Winners Share Lessons Learned
“Got challenge? We got money!” That’s how PEJE announced the Challenge Awards to the day school field over a year ago.
Now the winners can say to the field, “Got challenge? We got winning advice!”
As our awardees innovated their way to increased revenue, they learned lessons—lots of them—about increasing revenue via the annual campaign, affordable tuition, and endowment and legacy giving.
Here they share their hard-earned insights and recommendations, all of which can help your school achieve financial sustainability.
OPENING THE DOOR TO DONATIONS
Don’t think of development as taking. Think of it as giving an opportunity to be part of a cause, to feel purpose and pride.
“Our community want[s] to be a part of something that addresses issues that resonate with them like making Jewish education a priority.” —Oakland Hebrew Day School
“I have been surprised by the excitement of donors at the opportunity to be part of the RHACC.” —Robbins Hebrew Academy
“Igniting [all stakeholders’] passion for the future of their children can lead to hidden treasures.” —Valley Beth Shalom
If you haven’t received, try asking.
“The number one reason people do not contribute is that they are not asked. We must make sure no stone is left unturned.” —The Agnon School
“When asked to support the school in a meaningful way, parents were pleased to do so.” —King David High School
“It came as a surprise how willing the staff were to give. Staff just needed to be given a directed ask.” —Kellman Brown Academy
Educate your donors.
“Often, [the community does] not understand where the money goes, or what impact their gift can really have. When someone truly understands they will want to write a check year after year.” —Akiva School of Nashville
“To parents, the ‘Closing the financial gap’ explanation for raising funds is not motivating. Having concrete initiatives and incentives is far more effective.” —Valley Beth Shalom
“Campaign communication materials like a Case Statement, email and website updates, a Gift Table, and articles in the media are critical.” —JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School
“There is a higher rate of engagement when alumni better understand the operations of the school, [its] vision and its role in the community.” —The Ramaz School
Get educated about your donors.
“[Giving] is all about [donors’] passion for our causes and their state of mind. For example, someone who recently lost a loved one may be thinking about gifts through which someone may be remembered.” —The Agnon School
Realize that the “face-to-face” approach works—and create a ripple effect.
“Volunteers and staff working together to make face-to-face asks raise far more money than other means of soliciting.” —JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School
“People speaking with others about their passion are contagious. The more ambassadors who are trained and comfortable to have non-confrontational, fact-filled and friendly discussions in person, the easier it is to create a culture of giving [and create new ambassadors].” —Hochberg Preparatory
“Once there is momentum, parents want to be involved.” —Valley Beth Shalom
“Peer to peer direct solicitation has been the most effective approach for current and past Board members [and alumni].” —Robbins Hebrew Academy
Cast a wide net: broaden your donor base.
“[Through personal cultivation] we are opening doors to previously unidentified prospects in the larger community. The consequences are limitless.” —Hochberg Preparatory
“We must continuously build our donor base with new donors rather than go back to the same people time after time.” —Lander-Grinspoon Academy
“Ongoing networking for new prospects will build a larger major gifts pool of potential givers.” —JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School
Get your board (and head of school) on board.
“Leaders in giving and soliciting funds must be cultivated on an ongoing basis.” —Valley Beth Shalom
“Early Board giving really does create momentum in a campaign. Board and lay leaders need time, support, [and] training in their efforts to get support for the school.” —Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital
“Many of our [Board] members didn't know how to [make] the case for giving. When given the necessary tools they recognize that this can be enjoyable.” —Weizmann Day School
“[It is] important to have the Head of School actively involved in fundraising.” —JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School
Harness electronic media for fundraising.
“Electronic communications [school email and website; community blogs, email lists, and e-letters] were a very effective means of spreading the word quickly [about a new tuition grant program].” —Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle
“We are learning the power of social media [causes.org, linked with Facebook] and video making [for annual campaign fundraising].” —Lander-Grinspoon Academy
Give your donors choices.
