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September 16

Improve School Fundraising Results with Stronger Teamwork


It’s here again! Your advancement department is entering the end-of-year fundraising season. Leverage your partnership for better school fundraising with these helpful tips.

Education marketers and development officers have collaborated on school fundraising since the beginning of private education. (We’re not sure when exactly this happened, but we’re pretty sure there was a banquet involved).

In this blog, we focus most of our attention on enrollment marketing for one simple reason. 

When marketers keep their attention on driving enrollment, every school success metric flourishes.

From an administrative perspective, all other income sources run downstream from enrollment. 

When you have healthy enrollment numbers, not only is tuition revenue strong, but future enrollment numbers have a better chance as well since alumni tend to send their kids to their alma mater. Plus, your best donors tend to come from alumni. 

From a messaging perspective, every campaign follows enrollment.

If you were a company, enrollment would be your flagship product. Everything else is an “accessory” or secondary purchase.

For example, if you have a theology school, the dean will probably want to turn your website into a ministry site with teachings and Bible study resources. While this is good, these resources are still a secondary option for those coming to your website. 

The main reason people come to your website or other major marketing channels is to see if they want to enroll or send their child to your school. 

Everything else is an exciting extra that makes the idea of enrolling even more tempting.

However, even though you need to keep your primary strategy centered on enrollment, your fundraising staff needs your help to make their end-of-year campaigns a success.

And truth be told, as an education marketer, you need them too.

School fundraising makes good enrollment marketing possible.

fundraiser circle Funding is like a circle. It all starts when a student enrolls, but eventually that student becomes an alumnus and a potential donor. 

This is why fundraising is sometimes considered a subdiscipline of marketing.

The enrollment cycle begins with a potential student, but your marketing strategy should not stop when they become a student. Your marketing should continue while they are students with the aim of creating student ambassadors

Then, as they graduate, your marketing goals should change to create education brand loyalty and eventually seek to convert them to become a donor.

Thus, school fundraising campaigns are simply the marketing “follow through” you need to keep alumni coming back and supporting their alma mater.

Working with Advancement on School Fundraising

Each year, you’re probably flooded with design, layout, and distribution requests from your school fundraising department. They need donation pages, emails, and direct mail campaigns among other things created and launched to cultivate and solicit potential gifts.

Some private schools, colleges, and universities have enough resources to give their advancement teams graphics designers, web developers, and other creative professionals to be able to do everything within their team.

But for most schools, this simply is not the case. 

Most schools depend on their school fundraising department to craft and implement the overall fundraising strategy, and they rely on the marketing team to provide all the creative and technical resources to launch the fundraising campaigns. 

Marketing and advancement are two separate teams with distinct primary objectives who must work together on multiple projects throughout the year. 

Here’s how to take your teamwork to the next level and improve your school fundraising.

1. Stay Close

As an education marketer, you might work with a lot of people from your school throughout the year, but there is a much closer collaboration between marketing and fundraising.

I’ve seen fundraising professionals come blustering into the marketing department with an urgent campaign that’s got to go out ASAP. Of course, this goes over like a lead balloon on an already over-stretched marketing team.

Your first reaction might be to tell them to take a chill pill and a number, but if you’ve gotten to know them, you might approach the situation differently. 

Fundraising professionals often work according to a plan, but every now and then, an executive or board member descends from on high with a last-minute mandate. 

That puts a lot of pressure on fundraising, which turns into high pressure marketing requests.

The best solution for this is to stay close. Build relationships with leaders in your school’s development team that go outside of fundraising campaigns.

Invite each other to overall strategy meetings so the other team can get a peek into what’s important for you, and vice versa. 

It will help you facilitate requests from your advancement department if you understand their strategic objectives and the fundraising activities they’re trying to implement. 

Good relationships become the grease that makes this relationship work well and improve your school fundraising.

2. Think like a fundraiser. 

The second way to make your teamwork stronger is to take off your marketing hat and try to think like a fundraiser. This can be harder than it sounds.

The majority of the messaging marketers send is cultivating. Most of the messaging fundraisers will send at the end of the year is soliciting or converting. 

This can sometimes make you feel like the content is too pushy.

But I encourage you to set aside your qualms and let them take the lead for the content. 

If they are trained or have experience in fundraising, they should have been cultivating these gifts through phone calls, personal emails, and visits. To you, it may seem like you’re overstepping your bounds to ask for a gift, but they should have already laid the relational groundwork.

3. Follow the rules of sales copy.

As marketers, we love making our brand look beautiful, smart, and cutting edge. However, fundraising messaging needs to be raw, authentic, and heartfelt. It doesn’t always look beautiful. 

But it doesn’t have to look great. It needs to have great results. 

So think of your design and copy more like conversion or sales copy.

Stay away from fancy designs. Keep things personal as if the communication was coming from your friend instead of from a school or college.

You can do this in many ways:

  • Keep your direct mail design focused on copy with large, easy-to-read fonts.
  • Break up paragraphs into smaller, one to three line blocks.
  • Don’t place intricate photos or graphics at the top of your emails. (When your friend sends you a message, do they put a logo or stock photo at the top?) 
  • Address each donor by name in email and direct mail copy by merging their names into the copy.
  • Allow plenty of white space between paragraph blocks. This helps keep the eye moving deeper into the copy. 

In fact, it wouldn’t hurt for you to attend a fundraising seminar or training workshop to learn a little of the reasoning behind the requests and revision notes your fundraising colleagues will be giving you this season.  

Teamwork means better school fundraising.

The main thing you’ve got to understand is school fundraising (and marketing for that matter) is a team sport. Your advancement department can’t do it all on their own.

They need you.

And they need you to trust them to know what they’re doing and why. While fundraising might be a sub-discipline of marketing, it is a distinct job with a whole different set of skills and rules that apply.

Perhaps the best part of working together is that you’ll be rewarded with more money coming into your marketing budget as your fundraising colleagues succeed.

So, happy fundraising!

And if you need any help in your marketing and fundraising campaigns, we’re here for you with experienced marketing and fundraising professionals on board to bring solutions to your most pressing needs. Contact us today.

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