12 Strategies for Overcoming Fundraising Fatigue
"Fundraising Fatigue" is a term that has cropped up in recent years to reference the feeling that individuals have been asked to make charitable donations to too many organizations too frequently. This has become particularly relevant after the Tsunami relief effort in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. So many people contributed to these two emergency needs, that it supposedly took away available dollars from local causes.
It is possible that you may have encountered this malady before in your organization, or you may even have felt symptoms of it yourself. However, as committed members of our schools' fundraising teams, we must rise above this situation in order to bring in the money the school needs.
The following is a list of twelve strategies you can use at your school to combat any cases of fundraising fatigue that arise.
1. Check your community calendar. Before committing to a fundraising timeline, do your homework and research any other fundraisers that target your school families- soccer, little league baseball, or even a church fundraiser. In bigger cities, it may be very difficult to find a completely open time, since there are so many organizations, but it is wise to try to select a window during which you are not conflicting with events that will put your people in a tough financial situation. Don't assume that you will be every family's first donation priority.
2. Set a good plan with your school board. During your planning process with the school board, evaluate what you've done in the past. What worked, what didn't? Eliminate or avoid events that have a low return on your investment of time and money. Brainstorm with your board any possible obstacles that might arise to throw your plan off course. It is important to really devise a strong, confident, and well thought-out plan in this early stage. As I will discuss later on, it is not pleasant to have to go back to the drawing board half-way through the year.
3. Make the events fun, not a burden. Remember that people like to enjoy themselves and try new things. If you find yourself doing the same old event or sale year after year, think about finding something new. There are dozens of quality fundraising ideas out there. Make sure that you don't fall into a rut, or else your organization might, as well.
4. Communicate with the teaching staff, so they know what's going on. Since teachers are often the front line in school life, including fundraisers, we need to make sure we get "buy in" from them. An enthusiastic teacher, pumping the kids up in the classroom is one of the best ways to ensure a successful fundraiser. However, if teachers have no idea of what event is coming up next or when it is or how long it will run for, they will not be too keen to carve out time in their day to make the grassroots sales pitch we need them to. Make them an important part of the process.
5. Communicate with parents and lay out the entire school year fundraising calendar for them. I've always been a big believer in wide open communication. The more you can share with your community, the better. Just like the teachers, parents need to understand the "big picture" of the year's fundraisers. Consider drafting an informative letter to go home very early on in the school year. This letter should contain the overall financial needs of the school and the specific plans you are proposing to meet these needs. I've found that I get the best response from parents when I give them a map and an itinerary.
6. Consider targeting different groups for different events. It is possible that you have various sub-groups within your school community. For instance, you may have a strong alumni presence, which you could approach for an auction or a dinner event. That would leave your current school families ready for a big product sale or a carnival. Another sub-group would be the relatives of your school families who live out of town and who may be willing to make a donation, just due to family ties. Of course, you would never exclude any group from participating in any event, but through your marketing efforts, you can set a clear theme for each specific function.
7. Give businesses time to prepare. If you will be seeking either financial contributions or donated goods from local businesses, it is wise to send them a letter, letting them know well in advance that you will be coming to ask them for support. This will allow them sufficient time to arrange for a check or maybe even set something aside for your visit. This also takes away the awkwardness of a cold call situation.
8. Spread out your volunteers. If your school hosts multiple fundraisers throughout the year, make sure you don't go back to the same small group of people to run each event. This kind of work can be very taxing, and if you over-burden them, you risk burning valuable people out and losing them from future events. You should always be keeping an eye out for new sources of volunteer help.
9. Be very specific about why the funds are needed and how they will be used. Unfortunately, there have been numerous situations in the news recently of non-profit organizations, including schools, mis-using funds raised from their supporters. There is no quicker way to lose donor support than not putting the money raised to the use you specified ahead of time. In addition to front-loading this information, I would also suggest publicly calling attention to the results of the fundraiser, once you have them in place. If you are just raising money for the general operation fund, be open about that, so there are no questions afterward.
10. Stick to the plan. As I mentioned above, I think it is wise to set your fundraising plan very early. However, many things can happen during the course of a school year, and you could be tempted to deviate from you original plan many months down the road. Unless it is an absolute emergency, I would caution against changing the plan you laid out to parents. Changing course mid-stream, if not done for very serious reasons, can send a message to your community that you are not good planners and could cause resentment, leading to reluctance to participate. This said, if your roof suddenly caves in and you need money for a new roof, I think you'll be able to explain this.
11. Continue your communication with parents each step of the way. Just because you send out that initial letter, I still think it is important to keep parents updated on your fundraising progress throughout the year. Let them know how close you are to reaching your goals, how the volunteer picture is looking, and what's on the upcoming calendar. Use these opportunities to keep selling the vision you originally laid out. You can do this in a school newsletter, on the school website, at PTO meetings, and in letters sent home to all families. However you choose to do it, don't let parents forget about the real-world needs of their child's school.
12. Thank, thank, thank. Maybe it's just me, but remembering to thank the volunteers is always something I have to be very conscious to do. Maybe it's because we've all rolled up our sleeves, and are all working so hard, that when we've finished, we just heave a sigh of relief and start preparing for the next campaign. Don't fall into this! Make sure your volunteers know how much you appreciate them and how important they are to the overall school. And, don't wait for the event to be finished to say thank you. Use "thank yous" as encouragement during the grutzy stuff- decorating the gym, making phone calls in the evening, or stuffing envelopes full of auction invitations. A sincere expression of gratitude can do wonders for morale.
While some "patients" may be too far along in the "disease" of fundraising fatigue and none of the above remedies will cure them, I do think that if you follow these strategies, you will be well on your way to keeping your community fired up for your school and keep those dollars coming in.
About the Author: James Berigan is a former school principal who enjoys guiding schools with their fundraising efforts. He writes for the Top School Fundraisers blog at http://TopSchoolFundraisers.com/news which includes a variety of fundraising options like fundraising events and school carnivals.
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