“People like having a choice about how they contribute.” —Akiva School of Nashville
“We need to be conversant in the various vehicles of giving. When someone [is] interested in our cause but does not have the money, we are served well by understanding deferred giving.” —The Agnon School
Be a matchmaker: leverage matching grants.
“[Our match] challengers were very interested in making a gift that could be leveraged. Our core leadership [is extremely excited] to give when they know their gift will be matched.” —Hannah Senesh Community Day School
“A fixed deadline with a significant dollar reward at the end [a match] creates important momentum.” —JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School
“Many [match] donors gave gifts well above [their past donations and] had not previously given to the school.” —Oakland Hebrew Day School
Capitalize on your capital campaign.
“When we had an exciting [capital] initiative, our total fundraising was increased while our number of givers remained essentially flat. We were able to fundraise for our Annual Fund PLUS the incremental activity.” —Weizmann Day School
Mend fences with families.
“A small group of people may have unresolved negative feelings toward the school. It is important to try to elicit this information so we can make inroads with donors.” —The Agnon School
OPENING THE DOOR TO ENROLLMENT
Harness electronic media for marketing.
“Today, families look at a school’s website and make a decision to engage or not. [It] is a critical element to recruiting. With social media, we [can] conduct much more frequent and targeted marketing campaigns than print allows and at much lower cost.” —MetroWest Jewish Day School
Take the stigma out of middle-income financial aid.
“Middle income families felt too embarrassed to apply [for financial aid] and chose to leave the school. Rather than offering only traditional financial aid, [we offered other options, including discounts] and allowed them to continue at OHDS with their pride intact.” —Oakland Hebrew Day School
Improve and promote student support services.
“[Many new families] are ‘raising their hands’ once they learn about our new support services.” —YULA Boys
Mend fences with families (Part II).
One student talking about not returning can encourage other students to consider not returning [or enrolling for the first time]. The Head of School really talking to parents—really listening—has made a tremendous difference.” —Milwaukee Jewish Day School
PAVING THE WAY FOR ENDOWMENT AND LEGACY GIVING
Be prepared: a long-term gift requires long-term cultivation.
“Legacy Development is a long-term process that requires a cultural shift and buy in and understanding from our Board leadership, lay leaders and professionals. [It] takes a great deal of relationship building and education.” —Beth Tfiloh Dahan
“Engaging people in a dialogue about their legacies involves sensitive, patient volunteers. Not everyone is comfortable with this subject.” —The Doris and Alex Weber Jewish Community High School
“We have to wait until a donor is ready to commit. Patience [is] a virtue.” —The Agnon School
Get your board (and a special committee) on board.
“Board participation can have an impact on overall [endowment] giving. We must have an Honorary Committee of people who are highly respected [and] can help us acquire larger sums of money.” —The Agnon School
Make your case, and make it specific.
“We never [fully communicated] our successes and the costs to maintain excellence. Now that our Head of School has provided a position paper [with] an actual cost break-out and rationale, a [drastically higher endowment target is on the table].” —The Agnon School
Don’t worry about cannibalizing your annual campaign. The more endowment donors give … the more they give.
“People who have made an endowment commitment may give up to twice as much to the annual fund in subsequent years. People who invest in the long-term success of an institution want to make sure it is viable today.” —The Agnon School
“[We’re making] the case for close coordination of our annual, endowment and planned giving efforts.” —The Doris and Alex Weber Jewish Community High School
SAYING “THANK YOU”
Thank your donors. Again and again. And again.
“One way we build relationships is through recognizing our donors [via] special events, personal thank you letters from staff and parents, thank you calls from students, and public recognition.” —Akiva School of Nashville
“In our meetings with major donors we personally [thanked] them. We must continue to use opportunities [such as holidays] to phone donors and wish them well and thank them. At school events, students thank their families and community.” —King David High School
“A proper recognition and stewardship program can have a massive impact on our ability to continue to grow our endowment.” —The Agnon School