Fundraising means finding friends

Birger Laing

Fundraising is not just collecting donations, asking for money – no, it is above all the search for funders! The funders are the capital (funds) which needs to be raised. And there are many funders: parents who donate their time, people who make their knowledge or skills available, friends who promote your school to others – and of course also people and companies who donate money to you.

That is why fundraising is not just a one-off campaign for donations at Christmas. That is not the way to gain funders. On the contrary, fundraising is systematic relationship work, the long-term orientation of a school towards its funders.

Education above finances

• Assemble a team which takes care of fund­raising. Get someone from the management, the administration, from among the teachers or kindergarten teachers and someone from the parents.

This team does not have to do all the work itself, but it should coordinate everything, should think up campaigns, look for suitable helpers, distribute tasks. The team should always hold the reins and thus guarantee the long-term direction: away from spontaneous random campaigning towards a long-term strategy!

• Look for projects. No one donates for an organisation as such – unless the organisation itself is the programme such as Greenpeace or Action against Hunger. Above all, no one gives anything to an organisation which keeps emphasising that it never has enough money. But people do like to give for things which have meaning. People like to donate for musical instruments, climbing frames, anti-violence projects. Proceed systematically. Prepare a list of projects for the next few years, discuss them with all the people concerned and set priorities. Prepare a short and medium-term plan.

• Also consider your priorities and ethics when fundraising. The educational idea always has to take precedence over the finances and the dignity of the pupils always has to be preserved.

In other words, from which company would you take money, from which one wouldn’t you? How much advertising for a sponsor is reasonable? Do you still have educational control in a planned sponsorship event or are the pupils misused purely as advertising material?

When would you yourself donate?

• Now prepare a brochure, an information pack, in which you include everything that your school, your kindergarten is about. Assemble everything on ten to fifteen pages that might interest a donor, a foundation, a company. Remember: the donor is like us. What would you want to know before you were prepared to make a donation?

What should be included in the pack? Five sentences, for example, why someone should continue reading.

Then a description of your school, your kindergarten; i.e. who runs it, size, premises, catchment area.

If you have a mission statement, say what it is. If you do not have one (yet), say in ten to fifteen sentences who you are and why someone should give money to you in particular and not to the many other schools. What is special about your school?

Now describe in detail the project at hand, either an individual project or several smaller projects from which a donor can choose the one most suited to themselves. Add plans and blueprints which give a picture. Put the financing on one page and the timetable on another. Don’t’ just give the dates of the project but also dates when anyone interested can visit your school or kindergarten without any commitment, perhaps an open day. And then one page with all the key information, i.e. address, contacts, opening times, and above all the bank details. Consider the kind of information a donor might be looking for and make it available as easily as possible.

And then spice the whole thing with photos of buildings, events, everyday life. Photos leave a longer-lasting impression than just words.

The courage to admit a planning gap

This information pack can keep being updated. Therefore always give a date – “Status: …” – on the front page!

Very important: be honest and authentic. If there is still a gap in your planning, if there are still things which have not yet been clarified, then say so. Things should not be hidden from the donor. Often these may even be good starting points for companies when you reveal that you don’t yet have anyone to construct the new climbing frame. Perhaps that is precisely what the company which you are approaching would like to do through its staff.

And be authentic in word, image and feel. A glossy presentation for an anti-violence project may appear too expensive, but poor-quality copies for the reconstruction of the refectory do not communicate competence to a donor either.

So now you have your pack of which you can print a copy whenever you approach an interested party, when you hold an open day, and also if you want to inform the press. Store this file on a drive to which everyone in the team has access. Then everyone knows that they can give out the latest copy without having to keep checking.

• And now the real work starts: communication, communication, communication! Campaigns, campaigns, campaigns!

The first thing is for all internal staff and volunteers to be informed. Everyone should have the information pack so that everyone can answer to questions competently. Nothing is worse than contradictory information about the project or timetable or, worse still, the finances. And always remember: the volunteers are not cheap labour but an essential part of your organisation.

But also approach those outside, parents, grandparents, the newspapers, use notice boards, the local street festival, the city fun-run.

Fundraising must go hand in hand with public relations work. Take your cause to the outside, inform the mayor, the town council, go to shops and businesses. Use the information pack to make small flyers and postcards which can be displayed.

Approach companies, look for appropriate foundations, keep publicising your cause.

However, no campaign on its own will produce success. There is only the totality of campaigns, events and publications which feed off one another and thus bring medium to long-term success. So plan for the long term here too, keep thinking of new campaigns.

A sustained culture of appreciation

• When the first inquiries from interested parties come in, you have to proceed strategically once again and maintain these contacts. What information has which company received, who was the contact person and what was agreed? Who needs further information?

• Now the first donations arrive. Work on creating a culture of appreciation. Thanks should be given for every donation as quickly as possible. Draft an honest, nice thank-you letter. Consider when a thank-you letter is enough and when you or the board or the school principal should phone personally.

Think long term. Keep inviting donors to events, send them information material – not to irritate the donors but to show them that the school remembers them, that their donation has not been forgotten. Everyone who has made a donation is a friend of the school, the kindergarten. Build a culture of friendship!

And then? Then everything starts again from the beginning with the next project.

About the author: Birger Laing is a lawyer and advises social and cultural organisations on fundraising.