This article is part of a three-part series to inspire a reinvigorated annual fund.
The independent school financial model is founded on community, generosity, and philanthropy. Parents, alumni, and friends provide essential support for the core aspects of an independent school education, including: creative programming, robust tuition assistance, inspiring faculty development, and innovative capital projects.
The annual fund is the bedrock of all school fundraising. Beyond closing the gap between tuition and the cost to educate each student, the annual fund provides an important vehicle for the community to support the school’s mission. Through their contributions, annual fund donors develop a more meaningful connection with the institution’s goals and priorities.
For development teams and school leaders, a consistent and reliable annual fund creates the financial stability to make strategic decisions about the future. It inspires confidence in the Board and Head of School and creates a strong pipeline of leadership donors. A successful annual fund allows a school to think beyond the day-to-day finances and dream big.
Given the naturally repetitive nature of annual giving, it is essential to think creatively about your school’s annual fund and develop a comprehensive plan. Below are three key elements of a strong annual fund plan to help your planning efforts every year.
You can refresh annual fund messaging and connect donors to an engaging story by developing a unique theme each year. Successful annual fund themes connect directly to the school’s mission and strategic priorities—thus creating a meaningful case for support that is specific to your institution.
When developing a theme, consider the following:
- Collaborate with your communications team: is there a theme in place for the year’s school communications that could inspire an annual fund theme?
- What differentiating factors set your school apart from its peers?
- What words or phrases do school leaders, parents, and alumni use to describe your school?
- Revisit past messaging that has inspired increased donations. How was this messaging different?
- Are there new and exciting programs to showcase?
- Engage annual fund volunteers in theme development. What messaging resonates with them?
Synthesize this information into a comprehensive theme. Keep the messaging short and succinct—appeals and initiatives should provide the specifics.
Strategic Engagement Approach
Thinking creatively about your donor engagement strategy will help grow your annual fund. Below are suggestions for enhancing engagement:
- Segment your donors differently. We know the importance of unique messaging for each constituency: current parents, alumni parents, alumni, and grandparents. Consider diving deeper. Are you approaching new parents differently than returning parents? Do young alumni receive different messaging than those in their 50th reunion year? How do you engage with your donors who are making recurring gifts or those in your loyalty giving society?
- Develop a leadership prospect strategy. Determine an annual fund leadership giving level and think creatively about your communication strategy. These donors should receive a personalized approach. Remove them from direct mail and email appeals and opt for a gift officer or volunteer phone call. Create meaningful stewardship materials—impact reports, videos, or program updates—to share with them annually.
- Consider a Giving Day. Developing a specific day of giving for your institution inspires the community to join together in support of your school’s mission. Holding your giving day in the spring offers an opportunity for donors to make a second gift and separates your appeal from Giving Tuesday and December fundraising. Giving days can incorporate matching challenges, peer-to-peer fundraising, prizes, and live updates that inspire increased giving.
Creative Partnerships Across Campus
Collaborating with your colleagues in other departments will enhance your annual fund. Connect with faculty members to hear about exciting classroom stories and innovative student projects. Reach out to admissions officers for highlights from prospective family tours and common questions they receive. Attend performances, art shows, athletic games, and debates to gain greater insight into the student experience. Ask the head of school and division heads for their goals and priorities for the year. This insight can be incorporated into your annual fund case for support and collateral materials. It will also allow you to develop timely and cohesive messaging that connects to school events and activities, which will create a more compelling appeal for your community.
These three considerations will help strengthen your annual fund as you close out this year’s fundraising and begin planning for FY23. Stay tuned for two more articles in this three-part series on reinvigorating your school’s annual fund.
Nonprofit organizations can take key steps in times of financial volatility to avoid compromising their campaign or delivering on their mission.
CCS Fundraising is thrilled to share the eleventh edition Snapshot of Today’s Philanthropic Landscape. This report compiles and contextualizes research from across the field of philanthropy to help US-based nonprofits wade through the available data and create informed fundraising strategies.