An Annual Fund is a mechanism for encouraging parents, past pupils and volunteers to make regular gifts to your school. This guide provides practical tips for establishing or growing your Annual Fund, including adaptions you may want to consider in light of COVID-19. It is particularly aimed at UK schools, but much of the content is relevant for international schools and other fundraising institutions.
For many schools, the Annual Fund can become the institution’s lifeblood; to enable them to attract and retain the best teachers, provide financial aid or scholarships, enhance IT systems and maintain and improve facilities.
A successful Annual Fund appeal is predicated on four fundraising elements:
Each is integral to reaching — or even exceeding — your Annual Fund goal. Planning should take place before or during the summer months, so that come September, the infrastructure is in place to jump right in!
Case for Support
The Annual Fund case for support should provide a compelling rationale for how gifts and pledges will be used to offer your pupils the best possible education. CCS believes that a strong case includes data, images, and testimonials.
- Data: Many donors appreciate the use of data to communicate how your school is earning and spending money. What are your school’s current sources of revenue and expenses? How much do you provide in financial aid or scholarships each year? What is the average gift to the Annual Fund and what percentage of families are participating? Presenting hard data supports the role of the Annual Fund in a clear and engaging way. Simple infographics can be particularly helpful at communicating data in an easy to understand manner.
- Images: Pictures of pupils involved in projects or extracurricular programmes at school is a great way to visually support your case. Photographs should capture various aspects of student life to showcase all your school has to offer.
- Testimonials: Personal testimonials from pupils, past pupils and parents underscore the impact that your school has on its community. Quotations should be incorporated into the case to provide a personal touch that will resonate with donors.
Once you have developed your draft case, test it with prospective supporters to ensure it has the desired impact. Achieve this by seeking feedback from a number of parents — ideally through one-on-one or small group meetings — and incorporating their ideas.
The case for support should be finalised during the summer, once all Annual Fund data from the previous academic year has been generated. This way your school will be equipped to share the case with potential donors at the onset of the upcoming academic year.
A successful Annual Fund needs great leadership. CCS recommends that every Annual Fund effort involve volunteer leaders by having a chair, or multiple chairs, to work closely with the development office to spearhead the fundraising.
Annual Fund chairs are frequently current parents who are well-known and respected members of the school community, are committed to the school’s vision, and have the leadership skills and influence to ensure a high level of activity and momentum throughout the year. The chairs will serve as ambassadors of the Annual Fund. In essence, they are the face and voice of the appeal.
From CCS’s experience, working with chairs as you would manage hired staff is highly effective. We recommend establishing a clear role and plan, and providing training. People respond positively to a structured environment, and your volunteers will be no different. For example, the role description for a chair might include:
- Endorsing the case for support for the Annual Fund
- Being a visible and vocal advocate for your school and the Annual Fund
- Attending and hosting cultivation events (see below)
- Helping identify and approach potential donors
- Making their own personal commitment to the Annual Fund
Ensuring the chair’s role is articulated from the outset, and providing them with the tools they need to be successful, will put your school in the best position to reach your targets.
The majority of a school’s Annual Fund is typically comprised of gifts from current parents and Governors/Board members. Therefore, special emphasis should be placed on engaging with these constituencies at the beginning of the academic year (with preparation occurring over the summer). Events provide an effective platform to achieve this.
Depending on the current situation with COVID-19 restrictions, gatherings could be in-person or held virtually. Below are three ideas to kick off the year:
- Welcome Back Breakfast or Online Social for Current Parents: This is an exciting opportunity to engage parents at the beginning of the year and showcase your school’s vibrant community. Current parents will reconnect and hear from key leadership such as the Head/Principal, senior management, and Annual Fund chairs.
- Governors’/Board members’ Reception or Virtual Briefing for New Parents: Welcoming new parents is vital. This event is an important opportunity to harness new parents’ enthusiasm about the school and engage them in your culture of philanthropy. New parents will interact with Governors/Board members and one another as well as hear from key leadership.
