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Posted on Nov 1, 2009

Building A Donor Base…

Building A Donor Base…

by Gerry Ebbers, SCSBC Consultant for Stewardship & Development  ◊  

… takes time and intentionality.

Your school’s donor base must include more than current parents if it is ever to grow both in number and in the dollars donated to the school. It must also include alumni and their parents, current and alumni grandparents, and all those people in your community who value the vision and mission of your school.

Your school needs a large and loyal donor base to support its annual needs and, more importantly, capital campaigns to raise funds for new or expanded facilities, support for special projects, and planned or estate gifts.

So how do you establish a donor base? There’s only one way and that is to offer everyone an annual opportunity to give to the school. Then you must track the donations, say thank-you and stay in touch. Galas and auctions can be great community builders and fundraisers, but they limit the number of people who can attend and make a donation. Instead, a school needs an annual drive that shares the vision and needs of the school with your entire donor base, and gives everyone an opportunity to support based on their personal financial ability. You need to do this every year so that your school becomes one of the charities that people support every year. Each annual drive presents the opportunity to challenge people to increase their level of giving as their own financial circumstances change.

Annual drives are the foundation for capital campaigns and need to be in place for a decade before a school initiates a capital campaign. Why? Because if you are not on someone’s annual list of causes, you cannot expect that person to suddenly defer their other giving in order to make a gift to a campaign you’ve launched. And even if a new donor can be encouraged to contribute to a campaign, if you are not a cause that person supports annually and is therefore committed to in the long term, you cannot expect that person to make a substantial and multi-year commitment to your campaign.

Annual drives are also the foundation for planned or estate gifts. Obviously it is much more likely that someone will consider leaving an estate gift to your school if they have been supporting your school for decades and you have been intentional about staying in touch with this person, sharing your needs and thanking them for their support. Planned or estate gifts offer the best opportunity for individuals to make significantly large gifts to an organization and these gifts are the foundation for the long-term stability of a school allowing it to weather downturns in the economy or one-year budget shortfalls due to unforeseen circumstances. If your school has a large and loyal donor base, it does not have to panic and launch a deficit drive when it is facing a financially challenging year.

So how do you keep parents as donors after their children have graduated, or add other donors who may not have had children in your school? By creating opportunities to showcase your school, your students, and the vision of your school. You must be intentional about staying connected to people through personal contact, newsletters and events. That takes time, planning and donor follow-up. Does your school have a large and loyal donor base? If not, the time to start is now. Delay will jeopardize the long-term viability of your school.

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