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3 Keys to Successful School Leadership: Engage the Donor (3 of 3)

Posted by Grace Lee on May 28, 2013 9:57:00 AM

Engage the Donor is the third episode in the three-part series entitled, The 3 Keys to Successful School Leadership. At the most successful schools, fundraising isn't about selling stuff and managing events. Consultative relationship development with an ROI focus is most common among the organizations that raise the big bucks, with the board and administration collaborating to cultivate generosity throughout the school community.

Engage the Donor features fundraising techniques designed to cultivate deeper relationships that encourage donors to make the organization a top giving priority. Gain a better understanding of how to structure the annual fund calendar and the campaign leadership to maximize the results. Communicate with the school board and faculty about their important contribution to fundraising for the school.



What is your attitude toward money?

As Jennifer McCrea pointed out in her article, "The Secret Sauce to Fundraising Effectively," fundamental to raising money is practicing a healthy attitude. Everyone at some point in time struggles with a distorted relationship regarding money. Consider engaging in a self-reflective process to understand yourself and how you relate. For example, what is your frame of mind when the conversation turns to money? Do you feel fear or excitement? Does your mood shift to a place of darkness or freedom? Does money motivate you to be courageous or drain your energy? The answers to these questions are important in your pursuit of donor engagement.

Money Circle Arrows

In your connections with families, you will build greater trust, confidence,and engagement if money is not at the center of your relationships, but instead you make a shared, compelling vision the top priority.

The “ask” should not be about what the donor can do for you or how can they help you, but, rather, how can you both work together, side-by-side, to leave a legacy. Your investment proposal should invite the donor to join with you to stand together in a shared conviction that in unity your combined resources can change the school. If you change a school, you change the world!

The polarities of donor engagement illustrate the conflicting priorities or poles that pull against each other. Each of these polarities must be navigated when growing the donor engagement program in your school. 

Polarity: Centralized Fundraising vs. Ownership Fundraising

How much of the donor engagement process and fundraising activites will be centralized in one department of the school versus allowing each organization (e.g., athletic booster club, arts, missions, each sport, etc.) to conduct their own fundraising efforts?

Maximum engagement is the goal!

Polarity: Consolidated Ask vs. Independent Ask

Should donors be offered an investment proposal than encompasses the whole school year with one total number or is it better to use a few "micro" asks? The answer depends on the individual. Your goal is to build a consultative relationship--using your donor database and personal connection you can determine the best approach for each donor. This requires a level of intimacy that is hard to accomplish with a spreadsheet or paper-based solution for tracking donor information. 

Schools that consistently raise more money also consistently work their database using a tool like Renweb's Donor Connect. Keeping this data current is a top priority, and includes background information, aspirations and goals, connections, etc. 

Polarity: Staff Driven vs. Board Driven

Strengths-based leadership is preferred, putting each person in a role and with responsibilities that put them in the best situation to succeed. If you want a board of trustees that is active in the fundraising effort, then implement a strategic process for recruiting board members who match the traits desired in your profile. The same is true with administrative leadership.

What is the board of trustees' role? Every board member should be expected to give to each campaign at a signficant level. Every employee of the school should as well. It's a tough sell to convince donors to be generous toward the vision and plans when you don't have the buy-in of your board, faculty and staff. This expectation can be included in the orientation and training for all such roles. An example annual fund letter to faculty is available in another blog post.

Polarity: Consumer Message vs. Mission Message

With shared vision at the center of your relationships and messages, you will find it easier to build relationships and raise more money. Selling cookie dough, wrapping paper, fruit, etc., creates a consumer mentality where there is an exchange of goods or services but a weak commitment to the greater good. Developing a culture of generosity to help families resist the temptation of selfishness and to enjoy the blessings of giving 

Polarity: Operating vs. Enhancement Spending

Too many private schools and higher ed institutions use their annual fund to complete their operating budget needs for the year. I say "too many" because the health indicators for a school demonstrate that for long-term viability, your organization should be able to cover operating expenses for the year using the tuition and fees collected for that period of service. Recognizing that is usually not the case, however, you have to decide how to balance between raising money for operating and for enhancing the program that you offer. "WOW Factors" are a valuable way to buzz your school's grapevine to spark word-of-mouth marketing, so enhancements should be part of the plan.

Polarity: Annual vs. Capital

Your annual fund is important because it establishes a relationship based on shared vision and exanding generosity. It also gives you a baseline and foundation upon which to build a capital campaign. The ask for the capital campaign, on average, will be about 10x the average annual fund gift. An Annual Fund Calendar template is available in another blog post here on

Addtional Resources

To help you continue to build trust, engagement, and a successful story, consider using the following resources:

 Philanthropy Inc

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