Walking before you run, reading over your notes before the big exam, pouring the foundation before the main structure–these all seem like obvious steps in achieving a goal. Yet, in my career as Head of School at several institutions over the past 30 years, I have seen numerous schools fall short of their capital campaign goals because they failed to do the upfront work to coalesce the school around a shared vision for the future.
Here are a few areas to consider before your next campaign:
Look Inward Before You Start Out
In anticipation of a capital campaign, self analysis is an important first step. Engage your faculty and staff in a discussion about current programs and facilities as well as a plan for renovation or growth. If you bring them into the dialogue, their understand and support will be become a critical part of the effort.
The Board sets the priorities and must lead the communication effort to the entire school community. This is a delicate task, and leadership should set aside adequate time for discussion and questions to ensure all constituents understand how the priorities were established and what next steps will be.
Finally, be sure to look at your school’s current data. I call these the “happiness” or “readiness indicators” to ensure that your school can support a campaign:
● Student attrition below 5%
● Participation in annual fund by parents above 70%
● Admissions yield rate above 80%
Get to Know Your Investors
School campaigns are supported heavily by current and past parents, grandparents, alumni, and community leaders. Here’s a quote straight from an NAIS blog earlier this year: In the school’s sense of community ownership, community members are the school. When donors give, they are investing and building up something that is already theirs. I typically find that donors (or “investors” as we call them at Convergent) in school campaigns fall into three general categories. Following are descriptions that can help understand the “who” of those who will be supporting your capital campaign and helping pave the way for your school’s growth and improvements:
Usually an alum or parent of alumni. They want the important traditions of the school to remain in place. The school was right for them or their children, and they don’t want to see too much change. They may be concerned the school will lose itself and what’s important with any changes the campaign will bring. They need to be reassured that the mission and the history will stay intact.
Growth and innovation are priorities for this group. How will the school best prepare their child for the future? What is the school’s vision? Is it staying current and evolving with the changing times? This group of parents wants to know their children will have what they need to succeed before they graduate. Assuring them this campaign will help achieve that goal is paramount.
Parents who may be new to the community or new to independent education. Beyond a high quality college preparatory education, this group’s priority is often about social desires for themselves and their children. They are looking for ways to be noticed and accepted into the school community. Affiliation with certain families and/or naming rights will matter to this group.
Prove Your “Why”
A funding feasibility study is the final logical step in preparation for a campaign. This helps your school involve donors/investors in the early stages of the campaign. While it might seem counterintuitive to invite them to give input early on, you run the risk of alienating or embarrassing them if they feel they were not consulted about the school’s plans for the future. Also, as the old fundraising adage goes: If they help you write the plan, they will help you underwrite the plan.
Commitments made to a capital campaign are often in the form of pledges over several years. A feasibility study is a cultivation step to lead to the actual campaign solicitations. It is unrealistic to assume that the very first time a meeting is held, the parent, grandparent, community leader, or alumnus will immediately want to invest in your campaign. This is an opportunity to converse, interact, and appreciate your constituent’s opinion. Allowing them ownership of the program or project you’re fundraising toward leads to more substantial dollars raised.
Finally, the feasibility study provides an honest assessment of the campaign’s viability and the overall funding goal. Using an outside consultant to conduct the study allows your school to garner an unbiased report on an appropriate goal, recommended campaign plan, and timeline prior to beginning the campaign.
Capital campaigns should strengthen investors’ understanding of the school’s mission and vision while also building relationships. Convergent’s fundraising directors use their ROI-driven funding expertise to focus on the capital campaign alone, uniting a school’s marketing, communications, admissions, and development efforts while shouldering the burden so these teams can continue managing their own priorities.
To discuss your school’s capital funding needs, please feel free to contact me at Convergent today. We can help prepare you for capital campaign success.