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School Fundraising: Centralized vs. Decentralized

Posted by Scott Barron on Mar 4, 2014 2:16:41 PM
Scott Barron


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I have yet to visit a campus that didn’t have some kind of conflict over centralized vs decentralized school fundraising. There isn't a right or wrong structure, but there are implications that your school will want to consider in determining how to balance this polarity that can cause real problems if not managed proactively:


  • Donor Database - In all of your connect events (building relationships with donors) and ask events (explicitly seeking financial investments), constantly build your database. Of course you want the correct addresses and spelling of names for your appreciation letters, but you’re gathering information to better understand and know each person. A higher level of intimacy is your goal for a deeper relationship. This is rooted in your genuine care about them and their goals. As you make this decision between centralized and decentralized control, it is vital that all that data feeds back into one accurate system for tracking.
  • Donor Cultivation Process - How are you building relationships with donors? Are you moving towards a deeper and deeper relationship? Ideally you will have three deep relationships with every donor. This is where your board can really be an asset. It’s a fragile connection if the only relationship your school has with a donor is between the donor and one person at the school, such as the chief administrator or the development director. If you have three relationships with your donors there are still two there for support even if one becomes strained or is lost. Deepening those three relationships allows you to sustain a connection over time. It becomes painful to separate when those roots go deep. If you’re going to have a decentralized approach, then train each team in the process for communicating with each other throughout the year.
  • Consultative Relationship - This point can't be emphasized enough. A consultative relationship means that you understand your donors’ priorities. Maybe the donor's father had a passion for coaching, so they have a desire to build an athletic field to name after him. Or maybe they have a child who is very interested in band, and they want to support a vision for expanding the arts. Know them! Appreciate the priorities and the emotions your donors feel about different areas of the school and lead them to connect those dots in their giving. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean that you’re having the donors’ priorities drive the priorities of the school, but you can create alignment.
  • Consultative Ask - Crafting an effective ask requires recognizing that, for major donors, 90% of their assets are generally not in cash. Be creative in your investment proposal by researching ways to give stock, property, etc. Ask in a way that will help them meet their goals, including tax avoidance.
  • Appreciation Expertise - When you’re thinking through centralized vs decentralized school fundraising, you need to keep in mind how that will affect your ability to express appreciation. Great fundraisers are experts at gratitude! The #1 reason that donors won’t give is because you didn’t ask, and the #1 reason donors won’t give again is because you didn’t express appreciation in a way that made them truly feel valued. If your school fundraising processes are decentralized, there’s a danger of not knowing who has given what to whom. Be very careful about communicating internally and ensuring that adequate thanks have been expressed--at least three times for each investment.

School fundraising through effective donor cultivation is hard work! It requires coordination to gather data, develop relationships, craft the asks, express appreciation, etc. When you accomplish great things through donor investments remember to tell donors, and tell them again! Remind them why these accomplishments meet their goals and accomplish the return that they were looking for by giving in the first place.

If you can show that their efforts are inspiring dreams in the lives of your students, you will connect with donors in ways you can’t even imagine!

Topics: Fundraising

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