Fundraising this past year during the COVID-19 pandemic was an unparalleled experience. For most school officials, it was a once-in-a-lifetime challenge they hope never to repeat. Now, with vaccines being administered and positive trends on the horizon, schools can rethink fundraising strategies.
As we continue to move out of the pandemic, you must consider many factors—including problems that are not related to the pandemic alone. Keeping these topics in mind will help your school practice sensitivity and understanding as you pursue new fundraising endeavors. These include:
- the impacts of the quarantine;
- the adjustment to past or present personal isolation;
- cultural reckoning with systemic racism and injustice;
- political unrest, polarization, and generational transitions; and
- an unpredictable economy.
Each of these deeply difficult and even traumatic events of the past year will impact every donor’s capability and willingness to give. Considering these, you may need to redefine your definition of a “major gift.”
Finally, consider where the donor’s passions and values align with your school’s needs.
More donors may be willing to engage in annual giving, with just a few others interested in capital gifts. An even smaller number of those donors may plan a transformational gift (possibly as a part of an estate planning process).
With these limitations in mind, you can adjust your approach using these five trends to help you engage with donors post-COVID-19.
Trend #1—Focus on your major givers from past campaigns—rather than soliciting new donors.
This trend really began with the recession of 2008, but was exacerbated by the pandemic and other events of 2020. You may notice parents “not giving like they used to,” especially based on alumni contributions.
This national trend reflects donor preferences to write large checks for specific charities, sometimes meaning your school isn’t a part of their giving plan anymore. Here are some ways to combat this trend.
- Host recognition ceremonies or displays to help encourage more major gifts—be sure to share your goal with your audience.
- Add a higher suggested giving level you haven’t identified before.
- Focus on how many people you can add to each level, by contacting people who gave in the lower level last year.
Trend #2—Renew your person-to-person evaluation strategy.
Remember that your donors may work in areas like tourism and the food industry—they have faced enormous difficulties during the pandemic. They may not have come through the year unscathed. To relate to these donors, prioritize other personal and financial strategies.
Are your records specific enough to provide this information? Probably not. Try to get this information through interviews and personal conversations. This will enable you to gauge your major donors in view of the changes they are experiencing.
These conversations build relationships and help you become more sensitive to hardships in your community—avoiding an awkward ask for more money.
Trend #3—Think outside the box.
We have heard of a North Carolina school leader, Phil Higginson, Associate Head of School for Philanthropy at Ravenscroft, who took pictures of plaques on the wall from previous years. He sent each donor a photo of their plaque, and started a conversation with each individual to reintroduce the idea of donating.
This level of creativity is required to talk with your donors. Further, donors will appreciate personal outreach, especially positive updates about what’s been occurring at the school.
Trend #4—Use your virtual community to your advantage.
Instead of fighting the pandemic-inspired move toward virtual outreach, embrace it—this will continue to be a popular way to stay in touch with your constituents. Though some people are tired of Zoom calls, webinars, virtual outreach, and online open houses, they have proven to be successful and necessary and are here to stay.
Online communications will continue to be useful as people become less “location-dependent,'' they might need to connect from out of town or without going into a building in person. Virtual meetings also offer the bonus of increasing accessibility. Parents who couldn’t attend events due to health needs, the lack of a babysitter, and various other obligations might now be able to become more involved with virtual options—increasing the number of potential donors.
Tune in to ask questions related to this Source article or other topics you've encountered lately.
Trend #5—Embrace the decline of special event fundraisers.
Special event fundraisers were losing popularity before the pandemic. This decline is continuing, partially due to the potential elitism associated with them.
What does a black-tie event say to a donor who can’t afford an extravagant evening, but does want to contribute to the school? Is a golf outing at a country club inclusive and aligned with your mission as a school?
Rather than spending time and effort on those events, focus on methods that don’t discourage potential donors and families from being involved.
As you pivot your gift-giving strategies, maintain the values of flexibility, consistency, intentionality, enthusiasm, and creativity. By staying focused on the beneficiaries of money raised—the students—your heart and intentions will guide you through each decision.
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