Today I became the mother of a middle schooler. This is not good news. In fact, it’s completely terrifying. My little boy is now a sixth grader. A sixth grader! Breathe, Jennifer, breathe.
And while the tune of “Cats in the Cradle” plays in my head—click here to import it into your internal sound system—I think about how parents can never really prepare for the moments that catch you off guard. I never imagined how I’d feel watching my sixth grader walk into school today trying desperately to remember his locker combination.
For a typical “Type A” personality like me, managing the “un-planned-for” can be a great challenge. We’ve all heard the Yiddish saying “Man plans and God laughs,” which certainly applied to the snowstorm on my bat mitzvah. When it comes to Jewish people giving Jewish philanthropy to Jewish day schools, I bet God would smile approvingly at our plans.
When development professionals and board leaders ask what the secret to raising more money is, I say the same thing I always have: It’s all about planning. If you don’t know right now, I mean today, where the $1 million you expect to raise this year will come from, I suggest it might not be the right fundraising goal.
I know what you’re thinking: “How can we plan for other people’s decisions about their own philanthropy?” Well, I’m going to tell you how.
1) Look to the past. Any good plan starts with an audit of what was done the previous year. Your audit should include information beyond most recent giving. Put donors in categories so you can see giving by target markets such as board members, parents, alumni, and grandparents. Take a look at the dates gifts were closed and the methodology used (was it a face-to-face solicitation? a mail appeal? an event?). With a sharp picture of the recent past you can start to imagine where to go next.
2) Engage your leadership. I’ve seen some incredible strategic development plans that never come to fruition. The main reason? No one is available to implement the plan. School leadership, both professional and board, needs to be involved throughout the development process. Their priorities and strategies must be integrated early on in the planning phase. Delivering a staff-driven plan for board approval almost always results in a rubber stamp, which assumes the development staff is going to do all the work.
3) Write a plan. Whether you want to use the guide we have on the PEJE website or have one of your own, the plan only has value if it is a written, living document. It must include specific strategies as well as key tactics and initiatives to achieve your goals. Here’s what I mean: A specific strategy for an annual campaign plan could be reaching 100% parent participation. The tactics might be assigning class-captains, planning a pizza party contest, or hosting an event for parent donors in the head of school’s home. Take care to think through the strategies before implementing the tactics. A calendar of events does not constitute a strategic development plan.
4) Assign the work. We all know that successful fundraising is executed by a team. Often this crew includes dozens of participants including your development committee, board leadership, parent body, and school professionals. Regardless of their title, it is imperative to outline each person’s role and responsibility in the campaign plan. Use our helpful matrix as you begin to think through who the players are on your team.
5) Measure like crazy. Most development professionals (I’m including myself here) report that a fundraising campaign is a success when the dollar goal is met. Consider this statement: “We set out to raise $1 million this year and we actually raised a bit over.” That, my friends, is one measure of success. What I have come to learn from working at PEJE, however, is that the dollar amount raised is only one metric. Yes, it will lead to a balanced budget; but did you broaden your donor base? Did you increase support from alumni? Did you reach 100% parent participation? Did you retain 95% of donors from the previous annual campaign? By expanding and clarifying your measures, you can gain better insight into the potential growth areas for your campaign.
Now I have to go think of some clever strategies for my student to remember his locker combination and the directional turns! Here’s to our collective planning!
P.S. Want to give your plan a reality check? Send it to me and let’s review it together!