Advertising Your Local Business Supporters

Vol. 13 No. 2

development eletter Vol13 No2 afterschoolprogram

Does telling people which vendors or donors have contributed to your school—financially or otherwise—constitute advertising?

To answer that question, let’s play a game of “What If” this month. “What if” your private school has a spectacular after-school athletics program, made possible through community partnerships with local gyms and other vendors. Let's also pretend that your private school has a policy that forbids advertising of parent (read: local) businesses in its various publications and newsletters. Would partnering with these vendors break that policy?

“Advertising” can mean different things to different schools' missions and cultures. Some schools may consider something as simple as parent newsletters a form of advertising for the school and its programming. Others believe that only paid endorsements like small box blurbs about a service or banner ads online are advertising. The first step to walking the line between thanking community members for their contributions and unintentionally advertising them is to define what “advertising” means to your school, and then establish a policy from there.

Lacking a definitive definition of what advertising is for every school, we’ll go with the definition set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for our imagined scenario:

Advertising includes:
  1. messages containing qualitative or comparative language, price information, or other indications of savings or value;
  2. endorsements; and
  3. inducements to purchase, sell, or use the products or services.
The use of promotional logos or slogans that are an established part of the sponsor's identity is not, by itself, advertising. In addition, mere distribution or display of a sponsor's product by the organization to the public at a sponsored event, whether for free or for remuneration, is considered use or acknowledgment of the product rather than advertising.

As you see, the IRS considers advertising as a qualitative judgment about a product or service. Our imaginary school would have to tell parents something like, “These trainers from Gym Vendor are the best in the area!” for the mention to count as advertising, according to the IRS’s definition.

Acknowledging that the vendor has contributed to the school in some capacity, then, would not be advertising. The vendor gets the thanks of the school for its contribution and any goodwill its action has built up in the community as a result, but it would not be advertising by the IRS’s definition.

In our “What if?” independent school, we could thank the local vendors who have made our programs possible without worrying about the repercussions. Of course, we could privately think that the trainers the local gym provides really are the best we've seen at coaching and supporting student athletes, but we’ll let their services and reputation do the advertising for them—not us.

Additional ISM resources:
ISM Monthly Update for Admission Officers Vol. 10 No. 1 Crafting Your School's Newsletter

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 36 No. 5 Conducting a Communications Audit

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