Someone wise once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” So it is with school fundraising. If you run the same campaigns year after year, you’ll likely see the same outcomes. But if you try something new, you just might find success — and even have some fun!
We sat down with two Veracross customers to learn how they’re fueling their development campaigns with creativity. Keep reading for three creative ideas to try as you plan your next fundraiser.
Host an Alumni Fundraising Challenge
Alumni participation is vital to the success of your school’s fundraising campaigns. In fact, the Annual Giving Network reports that “for most educational institutions, the majority of donors will be alumni.” It’s especially important to recruit young, or recent, alumni to your fundraising efforts. By introducing the importance of giving early on, you’ll establish a long-term relationship with these donors.
The Taft School (Watertown, CT) puts a creative spin on their young alumni challenge by partnering with their biggest athletic rival. Each year, they host the Taft-Hotchkiss Challenge ahead of their annual rival athletics day. Alumni from the fourteen most recent graduating classes are invited to participate in the challenge by donating a small amount. The goal is to have the highest percentage of participating alumni. While raising a higher amount of money than their rival is certainly a bonus, the primary objective is to engage young alums at each school.
“We want to get them in the habit of raising money and giving, even if it’s not a lot of money,” says Director of Advancement Services Kelly Gereski. “Later on, we can ask them to increase the amount they give.”
The annual challenge is held a week ahead of the rival schools’ game day. In recent years, Taft has organized events in cities with a large population of alumni. This helps foster community and gets everyone excited about the challenge.
Hosting an alumni challenge or local event is a great way to engage your graduates! If you want to entice more alumni to join your cause, make it personal. Incorporate photos, videos, and stories of recent graduates in your campaign marketing to catch their attention and remind them of their time at your school.
Add a Twist to Your Next Giving Day
Most schools are already familiar with the concept of a Giving Day, a 24-hour campaign that raises money for a specific institutional goal. Take your next Giving Day up a notch with a fun contest, incentive, or reward.
Christine Pierce, Associate Director of Annual Giving at International School of Boston, has seen success with different incentives based on donation amount or grade-level participation. Here are a few examples:
- Donors who contribute $150 are entered into a raffle for school swag
- Donors who contribute $250 are entered into a raffle for a professional family photo
- Donors who contribute $1,000 win a champagne toast with the Head of School
- Grade with the highest donor participation wins a pizza party or ice cream truck
Both approaches have helped increase donor participation. Donors get excited to contribute when they know they’re doing something that’s good for the school and for the students.
Pierce adds that if a donor wins a prize, it’s important to make it clear why they won. Celebrate their charitable contribution and tie everything back to the end result.
Establish a Giving Society
Some schools solicit annual donations through a giving society. At Taft, The Founders Society recognizes donors who have contributed significantly to the Taft Fund. This is an ongoing fundraiser that supports the school’s operating budget to pay for library books, athletic equipment, art supplies, and more.
The Founders Society has several tiers based on an individual’s charitable contributions. Young alumni may join the Rhino Circle with a $250+ or $500+ donation, while an individual who donates over $100,000 is a member of the Horace D. Taft Circle.
This year, the Advancement Office experimented with a new fundraising campaign. The goal was to encourage more alumni to join the Founders Society and to also encourage current members to increase their rank by donating a higher amount of money. They offered recognition-based prizes for certain tiers, like a meet and greet with the new Head of School.
Other schools offer rewards like a personalized brick or dedicated bench on campus for donating significant amounts of money.
Prioritize Relationships Over Transactions
Asking for money is a delicate dance — especially in a school environment where relationships mean everything. Whatever your campaign, make sure to lead with intention and listen to your community.
At the International School of Boston, for example, parents expressed concern over the environmental effects of direct mail. Pierce and her team took this feedback to heart and focused on digital solicitations over print. While they were initially concerned that this change could impact campaign engagement, the email data showed otherwise. Parents were pleased that the school listened to their concerns and happily donated to the cause.
When you focus on your donor relationships over the donation transactions, you’ll build long-term relationships that will benefit the school for many years to come. For more fundraising ideas, catch up on our Brainstorming Workshop: New Year, New Campaigns.