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Roundtable Takeaways: Adapting your Fundraising Messaging During COVID-19

Caroline Schafer | 6 min read

Over the past week, BoostMySchool hosted a series of roundtable discussions with advancement professionals. Over 35 people attended five different sessions to discuss the messaging they are using to reach out to their constituents. While realizing there is still a need to raise money to meet their goals, they are conscientious of the message they are sending out to donors.

Main Takeaways from Roundtable Discussions

Moving Forward with a Day of Giving

Some schools decided to move forward or reschedule their Day of Giving for May or June. However, the message is based on supporting the community. This was a recurring theme amongst participants.

One school changed the meaning of their annual “Be Our Hero” campaign. Instead of recognizing graduating students for this campaign, they are raising money to honor COVID-19 frontline heroes in their school community, such as a father-daughter team who made and distributed 35,000 N-95 masks. This message is consistent with other schools who are recognizing teachers and community members helping fight the battle against COVID-19.

Another school is focussing their Day of Giving on teachers and their community. By encouraging their constituents to send notes of encouragement to teachers and members of the community affected by COVID-19 leading up to their Day of Giving, they are cultivating a community that cares and sending a message of contributing what they can.

Many schools planning a Day of Giving are raising funds for financial aid to help students at risk of not returning due to the financial impact of COVID-19 on their family. Even though they know they still need to raise money to meet their Annual Fund goal, advancement teams are shifting money around to meet student needs.

One school sent a message to their constituents outlining the need to raise money for the survival of the school. By laying the groundwork ahead of time with a message of need, they were able to raise over $115,000, exceeding last year’s results of $100,000, proving that it’s still possible to have a successful Day of Giving event during this difficult time.

The Importance of Stewardship

Many schools acknowledged they need to play the long game right now and recognize that acts of stewardship will go a long way to laying the groundwork for future asks. One school checked in with older alumni by sending tea bags, a long-standing tradition at the school where students would have tea with the sisters who used to manage the school.

Other schools mentioned many alumni are small business owners in their community who are struggling financially. One school started hosting Zoom happy hour events to reconnect alumni across the country. Each week, they pick someone connected to the school, either a beloved teacher or the Head of School to host. The Zoom event allows alumni to support each other while giving their business recognition. The impact on donations may not be immediate, but this act of stewardship may go a long way once the pandemic is over.

One message is clear: alumni want to be involved with helping their school community and are asking for ways to help. Most participants recognized that they cannot go silent during this difficult time and must continue to communicate with their constituents. One school is planning a service day and calling for alumni participation. Another school is reaching out to families to see how they are doing.

Communication from Head of School

There was a recurring theme amongst roundtable participants; they all recognized the important role their Head of School plays in fundraising during this time. Communication from the Head of School was demonstrated in different ways. Many schools are offering recurring video chats with the Head of School and are inviting donors to join in the conversation. Schools planning fundraising events are incorporating their Head of School in their communication strategy and realize the fundraising message needs to come from the top.

Most advancement teams are encouraging their Head of School to make phone calls to their larger donors to check-in and gauging if they are willing to give. One school mentioned their Head of School was connecting with donors based on their interest in the school. For example, by letting donors know who their donation is helping, donors felt more connected to the school and were willing to give to continue helping.

Planning for Events

Events are difficult to plan given the climate. One school held an online gala with an Italian theme after having to shift gears from an in-person event. They encouraged their constituents to dress up for the event and kept a similar flow to the in-person event. The first part showcased student accomplishments and was followed by a live auction. The school noticed more participation from constituents who had not purchased a ticket to the in-person event. They also mentioned that their sponsors were still getting referral traffic from the online page listing.

Schools are reluctant to plan events into the fall right now. One school was still planning on moving a July 13th golf tournament to September but another school was hesitant on planning their centennial event for November. They recognized how difficult it would be to secure sponsors for their event given the current climate. They are also unsure people will want to attend a 300-person event in November.

Many schools are looking at hosting online events but are not sure how to approach these events. The consensus is that events bring their school community together but are hesitant to have large virtual events. Most teams are in a holding pattern with respect to events and are trying to determine what format will work best for the given climate.

Further COVID-19 Resources

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Written By

Caroline Schafer

Caroline is the Director of Community at BoostMySchool. Having worked in a private K-12 school, she understands the importance of school fundraising and keeping schools sustainable for the future of generations to come. She is an advocate for education and currently has two kids in a private K-8 school.