by Joe Garecht, The Fundraising Authority

The parents of your school’s current students can and should be one of your biggest fundraising assets.  This is true whether you are working with a pre-school, an elementary school, a college or university, or anything in between.

In order to unleash the potential of your students’ parent, however, you will need to work hard to build a relationship with them before their children graduate on to their next level of schooling.  Here’s how to turn your current school parents into lifelong donors to your school:

1.  Reinforce Your Mission

If you want your school parents to continue to give to your institution long after their children have moved on, you have to make your school matter to the parents beyond on their own progeny.  When parents see a school as simply a place to educate their own child, they may give during their student’s tenure there, but not after.

Instead, build a true case for support for your school that revolves around something bigger than a parent’s own children.  Everyone likes to get involved with causes bigger than themselves.  Why does your school matter?  What positive changes are you making in the world, or in your small corner of it?  Why should someone donate to your school?

Perhaps you offer a unique form of education or impart unique values to your students.  Maybe you have a scholarship fund and never turn a student away because of financial difficulties, or are the only school in your city that focuses on service to the inner city.  Whatever your school’s distinctive qualities, you need to constantly reinforce these for parents over the course of their children’s time with you.

You can reinforce your mission and highlight your singular values by mentioning them often to parents and students alike and by offering real, tangible opportunities for your school community to see and get involved with activities that emphasize this mission.

2.  Communicate Often

If the only time your parents hear from your school is when you are asking for money or passing out grades, it is unlikely that they will continue to give after their child leaves.  Fundraising is built on relationships. You have an exclusive, captive audience of parents – use it wisely by staying in touch with them.  If you communicate with your students’ parents often while their children are in your school, it will not be a shock to families when you continue to communicate long after their students graduate.

Staying in touch need not be expensive or time-consuming.  There are innumerable methods you can use, including newsletters and direct mail pieces, e-mails and e-mail newsletters, small group meetings, invitations to events at the school, calls from school administrators and staff, volunteer opportunities, etc.  Communications should be primarily informative and entertaining in nature, with the occasional fundraising ask thrown in.  In general, I suggest a ratio of at least 2 or 3 non-ask communications for event 1 ask that you make.

3.  You Have to Ask

Many schools make the mistake of thinking that if a certain group of parents have always attended the annual school fundraiser while their children were in the school, a good percentage of them will continue to do so after the students graduate, if you simply continue sending them invitations in the mail.

The truth is, in order to continue fundraising from parents after their offspring have left the school, you need to be deliberate and make asks.  I always suggest that schools pick up the phone (or schedule in-person meetings) with major and mid-level donors the spring prior to their children graduating (while the relationship is still at its strongest) to discuss ongoing support for the school’s mission and programs.

Doing so requires making an actual ask to the parents.  This means saying something like, “I know Johnny is graduating this year, but we continue to have 50% of our students on scholarship next year.  Would you be willing to continue making your annual $5,000 gift to our scholarship fund next year?”  Notice that this is a real ask because it asks for a specific amount and asks a question, rather than making a statement.  These are the types of asks that will be most successful for your school.

I have seen dozens of schools successfully implement these three steps to generate long-term support from the families of graduating students.  Not every parent will continue to give, but many will, if you begin early in their child’s school career by highlighting your mission and communicating with the family, and if you make a real, definite ask to the family before their child moves on to the next big thing.

Join the author in our next webinar, part of our popular K-12 “Summer Viewing List” series.  “Raise the Funds You Need” will be hosted on July 25 at 1:00 p.m. ET. Register for this free webinar or as many in the series as you like.

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