5 Essential Fundraising Tips For Your School

6 min read
December 14, 2017

Fundraising Tips For Your School

As a small business owner, there have been a number of skills I've developed along the way that don't necessarily fall under the vertical of our marketing business function.  I've developed basic human resource skills, earned a degree in accounting, I fashion myself a therapist at times, and am even proud of my janitorial prowess.   However the most indispensable skill, and one I hope to perfect one day, is that of fundraising.  


Expert fundraisers are the most coveted for any college board of directors because they're hard to identify and "good at fundraising" is never a line on a resume (and if it is, buyer beware!) Accomplished fundraiser's reputations precede them.  If you're fortunate to land one on your board, do your best to keep them around.  The truth however is, you're probably reading this because you don't have that all-star.  That's ok because while fundraising comes more natural to some, for others it's a learned ability.  You can whip your rag-tag board into shape by teaching the principles of raising funds, and reinforcing them over and over again.  It doesn't matter if you're a large institution, local college, private or public high school or university, the principals are the same.  Here are the 5 essential fundraising tips for your School or University.

Lose the Dead Weight

Its important that your board of directors is driven and focused on the goals.  You can make anyone adept at fundraising if they're present, passionate and willing to work hard to advance the school forward.  On almost every board, there's always a few members that are clearly disengaged.  If a board member is just in it for the accolades and resume, its best to "cycle" them off.  No need to be rude.  Set a meeting and explain to them that you're looking to be more aggressive in your goals and we are going to be more demanding of our board members.  Right now, this may not be the best fit but maybe later you can revisit it.  People are overwhelmed with responsibility, if they haven't been engaged, there's a reason why.  You'll be surprised, they are often be happy that you're providing them the out.  No one likes to get fired however, so be sure to be compassionate and present it as a mutual decision.  

Dispell the Myths

You're probably here because you're not getting the most out of your school's board of directors.  The truth is, its probably not because they're not good people or bad at what they do but rather because they're not comfortable doing so.  Many people are cynical about fundraising.  We're always inundated with fundraising campaigns and see them as begging. But the truth is, they're necessary to the educations of students.  Without these funds, that mission would be made much more difficult, if not impossible.  


Its important to impart to board members not to be shy about fundraising and instead have fun.  This is why retreats are very important times for fund development committees  Consider creating silly games or friendly competitions amongst board members to get them to shake off the awkwardness.  Create role play scenarios where board members can discuss real and potential encounters and how to overcome perceived obstacles.   By preparing your board members and having fun with it, they'll be able to dispel the many myths surrounding fund raising   

You Give Some, You Get Some

Its a good practice to sit with each member of your board at the very beginning of the fiscal calendar to set SMART Goals.  If you're a regular reader, you know I love SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time bound)

  • Specific -- Do set real numbers with real deadlines. Don't say, "I want more money."
  • Measurable -- Do make sure that you can track your goal. Don't hide behind buzzwords like "engagement" or "influence."
  • Attainable -- Do work toward a goal that is challenging but possible. Don't try to take over the world in one night.
  • Realistic -- Do be honest with yourself, because you know what you and your team are capable of. Don't forget any hurdles you may have to overcome.
  • Time-bound -- Do give yourself a deadline. Don't keep pushing towards a goal you might hit "some day."

Your goals should be based on a monetary pledge each board member promises to deliver on by the end of the year.  One common mistake schools make is expecting board members to simply write a check. Each director brings different value to the board.  Sometimes they may not have the financial capital but their network does.  By expecting every member to not only give a monetary amount but also get or fundraise though their network, it keeps everyone accountable and engaged in the process.  Those that can do both are true all-stars.  

He's Making A List, And Checking It Twice

Now that you have a goal, how do you get there?  You start out by making having directors make a prospect list.  As a best practice, start with the people who are closest to them.  Prospects are more likely tto give to a school because they have a personal relationship with someone.   Secondarily, lists should account for prospects who are stakeholders.  Alumni and family members of the school are great places to start.  They understand the mission and have passion, if not school spirit.


I go a step further and map resources.  Who can help me do what.  In Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point, he talks about three different archetypes of people: mavens, connectors, and salespeople.  Mavens are always the people in the know. For them, it’s all about the ideas and information.  Connectors are human social networks.  They are people hubs.  For them, currency is in who they know and formulating introductions.  Salespeople influence behavior.  They are your storytellers and masters of persuasion.


Once they've mapped out their resources, directors can create a prospect list based on the resources at their disposal.  While they might not know a particular lead personally, the connector might be able to formulate an introduction.  If the director is not the best networker, ask the maven to be their +1 at the next industry event.  If they're meeting with a promising prospect who can write a check, have the salesperson tag along and help them close.  


Show Me The Money

So they have a goal, they've got great prospects now what?  They have to make the "ask."  In marketing circles, we call that the call to action or CTA.  Going back to our SMART Goals, like Jeopordy, the ask must be in the form of an actual question. Not all asks need to or should be about money.  Its important to guide that prospect down the buyers journey.  Directors can introduce them to the school if they're not familiar by ASKING them to an event.  Once they understand the mission and the great work that's done with the funds raised, directors can go for the donation. 


Be specific.  This is a mistake rookie fundraisers make.  They assume by attributing a specific dollar value to the ask, the prospect may donate less than they can.  However, that does not matter if you have SMART goals.  Directors always have the option of revisiting them for another donation in the future and shows that you're intent on a goal, not just raising money for the sake of doing so.  Additionally, it encourages those that would give less to consider stretching their checkbook to meet the ask.  


Be definitive by asking a binary or yes/no question.  Directors should avoid minimizing statements like “at some point, would you consider…” or “If you can, I'd like it if you could...” These diminish the value in the ask and give the prospect a back door.  "Sure...at some point," or "I can't right now, but lets discuss later."  Make sure they answer with a yes or no.  


Lastly, don't convolute the ask.  When asking for money, don't also ask them to attend an event as well.  They may not be available but willing to write a check and you may miss out on both.  Again your SMART goals and resource map should drive your asks.  If this is someone you can rely on for a sizable donation, be sure not to overextend them by asking them to do too much.  Instead keep them happy, passionate and engaged with the mission of your school.  


Raising funds isn't for everyone but it can be a learned behavior.  By following these very simple tips you can whip that board of directors into shape in no time.  


Case Study on student engagement by 49%



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