April 10, 2020
During this rapidly unfolding crisis, it's critical that development staff remain calm and focused on what development professionals and volunteers do best: building and sustaining relationships with donors and prospects. Your goal is to reassure your donors that your school is worthy of their trust and that their investment will serve to sustain your school in the short- and long-term.
1. Think One-On-One
It is increasingly apparent that social isolation has made all of us hungry for contact with our friends and neighbors. That's why spending time calling your donors to check in with them can be some of the most productive work that you can do right now.
- Involve all of your school leadership in these calls—ask Trustees to contact major donors while the School Head and development staff contact as many others as possible.
- Reassure your donors that your school is strong and continues to serve students; you care about how each member of the community is doing during this time; and you will support your community in any way that is appropriate.
- Conduct these conversations via video calls if possible.
One school we recently spoke with has called every single donor from this year, just to keep in close touch. This kind of personal contact reassures donors and can be an essential way to uncover families who might need the school’s support.
2. Be Mission-Centric in Your Communications
Your donors give to your school because they believe in your mission and they trust your faculty and staff to live out that mission in their everyday interactions with your students. Your one-on-one, email, and website communications should cite examples of how your school continues to be the school in which your donors believe.
- Show videos of remote classroom teaching.
- Record a Zoom, Google, or Teams interview with a faculty member who is an exemplar of what donors expect from your school.
- Show examples of student work completed since the beginning of the crisis (with permission, of course).
- If students have done something fun and entertaining, share that with your donors.
Tune in to live webinars every Wednesday during the school year to get specific, research-backed insight you can immediately apply at your school.
3. Tell Stories
Narrative storytelling is among the best ways to keep your donors engaged in what is happening at your school. It's even more effective when the only way to experience your school is through remote communication.
- Create "day-in-the-life" videos featuring students and faculty—create one for each division, or, if you are ambitious, craft one for each grade level.
- Ask a faculty member to narrate his or her process in preparing for online learning.
- Ask students to share the creative ways they remain connected with one another.
- Find a parent willing to tell how their family life has changed during the crisis.
Stories like these can be shared in a blog post that is first distributed to donors through direct emails or during the one-on-one calls mentioned above.
4. Send Messages From Your Students and Faculty
Access to video technology gives us the opportunity to say thank you to our donors in some unique ways.
- Ask an entire class of second graders to say thank you in a Zoom message.
- Record individual students saying thank you to your leadership donors by name.
- Have faculty members record a brief thank you and relate how gifts are helping them do their jobs.
- Ask your music teachers to organize a thank you song from middle school chorus members.
The possibilities are endless and will have special meaning for your donors.
5. Seek Advice
There is an adage: "Ask for a gift, and you will get advice, but ask for advice, and you will make it easier to get a gift." Since we are facing a crisis that is unique in the modern era, none of us have all the answers to how to navigate these complicated waters. When talking to your leadership donors, thank them for their support but also ask for their opinions. It doesn't have to be about only the crisis itself, but also about how they think the school is serving your students and communicating with the community. Share some of the planning that is being discussed by the school and seek their input. Be sure to check back with them at a later date and let them know about your progress.
Effective stewardship not only includes prompt and accurate acknowledgment of gifts but also letting your donors know that their money is being used wisely and as they intended. The best way to achieve that is through nurturing strong and lasting relationships with all your donors. Now, more than ever, your outreach to them will make all the difference in their long-term willingness to support your school.
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