Capital campaigns at independent schools are often seen as the primary fundraising strategy to drive strategic change. The potential impact of campaigns is high; however, the conditions of your school’s culture of philanthropy, development infrastructure, and donor readiness must be ripe for a campaign to be highly successful. Your examination of these standards may reveal that conditions are not yet optimal for a campaign. Understanding these barriers can reveal a campaign readiness blueprint with areas of opportunity.
Concentrated efforts to bolster your internal fundraising infrastructure and capacity and to connect with key prospects will drive momentum toward a future campaign and enrich your current fundraising success. These efforts could include strengthening your culture of philanthropy, establishing a major gifts initiative, top prospect cultivation, concentrated donor stewardship, or further developing your annual giving or planned giving programs.
Strengthen your culture of philanthropy
A primary consideration for every independent school’s fundraising is defining a culture of philanthropy within your school. Philanthropy is the lifeblood of the independent school model, influencing every aspect of the student and family experience. From faculty to programs and experiences, philanthropy propels every independent school. Welcoming each family within your school’s community into a culture of giving will provide everyone the opportunity to contribute to a legacy that will endure for generations.
Introduce philanthropy early in a prospective family’s journey by partnering with the admissions team to incorporate specific talking points during their tour of the school. Discuss philanthropy’s impact on the school during conversations about parental involvement opportunities. Further, leverage new parent events to make connections with the development team and introduce the director of development early on. Upholding and celebrating the role of philanthropy at your independent school through communications, programs, and individual relationships will maintain the importance of fundraising in the minds of families representing current and future donors.
Establish a major gifts initiative
A major gifts initiative that supports distinct one-off capital or programmatic projects that align with the strategic vision of the school can be a step in securing transformational gifts for specific goals. These special projects can draw attention to a unique need and further develop a culture of philanthropy within the school to achieve aspirational goals and highlight the significant impact that philanthropy has on a school culture and experience. Addressing one or two projects through a major gift initiative can create momentum within the school community and identify philanthropic champions for a future campaign. It’s rare that a donor’s largest gift is their first or even second gift, making a major gift initiative the perfect opportunity to solicit gifts for transformational impact while also identifying and cultivating lead gift prospects for a future campaign.
Start by prioritizing engaged donors with identified capacity who would be interested in making a major gift to support a special initiative. Stewarding these donors to bring them closer to the school and showcasing the impact of their giving will begin the process of cultivation for a major gift to a future campaign and secure them as a philanthropic champion of the school. Once secured, marketing major gift successes to the rest of your donor base and family community will celebrate achievements and establish trust in the school’s ability to secure major gift support from parents, alumni, grandparents, and others. Use the tangible results of generosity to demonstrate the footprint philanthropy can have on shaping the school experience.
Cultivate and brief top prospects
Cultivation tours or briefing blitzes can offer meaningful chances to advance relationships with your school’s top donors and prospects. Through these types of opportunities, your head of school can engage in personal conversations with top prospects about the school’s strategic vision and priorities. Those touchpoints will help deepen prospects’ connection to the school and their relationship with key school leaders. Additionally, they will help your head of school learn more about top prospects’ philanthropic interests and motivations and explore areas of overlap – important pre-campaign cultivation activities.
Key data points about your top prospects’ philanthropic activity, such as philanthropic motivations, top philanthropic causes, and board involvement will be assets in understanding whether your donor base will be receptive to supporting a future campaign.
Target your donor stewardship
Deepen relationships to the school and position the school to communicate a vision for engagement and giving by engaging your unique donor communities, such as alumni, through special giving societies. Effectively recognizing donors for their level of affinity for the school can build on their existing values and experiences to cultivate their connection and cement an understanding of the impact of their giving. Giving societies build a sense of community which in turn drives donors’ giving and cements their philanthropic commitment.
Refocus annual giving efforts
Drive donor participation through unrestricted giving by focusing on your school’s annual giving program and educating families about the importance of philanthropy. Annual giving appeals are a direct way to lay out your school’s fundraising priorities and establish a clear and cohesive vision of how fundraising impacts outcomes each year. In addition to written and electronic appeals, utilize giving days, mini-campaigns, and other annual giving efforts to foster school pride and a sense of community, and celebrate reaching collective goals. Finally, annual giving programs can be effective training for the development team, the development committee, school leadership, and the board in fundraising best practices, which will translate into future campaign success.
Consider bolstering gift planning
By establishing strong giving habits within your alumni base now, you set the stage for them to be planned giving prospects in the future. Each class’s graduation offers a window for engaging new alumni and launching their future engagement as lifelong donors. Establishing an immediate relationship with each new alumni class will significantly increase the likelihood of their philanthropic participation throughout their lifetime. Develop a post-graduation engagement plan to thoughtfully engage graduating classes and cement a lifelong affinity for giving back.
Each of these opportunities to tighten fundraising efforts can drive your independent school forward in near- and long-term development goals. Consider segmenting constituents by initiative to ensure the most direct strategy to connect with alumni, alumni families, parents, grandparents, or new graduates. Your donors and prospects should always come first in developing a plan to drive their engagement forward. Though your school may not be immediately prepared for a campaign, understanding and investing in opportunities for improvement will ensure short- and long-term successful outcomes.
Year-end fundraising campaigns are an opportunity to provide donors with every possible option to support your mission.
Wondering what to prepare as you embark on a campaign? From volunteer leadership to data analytics, this article offers key considerations and advice from four former CCS client partners on how to get started.