People give to people, not to schools

school house

The pressure on K-12 private schools to develop donors and to advance the mission of their schools has never been greater.  Demands on school leadership from board members, parents, alumni, and even community supporters is ever increasing.  What are the best practices private schools could use in cultivating a donor and win them as a partner in their mission?  Here are tips on caring for donors.

  1. Care for donors as a person. Donors appreciate being treated with sincerity and kindness.  They are aware that you are seeking their financial support.  Being genuine and authentic in your interactions will pay off in the end. When seeking a meeting, ask a mutual friend who loves your school to set the appointment.  You are borrowing on the credibility of your mutual friend and showing respect for the potential donor.
  2. Learn their interests. If you get to meet with a major donor in their office or home, look around and see what they have on display. Do they have family pictures or artwork displayed?  What things do they keep close to them?  If you have access to see what organizations they support, research them, and see if there is a common denominator to your school.
  3. Be open as a person. Share your story and show you are a person they can trust. Be honest and friendly. Find points of connection, shared affiliations, and common interests with your donors.
  4. Create unique recognition items for them. As you learn about the major donor, understand how they like to be recognized. Some people want to remain completely anonymous, but would be incredibly touched by handwritten thank you notes and drawings from children. Others value having their name on a building to leave a lasting legacy. Always keep in mind everyone likes being thanked in some unique, personal way.
  5. Be bold enough to say no, if a project is not a fit. As hard as it may be, there are times you need to tell a potential donor your current project is not a fit.  If you have built a relationship with them, you can more easily explain when a project does not meet their personal mission. The focus is long term and you are seeking to build a foundation of trust and openness, to find the best fit for their donation.
  6. Show exactly where their money is going. Donors want to be able to see a direct line from their major gift to the scholarship, building, or program they funded. How is the money going to the children, students, faculty they wanted to help? Make it clear and be proactive in providing detailed documentation of how their gift was used.
  7. Create engagement points in their investment. Determine where the donor can get their hands “dirty” in the project or see first-hand a student enjoying the building they donated for the school. Create unique engagement points or volunteer activities where donors can participate.  Allow donors to see the smiling faces for themselves.
  8. Move donors along in their giving to create win/win opportunities for all involved. Cultivation takes time; but strategically moving donors along in the process of involvement, support, and engagement at your school can have great reward.

Ultimately, people give to people they like and to causes they believe are worthy. Donors want to be cared for as individuals and desire to have someone they can trust in the organization. Take a long term view in your relationship building with your donors. Focus on developing genuine and authentic personal relationships with them as people and not just as individuals with dollar signs in front of them. You will be glad you did.

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