- Governor/Board-Hosted Gatherings: Major donors will need additional preparation to ensure that they experience meaningful interactions with school leadership before they are asked for support. Governor/Board-hosted gatherings are a great opportunity to discuss the school with top donors and highlight the impact of their of their financial investments on its future.
To decide on the best structure and format of events, as well as considering the current COVID restrictions, think about your own school’s community and culture. Will parents be able to get to the school for a breakfast meeting or is the location inconvenient? Are there times when groups of parents will already be visiting your school (for example, for a sports fixture) and could a cultivation event be aligned with these to make it easier for people to attend? Should past pupils, or other potential benefactors, also be involved in the gatherings?
When planning the delivery of events, consider proven fundraising principles. Ensure you:
- Articulate the request for support verbally. Use gatherings to underscore the importance of philanthropy, highlight the impact of gifts and a clear and compelling ‘ask’. For each event, identify who would be best placed to deliver the request — for example, the Head/Principal, the Annual Fund Chair or a Governor/ Board member. (For prospective major donors, you may consider making a specific gift request through a one-to-one in-person meeting/videocall).
- Provide direction on the gift levels needed to ensure success. Develop a simple ‘table of gifts’ that outlines the number and size of gifts that are required to reach your Annual Fund target. Use this table to share guidance on the scale of commitments that are required. For example, ‘to reach our target we require families to step forward and make gifts of £25, £50 and £100 per month. We are also seeking to identify five families who may consider making an extraordinary pledge of £250 per month.’
- Share information packs that enable families to make an informed decision. During or after events, distribute ‘take-away’ packets that attendees can read in their own time. Include the case for support and guidance on the Annual Fund target, giving levels, and the date by which the school is hoping to receive a decision.
- Ensure effective follow-up. For all events, the follow-up is as important as the gathering itself. Develop a plan for ensuring that all attendees are contacted — ideally by phone — shortly after the event to answer questions and to receive a timely decision. This could be achieved with the help of your Annual Fund Chair or other key volunteers.
Finally, remember to plan events well in advance and communicate the dates to parents with sufficient notice to help ensure families are able to attend. If you already have an established events programme, consider how gatherings can be used as opportunities to recognise and thank past donors, as well as cultivating prospective supporters.
Ensuring your school has a strong and well thought-out fundraising plan is vital to a successful Annual Fund. Spend your spring and summer developing a clear roadmap that enables you to track and drive activity effectively.
There are a number of tools that are helpful for keeping your Annual Fund fundraising on target. These include:
- Prospect tracking chart, or a donor pipeline, which helps you prioritise the families that you are asking for support, ensuring that your school is spending time and energy building relationships with parents who are more likely to make a substantial gift.
- Progress report, which is typically a one-two page document that captures the recent gifts and underscores the priorities and immediate next steps. When used effectively, this tool helps fundraisers get school leadership and key volunteers behind the Annual Fund efforts and flag any challenges early to ensure corrective action can be taken.
- Timeline with milestones, which enables you to track progress against your plan. Importantly, the timeline can also help fundraisers to drive decisions and encourage families to confirm their commitments before specific dates.
- A GDPR-compliant database to store your donor records and donations, including a way to track opt-ins for fundraising communications, store Gift Aid forms, capture conversations with potential donors and run different reports to pull out the data you need to analyse your Annual Fund progress.
If you are already securing significant funding from parents and Governors/Board members for your Annual Fund, consider expanding your plan to involve past pupils as well — including targeted events, a tailored case for support, and recruiting alumni as Annual Fund chairs.
Remember, effective Annual Fund plans include any necessary preparation and follow up. You want to leave your donors feeling proud to have made a gift to your school and inspired to make one again.
Having a clear and compelling case, leadership involvement, an engaged pool of prospective donors, and a comprehensive plan are key elements for a successful Annual Fund. With these tools, your school’s Annual Fund is poised for success!
If you are interested in learning more about how to prepare your School for next academic year’s Annual Fund then please feel free to contact us directly.