This is a guest post by Joe Garecht, who has been involved in professional fundraising for over a decade. During that time, he’s worked with organizations large and small, helping them design profitable fundraising plans, implement new fundraising strategies, and super-charge their development efforts. Follow him on Twitter and at www.fundriasingauthority.com
One of the best ways to put your school on a firmer financial footing is to find and cultivate major donors. Most schools spend lots of time focused on small-dollar fundraising… things like events, raffles and product sales. While these can be good money-makers for your school, nothing can surpass a strong major donor program when it comes to helping your school’s fundraising thrive.
During my time working with schools of all different sizes, I have found that there are four essential keys that school administrators, board members, and fundraisers need to understand in order to effectively find new major donors for their school:
Key #1 – Major Donor Fundraising is All about Building Relationships
People give to schools because they have developed a relationship of some sort with that institution. Perhaps they went there, or their kids or grandkids went there, or they know a teacher there. Whatever the reason someone gives, it is ultimately because of a relationship, not because of the strength of your fundraising materials or the glitz of your website.
Relationship-building is the goal of the cultivation process. Everything you do to approach and cultivate a major donor could also be called “building a relationship.” Don’t think that just because a wealthy businessperson or local philanthropist went to your school you have a strong relationship with that person. The relationship can start with someone attending your school or sending their children there, but you need to work on the relationship and build on that foundation.
The stronger the relationship is, the more likely the person is to make a gift to your school and become a lifelong donor / supporter of your cause.
Key #2 – Relationships Are Built With People
All true relationships are built between people. If your school gets a donation or sponsorship from a business, understand that it is impossible to build a lasting relationship between your institution and a business entity. Yes, the business may support your schoopl financially, offer staff volunteers to work your events, etc… but in almost every case that help will be driven by one or two people at the business who have a relationship with your school – a relationship that was built through cultivation.
For that reason, when you are cultivating a business, non-profit or other organization, it is important that your staff identifies one or two key decision makers at the business or organization to build a relationship with. Once you get the decision maker on board, you will get the business on board. As your relationship with the person strengthens, so too will your school’s relationship with the business.
Relationships are built person to person.
Key #3 – People Like to Feel Like Part of a Team
The final two keys are a pseudo-psychology lesson on donors and prospects.
The first lesson is this: people (all people!) like to feel like part of a team. Everyone on Earth wants to feel like they are joined in a relationship with other people who are all marching towards a common goal.
Thus, one of the key strategies for your school’s cultivation efforts should be to make people feel like part of your team. Ask them for their suggestions. Keep them constantly in the loop. Invite them to exclusive events. Give them branded materials that show the world that they are part of your team (Buttons? Bumper stickers? Pens?) Make them feel like you’re all one big team working towards a common vision (you are, aren’t you?!)
Key #4 – People Like to Be Caught Up in a Larger Vision
The next psychology lesson is this: people like to be caught up in a larger vision. Most people, even the rich and famous, get “stuck” in their daily routines. They get up, go to work, eat meals, play with the kids on the weekends, retire and do some traveling or relaxing, and grow old watching the grandkids play.
Because most people don’t like the fact that they get stuck in a “standard” routine, they like to break free by getting caught up in bigger stories and visions. Epic movies, great novels, and a night at the symphony are all ways to escape the humdrum and get caught up in a larger story.
You might not realize it yet, but your school is another great way for people to escape the routine and get caught up in a larger story and vision for the future. Think about it – what work are you doing at your school that makes it so compelling? Are you offering an unparalleled education? Teaching children to be future leaders, doctors, academics, parents, ethical human beings? Are you serving disadvantaged children or communities?
People want to get caught up in your vision… so let them! Cast a big vision, and paint a big picture. Don’t assume that just because someone went to your school or sent their kids there that they are caught up in your vision. You need to cast a big story for major donors, tell them why you need the money, and what amazing things you will be able to do with it.
Your cultivation process has to be about engaging people in your vision and allowing them to escape the routine by working with you to meet your common challenges and accomplish your common mission.
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