impacted fundraising revenue at your school.  Also, determine whether any other types of donors have been regular contributors to your school’s development program.  You can use the Donor Treasure Map that is included with this guide below to help you figure out your school’s current donor universe.  Once you do, you’ll be ready for next month’s free webinar How to Write a Successful Fundraising Plan for Your School.



A Donor Treasure Map for Your School


Have each of your administrators, fundraisers, and board members fill out this treasure map, then combine the maps to make a master prospect list for your school.

The best prospects for our school in each group are:

Current Parents:

Current Grandparents & Extended Family:

Parents of Graduates:


Grandparents and Extended Family of Graduates:



Current Donors (for Upgraded Gifts):

Lapsed Donors:

Past Board Members, Staff Members and Administrators:

Friends of Current Board Members:

Local Businesses:

Foundations and Grant-making Institutions:

Donors We Should Ask for Referrals:

Volunteers We Should Ask for Referrals:

Parents We Should Ask for Referrals:



About the Author

Joe Garecht

Joe Garecht is a non-profit fundraising consultant, author, and speaker and the founder of Garecht Fundraising Associates and The Fundraising Authority. He has almost 20 years experience in fundraising as a development director, executive director, and consultant. As the executive director of Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools (BLOCS), Joe led the effort to raise $50 million in endowments for individual schools, raised $4 million yearly in scholarship funds, and modernized and professionalized the fundraising capabilities of over 175 parochial schools in the Philadelphia region. You can find Joe online at Garecht.com.

Follow on Twitter Visit Website More Content by Joe Garecht
Previous Article
Is Your School’s Marketing Driven by Data?
Is Your School’s Marketing Driven by Data?

View More
Social Media Policies: Results of a Nationwide Study
Social Media Policies: Results of a Nationwide Study

How does your school compare?


Contact us to learn more about Blackbaud K–12 solutions.

First Name
Last Name
Job Title
Thanks! We'll be in touch soon.
Error - something went wrong!