November 7, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged all development staff to rethink fundraising strategies and to build the relationships critical for success. You have had to be present for your school community, engage in a high level of relationship management, and, ultimately, find imaginative ways to meet your revenue goals for the school year.
As with all things COVID-19 related, fundraising strategy can feel like a moving target. Here are suggestions to help you continue moving forward.
1. Engage & Listen
You are the expert on the culture of your school community. COVID-19 policies and protocols can add to your community’s task list. But it’s more important than ever to engage with and listen to those who care most about your school’s success: the faculty, staff, and alumni who advocate for your school’s mission.
Even with increased vaccination rates, access to testing, and some relaxation of protocols for in-person gathering restrictions, now is the time to be creative about engaging your stakeholders. Use a mixture of in-person events and online tactics to keep your community engaged.
Check your community’s interest through one-on-one chats (either virtual or in-person), organize group video sessions or small focus groups, and use productivity tools such as Slack to generate virtual conversations about the latest happenings. Use what you learn to update and guide your planning.
While listening to your constituents, be sure to keep in close contact with your development staff leaders who know which students, families, and faculty may have experienced financial or health distress due to the pandemic. Adjust your development outreach to be respectful of their circumstances.
2. Build Advocacy
Continue your engagement efforts by enlisting your school’s leadership in prioritizing a select prospect list. This focused target list will allow you to build buy-in from leadership and identify those prospects who are likely already engaged. Share details about your successes and your plans with those who have proven to be strong advocates and contributors.
Once you have gathered information and identified a select prospect group, meet with your Development Quartet (or the equivalent for your school). This group is typically composed of your School Head, Board Chair, Development Committee Chair, and Development Director.
These school leaders assess the current mood of the school community and reviews and revises your projections for annual giving totals based on new goals.
If your school has a Development Committee (or equivalent), hold a similar discussion with that team after you have synthesized the quartet’s conversation.
4. Initiate Conversation
Word-of-mouth messaging is still one of the most effective ways to make your Case for Giving. Take advantage of your volunteer leadership’s expertise and their relationships with your prospects and the greater school community. Ask your development volunteers to reach out to your prospects and share updates on what the school has been doing throughout the pandemic and how it is moving forward.
Involve members of the Annual Giving Cabinet by having them check in with volunteers and prospects they have been in touch with over the past few months.
Tune in to ask questions related to this Source article or other topics you've encountered lately.
5. Practice Effective Storytelling
With 18 months of the pandemic impacting your school, you are bound to have some updates for your Case for Giving. Take a close look at the positive things happening throughout your community and weave them into your story. Focus on your market differentiators by telling stories of real learning and connection. Remember: the Case for Support is an opportunity to build trust, project confidence, and inspire support.
This is an opportune time to showcase the ways your school has contributed to its community throughout the pandemic—specific ways you’ve supported your students, their families, and your staff. Use impactful stories to help establish additional funds for families affected by the loss of employment, local community food banks, etc. These efforts will underscore how your school is living its mission in real ways.
6. Brainstorm & Plan
Take time to assess the cumulative information you and your team have gathered. Then go through a brainstorming exercise of different ways you can continue to engage your community, gather your stakeholders, personally engage prospects, and more. The pandemic restricted in-person gatherings and changed the way fundraising works through events, but it has also generated an incredible amount of innovation. Research what creative solutions have been enacted by other organizations that may also work for your community.
Once you brainstorm new options for connection, community engagement, communication, and more, begin adjusting your strategic plan and calendar by filling in the details you know. This is a great opportunity to brainstorm contingency plans should COVID-19 mitigation efforts change quickly. Additionally, create your annual giving plan for 2022–23 school year and begin recruiting your Annual Giving Cabinet.
7. Celebrate & Acknowledge
Your school community has shown resilience, innovation, creativity, and collegiality throughout the pandemic, whether or not your development strategy went “according to plan.” Celebrate the connections that make up your school community. Plan events online or safely in person.
Some ideas include:
- chats with the School Head
- grade-level breakfast parties
- happy hours for alumni
- upper School parent trivia nights
- auctions and lower school “art-ins”
Take the time to acknowledge and celebrate the great work accomplished by your Development Office.
Continue to adjust and pivot your fundraising—and friends-raising—plans. Your primary job is to build relationships with your constituents. If you do the work, you will not only meet your goals but also sustain better relationships.
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