A strong team = strong fundraising

Before you know it, it will be here again – the end of financial year fundraising season. Improve your teamwork and your results at the same time.

Education marketers and development officers have collaborated on school fundraising since the establishment of independent schools.

This article focuses most of our attention on enrolment marketing for one simple reason: when marketers keep their attention on driving enrolment, every school success metric flourishes.

From an administrative perspective, all other income sources run downstream from enrolment. When you have healthy enrolment numbers, not only is tuition revenue strong, but future enrolment numbers have a better chance as well, since alumni are more likely to send their children to their alma mater. Plus, your best donors tend to come from alumni.

From a messaging perspective, every campaign follows enrolment. If you were a company, enrolment would be your flagship product. Everything else is an ‘accessory’ or secondary purchase.

For example, if you have an outstandingly successful Religious Studies program, the Head of Religious Studies will probably want to turn your website into a ministry site with teachings and Bible study resources. While this is good, these resources are still a secondary option for those coming to your website.

The main reason people come to your website or other major marketing channels is to see if they want to enrol their child at your school. Everything else is an exciting extra that makes the idea of enrolling even more tempting.

However, even though you need to keep your primary strategy centred on enrolment, your fundraising team needs your help to make their end of year campaigns a success.

And truth be told, as a school Head, you need them too.

School fundraising makes good enrolment marketing possible

Funding is like a circle. It all starts when a student enrols, but eventually that student becomes an alumnus and a potential donor. This is why fundraising is sometimes considered a subdiscipline of marketing.

The enrolment cycle begins with a potential student, but your marketing strategy should not stop when they become a student. Your marketing should continue while they are students with the aim of creating student ambassadors. Then, as they graduate, your marketing goals should change to create education brand loyalty and eventually seek to convert them to donors.

Thus, school fundraising campaigns are simply the marketing ‘follow-through’ you need to keep alumni coming back and supporting their alma mater.

Two teams working together

Each year, your marketing and communication (marcom) team is probably flooded with design, layout and distribution requests from your school fundraising team. They need donation pages, emails and direct mail campaigns (among other things) created and launched to cultivate and solicit potential gifts.

Of course, the idea of having a fundraising team is nothing more than a pipedream for most independent schools. Having a marcom team is even a stretch. Most schools depend on their school fundraising department to craft and implement the overall fundraising strategy, and they rely on the marketing team to provide all the creative and technical resources to launch the fundraising campaigns.

As school Head you are often the entire fundraising department and your marcom ‘team’ is a 0.4FTE who services the entire school. Regardless of the size of your school and the resources you have available, the same rules apply; it’s just the scale that changes.

Marketing and fundraising are two separate teams with distinct primary objectives who must work together on multiple projects throughout the year. Here’s how to take your teamwork to the next level and improve your school fundraising.

  1. Stay close.

    As a school Head, you will work with a lot of people from your school throughout the year, but when you have your fundraising hat on, you need a much closer collaboration with your marcom team than usual.

    Fundraising professionals who come blustering into the marcom office with an urgent campaign that’s got to go out ASAP go over like a lead balloon with an already overstretched team.

    While the marcom team’s first reaction might be to tell you to take a chill pill and a number, they don’t, because you are the Head and sign off on their salaries, But you are more sensitive than that and you approach the situation differently.

    Fundraising professionals (aka the school Head wearing a fundraiser’s hat) often work according to a plan, but every now and then, a Board member arrives with a last-minute mandate. That puts a lot of pressure on fundraising, which turns into high pressure requests to the marcom team.

    The best solution for this is to stay close. Build relationships with your marcom team that are clearly with your fundraising hat on, not your regular (and more stylish) hat of the school Head.

    Invite your marcom team into overall strategy meetings so they can get a peek into what’s important for you, and vice versa. It will help them to facilitate requests if they understand your strategic objectives and the fundraising activities you are trying to implement.

    Good relationships become the grease that makes the system work well and improve your school fundraising.

  2. Think like a school marketer.
    The second way to make your teamwork stronger is to take off your Head’s hat and try to think like a marketer. This can be harder than it sounds.

    The majority of the messaging marketers send is cultivating. Most of the messaging fundraisers will send — particularly in May and June, just before the end of financial year — is soliciting or converting. This can make school marketers feel like the content is too pushy.

    But I encourage you to help them put aside their qualms and take the lead on the content development. To them, it may seem like you’re overstepping the bounds of social acceptability to ask for a gift, but you will have already laid the relational groundwork and have been cultivating these gifts through phone calls, personal emails and in-person conversations.

  3. Follow the rules of sales copy.
    Marketers love making your brand look beautiful, smart and cutting edge. However, fundraising messaging needs to be raw, authentic and heartfelt. It doesn’t always look beautiful.

    And it doesn’t have to look great. It needs to get great results.

    So think of your design and copy more like conversion or sales copy. Encourage your marcom team to stay away from fancy designs. Keep things personal as if the communication was coming from your friend instead of from a school.

    You can do this in many ways, but here are a few tips:
    – Keep your direct mail design focused on copy with large, easy-to-read fonts.
    – Break up paragraphs into smaller, one- to three-line blocks.
    – Don’t place intricate photos or graphics at the top of your emails. (When your friend sends you a message, do they put a logo or stock photo at the top?)
    – Address each donor by name in email and direct mail by merging their names into the copy.
    – Allow plenty of white space between paragraph blocks. This helps keep the eye moving deeper into the copy.

    In fact, it wouldn’t hurt for your marcom team to attend a fundraising seminar or training workshop with you. They can learn a little of the reasoning behind creative decisions you will make that might seem to run counter to a marketer’s brand sensibilities.

Teamwork means better school fundraising

The main thing you’ve got to understand is school marketing and fundraising are both team sports. Your marcom team can’t do it all on their own.

They need you.

And they need you to trust them to know what they’re doing and why. While fundraising might be a subdiscipline of marketing, it is a distinct job with a whole different set of skills and rules that apply.

Perhaps the best part of working together is that both fundraising and marcom will be rewarded with more money in their budgets as your fundraising efforts succeed.

No, wait. You’re the Head and you set the budget!


Insight applied

  • All income sources run downstream from enrolment.
  • From a messaging perspective, every campaign follows enrolment.
  • You must think differently when wearing your fundraiser’s hat.
  • School marketing and fundraising are both team sports.

Bart Caylor is President of Indianapolis-based Caylor Solutions. With a background in design and development with corporate, education and non-profit clients, Caylor now focuses his expertise on marketing for tertiary education and education associations.

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