How to begin a school fundraising program

No matter how large or small a school you are, it seems like there is never enough money to do the things that you want.  For most schools, there are generally two ways that you can increase your overall budget; enroll more students and receive the increased income from tuition and/or state support or develop a school fundraising capability.  I generally help schools to figure out the first one, but building a school fundraising capability also needs to be part of your long term plan to ensure sustainability for your school.

school fundraisingI have asked my friend Nick Torres who is the Director of Philanthropy at Cathedral High School here in Indianapolis to offer some suggestions and guidance on how schools can begin the process of building their fundraising program.  

Cathedral High School has consistently been raising more than
$2.5 million annually and they currently have embarked on an ambitious Centennial Campaign which will coincide with the school’s 100th anniversary in September 2018.

Nick is good!  And I don’t just say that because we share the same first name.  I hope you enjoy his guidance . . .

Fear. Nervousness. Disdain. These are just a few of the most common feelings that school administrators feel when thinking about fundraising. It does not have to be this way!

Let’s get right to the elephant in the room. If you are reading this blog post you are likely a school administrator of some kind. If you are a school official you probably don’t like asking for money…..that’s just my guess. I have a theory as to why this is true. This theory is not backed up with data, it is not tested with the scientific method nor is it researched by large universities. I simply think that school officials don’t like asking for money because simply put, most of you are not comfortable asking for money and most of you don’t do it enough to become more comfortable. Don’t worry, it’s not your fault and I have some recommendations that can help.

We aren’t good at things we don’t do very often.

As a principal, classroom teacher, enrollment director, head of school etc……there are a million things that can distract you from putting time and effort towards fundraising. To compound this challenge even more, the distractions you deal with on a daily basis are very legitimate…..put out a fire with a parent, make sure the buses leave on time, unlock the gym doors, relock the gym doors, answer 100+ emails etc. Schools are busy places. School professionals are busy people.

This first reality that we must accept as a school official is that fundraising is an essential function of our job and it must be scheduled on your calendars so that you do it more often and improve your level of comfort. Start with a baby step and schedule one hour per week that you dedicate to fundraising. It could be making thank you calls to past donors, scheduling a face to face meeting with a board member or hosting a parent reception to specifically talk about fundraising needs. We don’t get better at things unless we practice them and fundraising is no different. As you get more comfortable asking, I suspect you will be pleasantly surprised at how receptive donors are to help.

Now, the other elephant in the room…’s a big room. You have convinced yourself that you need to dedicate time to your fundraising program but you have no idea where to begin. If you’re feeling this way, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Three simple questions to ask yourself to help you determine your best path forward. Do you have current donors?  Do you know your current donors? Do you know why your current donors support your school?

Stop. For the sake of convenience, let’s assume you have a current donor base but you don’t know much about them or why they support your school. If this is the case, you are like most school communities. You have also answered the question of where to begin. Spend one hour per week getting to know your current donors!

Meet them

Now, the easy part, putting both your elephants together and taking action! You have one hour per week and you have a current donor base who you don’t know very well. Get out there and meet with them. That’s right, I said meet with them. Don’t email them, don’t send them a letter, but pick up the phone and call them to schedule a meeting. 75% of the work is getting the meeting scheduled.

All you have to do when you meet with them is to speak passionately about your school, thank them for their support and ask them their connection and history to your school. You will be surprised by how many things you can learn just by asking questions and listening as opposed to doing all the talking. Donors may say that a meeting is not necessary but don’t be afraid to push back and articulate to them why their support is so important and speaking with them face to face is important to you personally…….if you are a head of school and reading this, know that your presence in setting the meeting and playing an active role is vitally important!

One hour per week. One donor relationship that is further developed. One more person in your school community who is feeling good about supporting your mission. Start small, but start somewhere!

Granted, the two elephants in the room that we discussed today will be different for each school community. However, the principles of dedicating time and identifying those prospects who are already supporting your school community can be applied across the board.

Now that you have accepted fundraising as an essential job function (that was quick, congrats) there is one more thing to remember and it’s very easy. Doing something, is better than doing nothing. Make a phone call to thank a donor. Ask to meet with your board leadership. Write a handwritten note to a family that you think could make a meaningful gift. You must begin somewhere and doing nothing is not an option.

Congrats, you are a fundraiser!

Need more assistance starting a school development program?

Lets Chat! Lets Chat!

Nick LeRoy

Nick LeRoy, MBA, is the president of Bright Minds Marketing and former Executive Director of the Indiana Charter School Board. Bright Minds Marketing provides enrollment and recruitment consulting to private, Catholic and charter schools. For information about how Bright Minds Marketing can help your school improve its’ student enrollment, send an email to or call us at 317-361-5255.

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