Campaign or project by project?

In the past, schools lurched from one capital appeal to the next, often with five or more years of silence and lost data in between. Now, across the board, development is more professional and more enduring, with better appeals, donor-stewardship and improving data-management.

But as a sector we still seem to struggle with creating the over-arching narrative for development. So much giving is still transactional, e.g. ‘I’ll support your theatre project because my daughter loves drama and will benefit’. While turning off this type of giving would be a shot in the foot, I think we need to improve the way we present the bigger story: the way we raise people’s gaze above the immediate project.

Some schools attempt this with the creation of an enduring campaign. I think there is merit in this, though my experience indicates that it is not an easy journey, because there will not be many early-takers to giving at campaign-level. Most donors will still require the concrete project.  You also have to show restraint in choosing your moment to dial up the campaign message. 

All that said, I believe a campaign helps create continuity, provides a reason to promote and embed a compelling vision and, most importantly, in time will serve as a stepping stone towards the nirvana of unrestricted donations and legacies.

Affordability: be clever about it.

It seems ‘Affordability’ is the big issue.  Naturally, schools are looking to their development offices to help. 

I think we need to be clever about this.  Why wrest £1,000 from a donor towards your bursary scheme when he/she might willingly give you £50,000 towards your much-needed new astro carpet?  To my mind this is a Peter/Paul situation.  Some donors just aren’t turned on by bursaries, but will give generously to the right physical project.  So don’t be slavish in your pursuit of bursary funds.  Rather, use development to mitigate costs, as well as give you direct, bursary-scheme income.

Of course, you need a compelling bursary fundraising proposition and the right campaign strategy to promote it, but keep your wider menu of causes.  And don’t forget legacy marketing either.

In all of this, as ever, the primary focus must continue to be on building genuine relationships with your potential and existing donors.

Total quality

Do you want to plug a funding gap for a project, or make development part of what you do, forever?

If it’s the former, you might just make it with some sleight of hand and a following wind.  And, in the short term, everyone could feel that you’ve saved your school a ton of hassle, because isn’t full-on development a resource-hungry activity really only worth it for the big boys?

Well, it depends how you look at it.  For a start, we are talking about ‘development’ here, not fundraising.  It’s a term that is bandied about, but people seldom pause to examine quite what they mean by it.  Fundraising is about asking people for money; development is long term and it’s about treating donors as individuals, each with a unique relationship with your school.

But the problem with even a more discerning answer to this question is that there is still a danger that the development function in your school is just treated as a bolt-on.  Yet, if you want your development (let’s call it that) to flourish, then you need to take a step back and look at the whole way you interact with your stakeholders and get enthusiastic about total quality across the board, not just in your Development Office.  Because this is what will make development really successful.

Clarity, style, attention to detail, thoughtfulness, consistency, co-ordination… these things will set you apart.  They won’t just mean more donations: they will mean a better business. 

What does all of this mean in practice?  It means joined-up thinking: marketing, communications, development, alumni-relations all working together and with genuine input from senior management level. 

So, getting development flourishing should be a spur for total quality in your external relations, not just a bolt-on answer to a funding shortfall.

Emphasising The Why

It is so easy to be distracted by the details of a development.  But when people ask why a school is doing something, they expect a clear and boldly stated answer. 

I witnessed Martin Hammond (Headmaster of Tonbridge, 1990-2005) handle this one with great flair. A group of 20 Japanese businessmen arrived at Tonbridge as part of a UK tour looking at our education system. Through an interpreter one asked what was the ultimate purpose of the school. Martin thought for a moment and then responded, ‘To give our pupils confidence.’  Lots of nods from the delegates and then a further question: ‘Do you have a formula?’  Martin paused and then said firmly, ‘Yes.  E + O = C.’  He went on to explain: encouragement plus opportunity equals confidence.’ 

When raising funds for a development project it is usually the ‘O’ element of this formula that we are addressing.  Teachers provide the encouragement, but they and the pupils need good facilities to provide the opportunities.

From time to time it helps to distil our arguments to this level of simplicity before we overlay all the detail.

Some things get easier...

Good data is essential to successful development.  Boring, but so true.

Not that long ago organising an alumni questionnaire was a hassle.  Now things are completely different.  Really, there is no excuse for not doing it. 

Done well, a questionnaire is much more than a way of gathering data; it’s even a goodwill-generator.  There are multiple benefits.  It can be a kick start for your career-mentoring initiative, a haul of potential legators, further intelligence on major donor prospects, and a route to some great content for your communications.

It needn’t be expensive or time-consuming either.  Technology has put paid to that.  In fact, it’s an opportunity for you to show your alumni/ae that you are on top of your game and that you value them. 

You need to make it stylish and smart.  One school I know recently carried out a well-executed questionnaire initiative.  They achieved a 60% response rate – all online.  A great result and no laborious keying in of data. 

It’s worth doing.

Reason doesn't come into it

"The basic difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions". Donald Calne, brain scientist.

This is one to keep front of mind when planning school development, indeed when planning school marketing and communication, generally.  In my experience, people give because they love a school.  Reason doesn’t come into it. 

This means that the strength and clarity of an institution’s brand has a strong bearing on how successful you are with your fundraising.  You only have to look at Harvard to see this in action.

So what does this mean for getting going with development, or upping the ante?  I don’t necessarily suggest major surgery or naval gazing, but I do recommend looking at your whole communications programme to find opportunities for fresh or stronger statements of your brand, or essence.  Your fundraising must be part of the whole, rather than a sideshow, because people will give out of love for your institution, not because they have reached some reasoned conclusion.

Be bold: let them in

Two of my clients are currently in the process of setting up their development leadership; one through a simple Development Board, the other through a separate Foundation.  Putting the issue of the legal entity to one side, what is absolutely clear in both cases is that these groups will enable us to change up a gear.

From past experience, I remain convinced that discussing development projects in a forum of successful business people, external to the school, brings new reality to bear on the situation.  It's about more than simply engaging the top donor-prospects.  Often it takes these development-leadership groups to help a school truly get a project moving.  They also bring donor-perspective to bear on the fundraising, giving it the life and credibility it needs to resonate with the whole constituency.

Getting this type of forum up and running takes some effort and sometimes asks a bit of the school's leadership, but it's absolutely worth it.