Fall begins this month, and Fall is the season of CHANGE. That’s a very special word when it comes to Development. The letters of the word form an acronym describing the activities of people involved with Development and Advancement. And, not only is change difficult, it’s feared.

For five years, I worked with an organization that slowly modified the ways they raised their funds, simply because the “traditional” manner of fundraising doesn’t work as a long-term strategy. Through the journey, we found:

  1. Ways to increase participation by making connections with parents of potential incoming students;
  2. Parents have less time to fundraise – because parents may not only be involved with your school, but be involved with other causes that require them to fundraise;
  3. Community members have less tolerance for fundraising – be it living on a fixed income, economic hardships, the reluctance to ask people to buy things, etc.;
  4. Costs are constantly increasing; and
  5. Fundraising is having significantly lower return on investment. Whose making the money? The company selling the fundraising items.

Put all those things together, and it points to the necessity for new ways to generate revenue.

That’s the first “change” that must happen – the way you speak about raising funds. It’s “Revenue Generation,” or even “Raising Funds.”  Not “Fundrasing.”

There’s a great text titled “The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising” by Larry Johnson.  Check it out at http://www.theeightprinciples.com/.   The only issue I have with it is that there is no space between the words “Fund” and “Raising.”  Why?  Because some people think it provides new insights on fundraisers.  Well, it does – in so much that having candle sales, cookie dough sales and, even in this era of the pervasiveness of the Internet, magazine sales fundraisers are not the way to create sustainable revenue for your non-profit organization, and specifically, your school.

Development does not mean developing “new fundraisers” either.  It means developing relationships with people, and, more precisely, developing and deepening the relationships with people who are engaged with the mission and vision of your organization.

Moving from Fundraising to Development requires a fundamental change in one’s mindset.

So what does CHANGE stand for? I suggest it stands for “Constantly Having a New Growth Event,” because to change is to grow – and we need to grow…or else we die.

There are three paths you can take when you consider change:

1) Make it happen

2) Resist it when someone else makes it happen

3) Go with the flow (and, as it’s been said, any dead fish can go with the flow).

Personally, I’ve made the decision to choose route #1. It’s what you’ll need to do to solidify your school’s financial foundation, and since education is all about change, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that change must happen. After all, when a student walks into a classroom and learning has taken place, change has occurred within that student’s mind when that student walks out of the classroom.

If the student walks out unchanged from when they entered, they were either not exposed to a new idea or decided to be closed-minded about the activities that day. Learning did not happen, and change did not take place. Indeed, being a teacher means being a facilitator of change.

CHANGE can also stand for six elements critical for Development efforts to succeed.

C is for Communication. It’s not just getting the message out there – it’s tailoring it to the intended audience. The way the organization communicates with a parent is different from the way it communicates with the media…which is different from the way it communicates with incoming parents, which is different from the way it communicates with school administration, alumni or area businesses.

These four constituencies must be treated differently because they provide different functions. Each of the communication avenues serves to, respectively, retain members, bring in new members, promote the activities of the school to the general community, or to the people who financially support the organization.

Your school’s primary communication vehicle today is your school’s Web site, and if your school doesn’t have a great-looking, interactive, Web site created with responsive design, you need to get one and get one…like NOW!  Also, may I be so bold to suggest that if your parish or church is generously giving you a Web page for your school’s information, and telling you that you don’t need a Web site, they’re actually preparing for the school’s closure.

And don’t think for one minute that a Facebook page can act as your school’s Web site.  There’s a fundamental design issue with Facebook that makes it the WORST alternative to a Web site.  Want to know why?  Send an email to [email protected] with the words “Why Facebook isn’t a good substitute for a Web site” in the subject line.

What is a Web site that has responsive design?  It’s one that automatically configures itself for mobile devices, eliminating the need for two Web sites – one for computer users and one for mobile device users.  If you haven’t noticed it, computers are evolving.  Desktops are going away, and laptop computers may soon become the newest doorstop or paperweight.

“Notebook” and “tablet” computers and mobile devices today have touchscreens and snap-on keyboards, and mobility is the key…especially for your school’s parents, because they’re always on the move, and live on their phone.  Are you meeting their expectations, or are you expecting them to conform to the way you do things because that’s the way you’ve always done it?

If you picked the latter, I would give odds that your enrollment isn’t higher than what it was 5 years ago.  Web sites NEED to be designed today with a “Mobile-first” mindset.  (By the way, FACTS’ SchoolSite is an awesome solution, and, if you use a template, it’s incredibly affordable!)

Further, keep in mind that more expensive isn’t necessarily better.  A friend from high school just spent $20,000 last year to create a Web site for an organization he’s heading up.  The template on which the site is built cost $249.  Sure, one needs to have the expertise to design it, but after it’s designed, one also needs to have an easy way to update it – and oftentimes, that’s a DAILY thing!  I know organizations that spend $5000 to $10,000 on a Web site, and it’s terrific.  I also know organizations that have spent $50,000 on a Web site that looks fantastic on a computer – but doesn’t work on a mobile device.

