Discover how to reach donors authentically and successfully through school fundraising communications including events, messaging, and digital outreach.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is top of mind for independent schools as they aim to drive equitable social impact, and communications provide a link between fundraising and DEI strategy. According to the 2024 CCS Philanthropy Pulse, 84% of respondents in the primary and secondary education sector indicated that DEI is important in developing their strategic plans for future fundraising priorities, distinguishing the sector as a leader in DEI strategy. In fact, 93% of schools discuss DEI with donors—a rate 6% higher than all sectors combined. Additionally, a recent study by the Graduate School of Education & Psychology at Pepperdine University​ revealed that one of the five pillars of DEI in education institutions is communication, community education, and outreach.

While working alongside our nonprofit partners and recognizing both our ongoing growth and the dynamic nature of our efforts, CCS Fundraising has learned helpful DEI communication strategies for independent schools drawn from community-centric fundraising principles, which we share below.

INTEGRATE DEI IN YOUR Donor EngagemenT TACTICS

DEI Policies and Practices

Educating potential donors on your independent school’s DEI policies and practices is a key step in developing a more inclusive philanthropy model. Utilize the school website, annual reports, alum magazines, and donor conversations as crucial opportunities to underscore your dedication to DEI. Clearly outlining inclusive programs, policies, and practices, supported by relevant data, is a transparent and proactive way to positively shape your school’s community and culture. This strategic approach reinforces the idea that philanthropy acts as a catalyst for genuine and lasting positive change within the communities you serve.

DEI and Collateral

Fundraising materials are an opportunity to highlight a diverse narrative of students, parents, faculty, and alums and can feature testimonials from various perspectives and voices.  Ensure fundraising material visually reflects your school’s values and aligns with your school’s voice by instituting a review and approval process led by your DEI leaders.

Applying DEI to Outreach and Strategy

Within the donor cycle, where prospects typically navigate a shared “moves management” journey, it is important to recognize that each donor follows a unique path to a successful solicitation. Personalizing engagement involves considering various factors. For instance, prospects who have benefited from financial aid may find inspiration (or lack thereof) in their personal student experiences. Donors with an international background may approach philanthropy with perspectives distinct from those in American households. In addition, considerations around a prospect’s religious affiliations can significantly influence their interest in philanthropy. Attention to details, including meeting/event dates, numerical preferences, and preferred solicitors, allows you to tailor your approach thoughtfully.

DEI and Events

Whether your independent school is actively in a campaign or growing its annual fund, you are likely holding fundraising and engagement events throughout the year with various goals. When planning for these events, it is important to consider location, guest list, and programming to ensure that they are welcoming, inclusive, and serve the full community.

DEI and Volunteers

Engagement is a key metric of campaign success and an excellent way to increase perspectives, promote diverse voices, and intentionally build inclusive teams.

Without deliberately keeping DEI un mind, however, volunteer committees—in campaigns or, more broadly, in volunteer leadership—may reflect singular perspectives or become particularly homogenous. When planning a volunteer committee, it is important to utilize a volunteer matrix, consider scheduling constraints, and prioritize long-term volunteer cultivation.

DEI in Stewardship

Major gifts, endowed funds, and scholarship stewardship are important ways to celebrate the impact of your school community’s generosity, recognize donors for their contributions, and inspire future philanthropy. In recent years, CCS has strategized in partnership with independent school clients to take steps to avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes such as:

Rather than providing scholarship funders with detailed reports about, or compulsory thank you letters from, scholarship recipients, schools have taken a comprehensive, uniform, yet detailed approach to steward donors who give to scholarships or have named scholarship funds.

A report might include:

In drafting these materials, it is important not to equate improving DEI practices and the provision of financial aid as synonymous.  While providing financial aid can be a way to diversify a school’s student body, this is not always the case.

DEI Improves the Fundraising Landscape

Fostering an inclusive philanthropic environment within educational institutions requires a comprehensive approach to donor engagement, outreach, and stewardship, specifically focusing on DEI. Adopting these DEI-centric practices throughout outreach, events, materials, reporting, stewardship, and volunteer engagement will allow your school to mirror the evolving landscape of philanthropy and better integrate inclusivity into its donor engagement strategies.

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