Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Fundraising goes back to school…

Six months into my new development role in a School and coming from a team of 35 to just me and a part-time assistant, I’ve learned a few lessons along the way.

Lesson number one - educate the teachers.  One way is to write a plan, not a huge wordy treatise, but something which simply explains how you are going to identify prospects, cultivate relationships and ask for money.  When people understand the fundraising process and trust you as a professional, you will buy time to get on with it and their help when you need it. One Deputy Head remarked; “I never knew what fundraisers really did until I read your plan”.

Lesson number twofocus on fundraising.  In a small team when you are expected to do everything from updating the website to organising reunions, from processing annual gifts to event fundraising…it is easy to lose sight of the big goal. Stay focussed on advancing your major gift prospects (if that is part of your job) as this will ultimately prove your worth to the organisation which pays your salary. When you are successful, then you can make the case for a bigger team. If asked why you can’t do it all (why can’t we run a Telethon in-house now?) – refer your Headmaster/mistress and the Governors back to the Plan which after all, they approved.   

Lesson number three - get to know your teachers and pupils.  Teachers know the pupils, their parents and school life much better than you do. They will alert you to prospective donors, help with visits and inform your Case for Support. If you know some pupils and what they think of the school, it provides you with some fantastic stories to really make your case. Ask if you can shadow a pupil for a morning – it’s a real eye opener into how sassy, funny and smart teenagers are.

Lesson number fournetwork with colleagues in other small teams. It can be very lonely working in an office tucked away in the admin block of a school, particularly during holidays. Fundraising by its nature means that along the way you get rejections so it helps to share ideas with fellow fundraisers who are facing the same challenges. Don’t be afraid to cold call and (politely) ask for someone’s opinions and experiences. Likewise, if something has really worked for you, share this with fellow fundraisers. ,

Lesson number five take a risk. As the development professional who is supposed to know everything about fundraising (when you might only have focussed on one area in a big team and had big backup), you can stick to what you know works. Get out of your comfort zone (for me it is legacies) and learn new skills. That is the beauty of working in a school, if you have the Head’s backing, you get to shape the programme and make decisions a lot quicker than in a bigger organisation. Yes, sometimes you will get it wrong, but it all adds to your experience and no-one said school was easy….

Joanne Finnie Jones
Development Director
King Edward’s School, Witley       


About our Guest Poster
Jo is a fundraiser who has worked across all areas in large and small teams. Most all she loves meeting people, hearing their stories and bringing them together with a great cause.  She also enjoys analysing results and pinpointing what works (and what doesn’t).  She writes here about the transition from a big fundraising team with many specialists to a one woman band responsible for everything with its inevitable highs and lows.  

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