When you’re looking at samples, be sure to look at it on a mobile device FIRST.  If you don’t like how it looks there, it doesn’t matter what it will look like on a computer.  Want proof that this is important?  There are STILL families in schools that ask, “What if you don’t have a computer?”  That’s actually fine today, because chances are they have a mobile computer.  They just happen to call it a mobile phone.

H is for Happenings. These are events which involve the greater community, like a Race for Education, a Car Cruise, or the annual celebration dinner. Sure, they’re fund raising events (note the space between “fund” and “raising”), but they attract members of the community – not just parents and their friends and relatives who are already giving of their time, talent and treasure to the school.

If you have a dinner, parents need to sell tables rather than just buy tickets.  They bring their family and friends.  Their friends become involved with your school.  Their addresses make their way to your annual appeal lists.  Wait – did you just think, “But I don’t capture their names, addresses and emails at our events?”  That’s a behavior that also must change.

And speaking of your annual appeal…

A is for Appeals. Utilize your alumni list to craft an annual appeal…but don’t expect to simply ask for funds and get them. You have to communicate “why” individuals or organizations should give.

The “Why” is the essence of a “Case” statement you need to craft for each appeal you make, which is why most schools focus on one large annual appeal. Highlight the achievements and recognitions of your school and its students.

People want to contribute to positive experiences; they don’t want to contribute to “help” you meet shortfalls. True, they might “help” you one year…maybe two.

If you don’t believe this, think of what happens when someone constantly asks you for help?  You might begin to wonder why they’re always asking for help, what did they do with the help you provided them in the past, why don’t they ask someone else for help, or what’s so wrong with them that they always need help?

Rather than being asked for help, individuals and other organizations must be “invited” to become involved with your school, and then, as the involvement deepens, engagement happens. The more people are engaged with your school, the more likely they are to support it, especially with their treasure.

Keep in mind that they’re not just supporting the school – they’re supporting the successes of your school, and expect, not just want, to see more successes.

Share the stories of the people in your school…especially your students.  Their transformation through their educational experience is one of the most emotionally compelling things about your school.  Your donors will want to contribute to see your school provide more of them to more students.  Verbiage that states “Help us reach our goal” does nothing to excite a donor since it focuses on “your” goal, and not “their” effect on the life of a student.

Once you start doing these things, you have to keep at it – sowing, cultivating and reaping. Think of what would happen if you planted a seed, and a flower sprouted, then several more flowers sprouted because of your cultivation, watering, fertilizing and weeding around it. Then, after a couple of years, if you just stop doing that, what do you think will happen?

Weeds can choke them, they’ll die from lack of water, or they’ll shrivel up because the previous flowers used all the nutrients in the soil.

Further, once you start seeing fruits from Development, “auto-pilot” doesn’t happen.  You must constantly attend to it…which means you MUST have someone associated with your school who can “own” this process.  It’s not just something for a teacher to do as a part-time add-on, especially since it’s a year-round job!

Next month, this column will be brought to you by the letters N, G and E, and we’ll look at the last three qualities contained in the acronym “CHANGE.”

Before concluding, here’s an anecdote about a school – a public school, mind you – that was trying to raise some money (yes, public schools have fundraisers too).

A parent booster organization for the local high school’s competitive band program was successful in getting the local school board to provide funding for new uniforms – but not all of the funding. The parent booster organization agreed to contribute some of the funding, and the band director chose not to purchase any new instruments in favor of shifting funds to the uniform cause.

The last piece of the puzzle was to have the booster organization raise $6,000 toward the project. The boosters began talking about what kind of fundraiser they can have to do it. Since my children are no longer part of the organization, I emailed the band director and president of the booster organization and said, “Why don’t we just ask individuals to contribute funds rather than selling stuff?”

Guess what happened?

A gift of $500 was received, which would be matched by their employer.

A gift of $1,000 was received, which would be matched 2 to 1 by that person’s employer.

That’s $4,000 right there – from just 2 people!

Using the 80/20 rule of fundraising, $4800 could be contributed by the gifts of 5 people.  20 more people with an average gift of $60 would raise the remainder, and the current boosters wouldn’t have to deal with yet another fundraiser, and wouldn’t have to ask people to sell anything.

Gifts were given from people who were engaged with the organization, knew of the happenings that reflect positively on the school district and the students, and were happy to provide monetary gifts that would cause the band members to be excited and grateful for their new uniforms.

And no one had to buy candles.

By the way, if you want to read more about the three things necessary to be able to change, check out “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath.  It’s a great change management primer.  Visit this link if you’d like to look into it.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2010-2023.