From Engagement to Impact: Transforming Giving Days for Independent Schools
Annual giving days are a top tool for independent schools seeking to hit fundraising goals. But for many schools, planning and executing successful giving days is no easy feat.
We sat down with Jacob Geiger, an experienced school communications director, to talk through the common barriers to successful giving days. Our interview touched on many of the key points below, which we hope will help your school engage in winning fundraising strategies going forward.
Why do independent schools struggle with executing successful giving days?
- It’s easy to lose momentum. One of the key challenges schools face is decreasing levels of engagement during their fundraising campaigns. Many donors may contribute for the first giving day, but as time goes on, excitement can dwindle, resulting in decreased donations during subsequent giving days.
To combat this, schools must create a sense of urgency and excitement to keep donors engaged. One way to shake up how they approach prospective donors can be through engaging videos. (See more on that below.)
- Many schools are working with limited time and resources. Independent schools often operate with limited resources, making it challenging to allocate sufficient time and funds to execute successful giving days. This lack of resources can hinder marketing efforts and reduce the impact of the event. Schools must identify ways to streamline processes so that giving days do not become a burden on employees’ already busy schedules.
- The pitch is fear-based. Too often, fundraising campaigns base their pitches on the idea that the school won’t thrive or survive without external support. But most folks don’t want to give out of fear; instead, they are more likely to give because they are excited about something the school can offer.
What are some new strategies independent schools can use to make their giving days more successful?
- Incorporate video storytelling into your giving days. People love connecting through stories. Using video fundraising to showcase how each donation has the potential to impact the school community often translates into a bump in donor participation and funds raised.
Whether it’s a story about a person or a program, a fundraising video can convey compelling stories that highlight the school’s impact. It’s a powerful way to connect donors with the people their funds will support.
- Keep your storytelling in line with your values. Share stories that highlight your school’s values in action. This way, donors and alumni can stay emotionally connected with the institution’s mission. You can consistently highlight the same core values of your institution from year to year, but remember to stay nimble, too.
A great example: Jacob Geiger’s school made sure to share stories of resilience as they worked to accommodate students and reopen their school safely as the pandemic wore on. This value of “resiliency” resonated deeply with supporters who wished to give their support during a difficult time.
- Engage with donors through multiple touchpoints leading up to and during the giving day. Great ways to do this include personalized messages, social media updates, and live thank-you messages during the event that will keep donors motivated to contribute.
Remember that storytelling can be high production value (often great for evergreen videos that can live on your website) or something simpler, like a Facebook Live or a short video from an iPhone. Share these shorter, more informal videos on social media—a day in the life of a student, for example. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good—and remember to keep stories on the shorter side!
- Find a good platform. GiveCampus is one of many options for schools to conduct their fundraising efforts, and with this platform, you can seamlessly incorporate video storytelling into your strategy.
- Reconsider your timing. Avoid scheduling giving days on popular fundraising days like Giving Tuesday. Stand out by choosing a unique date that will receive undivided attention from your donor community.
A Look at Woodberry Forest School’s Annual Fundraising Day, OneWoodberry
The Woodberry Forest School’s annual fundraising day showcases a well-crafted giving-day strategy that leverages the institution’s strong values, community engagement, and data-driven insights. In our interview, Jacob Geiger offers valuable lessons learned from Woodberry’s efforts.
→ Build a solid foundation: Woodberry Forest School already boasts an impressive annual fund participation rate of around 60 percent of alumni. This foundation of consistent giving reflects a strong community connection.
→ Rally around a specific day: OneWoodberry is held in late February or early March each year and serves as a rallying point for the community. It aims to energize not only regular donors but also young alumni and newcomers. Some schools choose to hold their give day on the anniversary of the institution's founding or some other date that resonates with students, parents, and alumni. By creating an exciting event around a specific date, the school engages supporters, fostering a sense of belonging and participation.
→ Data-driven insights: Woodberry Forest School uses its annual fundraising day to gather valuable data and insights. By assessing participation trends and donation sizes, the school gains a clearer understanding of its donor base and can identify areas that require targeted reach and engagement in the future.
→ Diversify engagement: The school’s marketing strategies extend beyond soliciting monetary contributions. It includes alumni career networking events through platforms like Zoom. This innovative addition not only builds meaningful connections among alumni but also aligns with the institution’s values.
→ Embrace change: Over the years, Woodberry Forest has experimented with new elements, such as incorporating career networking opportunities. This adaptability demonstrates the institution’s commitment to staying relevant and offering diverse ways for potential donors to engage.
→ Create a legacy: The school recognizes the value of tying its fundraising efforts to nostalgia and tradition. By connecting alumni with current students and offering networking opportunities, Woodberry creates a sense of legacy and continuity that resonates with both new and seasoned supporters.
Further Support: CASE Resources
For additional support and resources on annual giving days, independent schools can explore many resources that CASE offers, including webinars and guides to help schools optimize their fundraising. For giving day inspiration, check out the fundraising section of our Circle of Excellence Award Areas and Categories page.
Annual giving days are vital for the success of independent schools. By understanding and addressing the common challenges and implementing effective strategies, schools can make their giving days more impactful. With dedication and creativity, these events can strengthen the school community while securing essential funding.