Fundraising in schools. A tough gig. In ten years, schools have increased fundraising income by 157 per cent. Is this good or bad? It’s moving in the right direction, but is there more that can be done and improved upon?
Considering the very warm and committed target market has generally benefited from the product that is being promoted, why is this not a larger growth figure?
It is a lot to do with the engagement donors have with school and the perception that schools and the wider world have of fundraising and fundraisers. Most see fundraising staff as people focused on throwing “tea parties” and involved with the “fluffy” side of school, spending lots of money. All very different to the serious work of academia.
“Most see fundraising staff as people focused on throwing tea parties and involved with the ‘fluffy’ side of school.”
But although it needs to be fun, fundraising is not all about tea parties. It’s a difficult and intricate task to encourage people to give money away that they do not directly benefit from.
Fundraisers are professional and skilled people working hard for their organisations. Events are part of the mix, but it’s not all fundraisers work on. The core bread and butter is developing relationships with donors and stewarding them with precise detail and warm relationship building right to the top of the donor pyramid.
However, leaders want money and results yesterday. But if they really understood relationship building they would know that this does not happen overnight, like marriage. You have to work at it – and invest time – for the best results.
As I left fundraising over 11 years ago after more than a decade at a number of charities, it was really starting to become professional. But it feels to me in schools, we are back to square one.
“Schools are realising that they cannot just rely on fees and other sources of finance are crucial.”
Fundraising in schools does still feel a little old fashioned. The way heads are not clued up on development and rely on development staff to guide them reminds me of the situation with marketing and admissions 10 years ago.
Heads are more clued up on this now than they used to be but development is still a late bloomer, because schools are realising that they cannot just rely on fees and other sources of finance are crucial.
Not so in the US where fundraising is so normal and many have teams of nearly 20 across development and fundraising because it is the bread and butter of these schools. There are donor boards everywhere and references to giving throughout the school. Academic staff are more comfortable with this than recruitment because it is an integral part of the school culture.
“Development teams are up to the task of engaging people with bespoke experiences, as long as they have the freedom to do so.”
Fundraising needs to be more fun and donors want engagement now more than ever after a year of Covid.
It has to be more than careers, campaigns, appeals, mentoring, dinners, events and reunions. These are all part of it, but people need bespoke experiences to engage them. This is not easy, but as professionals, development teams are creative (from my experience) and are up to the task, as long as we have the opportunities to break free from the shackles of the old fashioned approach.
Each donor is an individual and we need to engage them as such with their school and their school experiences. We pride ourselves on this for our pupils at school so why not when they leave and engage with us as alumni? We need to be open, transparent, accessible and engaging with everything we do as well as ensure we give our time, listen and create opportunities for giving.
“Teaching staff need to realise that development and fundraising are staffed by professionals.”
Making fundraising fun and ensuring an individual experience is key. To do this, development staff have to work hard and it’s a 365 day a year job, like marketing and admissions. Why? Because it’s part of the commercial element of the school. Teaching staff need to realise that development and fundraising are staffed by professionals, as are marketing and admissions.
Ensuring teaching staff are aware that it is an integral part of the culture of our schools is fundamental so it becomes the norm. Academic staff need to know that it’s more than just tea parties and fluff.