About 15 years ago, Katya Andresen, currently the Senior Vice President for Capital One’s Card Customer Experience, published a book titled “Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes.” I liked the premise of the text simply because that’s what I set out to do with SchoolAdvancement.com; rather than development directors trying to reinvent the wheel, I thought it would be a great idea to share ideas, successes and failures so we know what works and what doesn’t, and could spend more time focusing on successful development ventures rather than trying to come up with the next best fundraiser, or the next big fundraiser, and slap a “development” label on it.

In fact, that’s still one of the big problems with development and institutional advancement on the K-12 level. K-12 education seems to adopt what higher education does about 10 years later. Cost-based tuition was one of those strategies. Colleges and Universities have certainly moved beyond fundraising and into development and now into institutional advancement.  About five years ago, one local college hired SIX additional full-time staff members for their IA office!  The mindsets of K-12 leasers starting shifting their thinking about 15 years ago in this direction, but, unfortunately, the foundational mindset that accompanied the shift did not take place on a wide scale.  Further, there was some thought that schools should drop fundraising completely and adopt a development approach, ignoring the fact that development actions take about 3 to 5 years to fully develop.  I’m sure you can imagine what happened to those schools – they moved back to fundraising and abandoned development completely.  Further, there is so much leadership turnover in the K-12 vertical.  Principals change, development directors (if one is hired) change, Pastors change, board members change.  And, in some cases, board members come back…with the same mindsets that they had a decade ago when they left the board.

Development is a long-term process of involving and engaging people with the mission of an organization, and institutional advancement ensures that all the processes that work to move an organization toward its vision function in concert with each other to fulfill the organization’s mission.  Today, there are administrators who still believe that development director is the title for a person that coordinates all the fundraising activities of the school, and consequently, when a development director is hired, significant results in terms of increased income are expected in 6 to 12 months. Administrators still ask the question “How much money have you raised?” rather than “How many new contributors do we have?”

And this is why many development directors burnout in about 18 months.

Similarly, those that have been successful at development may now be termed Directors of Institutional Advancement, yet have no oversight relative to the communications, marketing and admissions processes that occur at the school. If these elements do not work systemically with one another, the institution will not advance. Development is an advancement process, just like enrollment or marketing. Development is long-term focused, just like enrollment is long-term focused. Fundraising is short-term focused, just like retention is short-term focused. If you’ve been a regular visitor to SchoolAdvancement.com, you may know that enrollment and retention are two different processes because they require different strategies. Unfortunately, school administrators and boards like to group them together because they both answer the question, “How many students are in the school?” Similarly, fundraising and development are two different processes and require different strategies. Unfortunately, school administrators and board like to group them together because they deal with the question, “How much money have we raised?”

So what does all this have to do with Marketing to Multiple Audiences? Andresen says that you need to know about ALL the audiences you deal with and serve. This is another example of “Next Practices” that you need to be aware of now in order to provide a strong position for your school, rather than having to play “catch up” in the coming years.

Recall that K-12 schools adopt what higher education does about 10 years later. All colleges and universities have a professional Web presence, and many K-12 schools now have Web sites that are professionally designed, interactive, current, and are inviting for current as well as interested parents. K-12 schools need (not just, “Would be nice to have”) such a presence today.

But here’s how schools can learn a lesson from what higher education is doing today, and adopt a “next” practice to better position themselves for success. The alumni departments from both Universities I’ve received degrees from send me eNewsletters that are incredibly lengthy – to the point that I now just delete them without even opening them. Why? They don’t speak to ME. For instance, the business school from one university received a significant donation from an anonymous contributor to redo a lecture hall. The school thinks I should care about that, but I really don’t since I graduated as a communications major. What I really want to know is why the building where I spent four years (as well as a couple of years as a high school intern and one following graduation as a part-time employee) was razed and what’s going to be built there.  Anything about that in the eNewsletter?  No.

Now let’s look at your school. Are you producing one newsletter that you send home to your current parents, and since it’s “your school’s newsletter,” you send it to your donors too? I hope not. I’ve been working with a non-profit organization that used to send its parents’ newsletter to all the alumni and parents of alumni. It told parents what fundraisers were on the horizon, when the hoagie orders were due, and when money had to be turned in for transportation.

Alumni and parents of alumni don’t need nor want to know that. They want to see the successes of the organization. They want a link to a video that shows the students in action. They want to find out that their contributions are having positive effect on the lives of the students in the school.

Do you have to tailor your newsletter to each and every person? Of course not. However, you should have at least four eNewsletters to different constituent groups – one for current parents, one for prospective parents, one for alumni, parents of alumni and donors, and one for members of the community/parishes/church with which your school is affiliated.

How do you do all this? Prepare one per week. Andresen suggests making a list of information that is needed about each constituent audience (edited to make it pertinent to your school):
1. What demographic and geographical groups do they belong to?
2. What do they care most about? What are the most important issues in their lives?
3. Have they ever taken the action that you are seeking? If not, what have they done instead?
4. What constitutes your competition? How does the competition talk about your school?
5. What appeals to the audience about your school and what do they see as its positives and its negatives?
6. Who approves or disapproves of them becoming involved with your school? In other words, what do their friends and neighbors think? Who influences them? Do other people around them take the same type of actions, or perhaps, take any action at all? How do your audiences think of those people, and where do they get their information to come to their decision?

I will add one more that seems to be missing, especially if you’re trying to win them over:
7. Do they think that you care about them? Obviously, you do care about them, since you want them to be part of your school community…but do they really know that, and, perhaps more importantly, feel that way, emotionally connected to your school?  If not, you will not only lose them, but also lose others that are somehow connected to them.  Recall the words of the poet Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2021 (Original Publication date: 20060522)