School fundraising: At Sherborne, we have been growing our engagement since 1998 and, as of 2018, had close to 30 per cent of alumni supporting us. We now have over 50 per cent of alumni signed up to our social media platforms. We have, therefore, begun to crack the engagement element needed to fundraise.
Consequently, when asked to embark on our second capital campaign – for the redevelopment and extension of the sports centre – we felt ready to do so.
Like all capital school fundraising campaigns you need the essentials in place: a project that fits within the strategy of the school, a robust and dynamic case for support, a good team, a generous budget, and an understanding of the roles to be played by all those likely to be involved. And finally, in our case, an internal feasibility study to ensure the targets set were achievable given the Sherborne constituency. You can then set out on the journey of the quiet and public phases of the campaign.
The case for support
“The case” was presented through a combination of print, digital content and video to cater for all our markets, with the messaging varied slightly for the parent and alumni communities. The case was dynamic and colourful with clear plans for the sports centre and a breakdown of the budget, showing the split between fundraising and core funding, alongside compelling messages from the head and key volunteers about the importance of sport to the Sherborne community.
“The project must fit with the strategy of the school.”
The video was a short “one minute” explanation of the need for the sports centre, built around messaging from pupils and key staff and references to the success of the previous capital campaign for the music school five years earlier. We wanted donors to recognise the impact the music school has had on music within the school and persuade them that the new sports centre could have a parallel impact on sport at Sherborne.
We decided that we also needed to rebrand to give the campaign energy, and so the Sherborne School Foundation (our fundraising arm) became “Sherborne 360” to support all round excellent education.
Segmentation and research
It is crucial with a capital campaign to know who your target market is and, as importantly, who is not likely to support. We had a sports project, so we researched and segmented all the sports stars of the past among our alumni, together with current, enthusiastic sporting parents, and these became our key donor pool.
It is essential that once you have completed your segmentation and identified the donor pool, you gauge if your volunteer base, of which we had around 60, have the right connections to help with approaches. We found that our volunteers had excellent connections for close to 300 donors, so they made the initial approaches. This, in time, secured significant funding.
Meeting potential donors
As the campaign progressed it became clear that I, as the sole major gift fundraiser, needed to be “on the road” for four to six days of the week, seeing at least 200 donors per year. This activity was complemented by private dinners with the headmaster – at which we met around 80 donors over eight London based events – alongside regional gatherings for parents and alumni.
“As the sole major gift fundraiser, I needed to be ‘on the road’ for four to six days of the week, seeing at least 200 donors per year.”
My personal target expanded to close to 500 meetings in 18 months but – taken alongside the volunteers’ efforts – we managed to hold between 1,000 and 1,200 face-to-face meetings (being a combination of “discovery” and “ask” meetings). This allowed us to have a 94 per cent giving rate in the quiet phase.
Making it special for the donor
The final factor in the success of the school fundraising campaign was making it special for the donor. We did this by offering the donors the chance to nominate former coaching staff to have a room in the sports centre named after them. This was called the “Sherborne Legends” campaign. We also created the “22 Club” for all donors in the public phase who pledged £22.22 per month for three years, which by chance with gift aid grosses up to £1,000.
They will all receive a 22 Club t-shirt. And finally, as part of the public phase, we held a silent auction with over 60 lots comprising the old (now replaced) 1st XI and 1st XV honours boards from our Pavilion; this raised over £35,000 and gave past players the chance to own a part of Sherborne’s sporting history.
Each of these initiatives drew past and new donors into the campaign. More importantly, they gave each generation a chance to contribute regardless of their means. We saw an average of 50 per cent returning donors and 50 per cent new donors.
In recent months we have been able to involve the boys, staff and parents through a Giving Day. This was driven by a social media campaign. We included messaging from members of our catering team, lab technicians, grounds staff, past and current matrons and teaching staff designed to encourage each generation of alumni to do their bit for Giving Day. The boys took on athletic challenges, competing across the boarding houses and year groups, to encourage support from parents.
“The most rewarding part of the campaign will be successfully engaging with so many volunteers and new donors.”
Looking back… As I finish this article, we are in the final stages of the campaign and are closing in on our target. The most rewarding part of the campaign, though, will not be reaching the target but having successfully engaged with so many volunteers and new donors. We will have engaged over 1,000 donors in the campaign and many new volunteers because we made it relevant to them. It was also a wonderful opportunity to get our pupils and staff involved and ensure everyone had a part in making the project a reality.
This article first appeared in the latest edition of School Management Plus magazine, out now.