The holidays are over and it’s back to school for students, families, and fundraisers! For development officers working in K-8 independent and private schools, this is an exciting and busy time, but one that also raises some tough questions. K-8 education is unique but also poses some distinct fundraising challenges. This year, how can you turn these challenges into opportunities?

Challenge #1: Alumni Engagement
How do you keep your alumni engaged once they’ve moved on to high school, college, grad school, and beyond? For many, a K-8 institution is just the first of many that will vie for alumni engagement and philanthropic support. As students go on to high school, college, and graduate school, K-8 schools must work even harder to compete for alumni affinity and philanthropic support.

The Opportunity: Independent elementary and middle schools play an important role in the emotional and educational development of students. These schools often leave a lasting impression on them and sometimes are appreciated even more once alumni become adults. This is why staying connected to alumni from the moment they graduate is essential to forming lifelong donors. Acknowledge that you may lose some of their attention during the high school and college years, but recognize that you also have unique opportunities to keep them engaged. Your school represents a distinctive, irreplaceable time in their lives – childhood! Use this to your advantage as you craft engagement opportunities, such as:

  • 8th Grade Class Gift
  • Young Alumni Giving Society
  • Free admission to athletic events
  • Alumni/faculty lunch or sporting events
  • Tours of the school (alumni love to revisit where it all began!)
  • Alumni newsletters
  • Social media opportunities filled with “throwback” photos of childhood events and “where are they now?” updates

Challenge #2: Young Families New to Philanthropy
For K-8 schools, parents are often the primary donor constituency; however, for many parents of young children, this could be their first introduction to philanthropy. Many parents are just beginning to flourish in their careers while also raising families, giving them plenty of competing financial interests beyond independent school tuition. Further, prospecting is an added challenge – if the parents are young, it can be hard to find reliable track records of philanthropy and other wealth capacity information.

The Opportunity: Think of your school as one of the first to engage your families as philanthropists. Young families often present a “clean slate” when it comes to philanthropy. In fact, in many cases the K-8 educational experience is the first time a family has been asked for a gift beyond grassroots donations.  Take the opportunity to educate them on giving and emphasize your case for philanthropic support. Independent schools often require significant tuition payments, so be mindful of the possible sticker shock that a new family might feel, but also take advantage of the timing of their excitement to be accepted into a new school community.

If research on new families is scarce, development officers should think outside the box to find information that can help inform a gift request. Anecdotal information, such as home values, jobs, and vacations, might play a more significant role in determining the request for young families, although this type of information should be used with caution and discretion. It’s also important to know if the grandparents are supporting their grandkids’ education, as many do. In this case, a gift request of the entire family may be appropriate.

Challenge #3: Why Give Now?
Parents of young children are already thinking about what comes next – high school, college – knowing that their kids will not always be at your school. How can you help parents prioritize their K-8 school, especially knowing that their students will soon be headed to a new school home?

The Opportunity: Typically, parents are more involved in their child’s school now than they will be during the high school and college years. They volunteer in classrooms, lunch, and extra-curricular activities. They know their kids’ friends, teachers, and the other parents and grandparents. Most parents visit the school at least once a day, to drop off or pick up their students. Parents are an active, present, visible constituency at K-8 schools. Take advantage of this by getting to know the families and engaging parents as volunteers. Parents can make gift requests, attend volunteer trainings, and serve on committees. Hold meetings first thing in the morning when kids are dropped off, or right before school ends. This high-level engagement will keep parents focused and connected to your school.

By getting to know families well, you also have the opportunity to personalize gift requests, letters, and follow-up. Include familiar faces on collateral by asking if their children can be a part of a campaign-related video or photo shoot. Talk about programs or experiences their children will have as a result of the school’s fundraising efforts. Highlight specific teachers and administrators that are important to their child.  Personalization makes a big difference and no one knows the families like you do.

Take the time to think through some of these challenges and how you can use them to your advantage. What other challenges have you seen in K-8 fundraising? How have you overcome them?

Attending CASE-NAIS 2017 in Austin next week? We invite you to visit us at Booth 31 for more successful school fundraising tips and a CCS schedule of events!



About the Author

Eliza Huleatt has seven years of fundraising experience with healthcare, higher and secondary education, medical research, and cultural institutions. Before joining CCS, Eliza was Director of Annual Giving at the French-American School of New York.

As a CCS director, Kyle Amey has also assisted a broad range of organizations in the healthcare and education sectors. Prior to joining CCS, Kyle worked for Network for Good where he provided online fundraising expertise to more than 300 clients across all non-profit sectors.

Ally McDougal has over ten years of fundraising experience in many different capacities including directing, fundraising, strategic planning, board development and volunteer management. She organized programs for City Year AmeriCorps in Louisiana prior to joining CCS.