How Do We Create Word-of-Mouth Buzz With Our Donors?

You’ve no doubt heard the story: the little boy who left his cherished stuffed giraffe Joshie behind at a Ritz Carleton hotel.

The child is distraught, naturally. So the father defaults to his go-to tactic: he tells a white lie. He assures his son is that Joshie is fine and just decided to stay on a few extra days for a little vacation. The child is mollified, for the moment, but there’s still work to be done. 

The father wisely calls the hotel to check in on Joshie and yes, indeed, Joshie has been safely located, thank goodness. He will be soon on his way back to the little boy. 

But only after a brief detour…

The hotel staff proceeds to stage a series of fun and silly tableaus in which Joshie is photographed in various Ritz locales: lounging poolside on a chaise, getting a massage at the spa, even driving a golf cart. And those photos, along with a bag of Ritz goodies like a frisbee, hat, and cookies, arrive along with Joshie a few days later. 

The child is thrilled to have his friend back. His parents, understandably, are sold on the Ritz Carleton for life. (Wouldn’t you be?) And beyond booking at a Ritz Carleton whenever they can, they tell everyone they know about this experience. 

I heard about it at a business conference a few years ago. The original story was published in the Huffington Post (here’s the link).

No doubt you’re reading between the lines here, and my point is already quite clear…  

We talk a lot about our schools being warm and welcoming communities. What we forget – or perhaps, fail to prioritize in the daily pressure of doing our jobs – is that we have daily opportunities to create experiences for our donors that are special and memorable.

In fact, they can be one-of-a-kind, out-of-this-world moments. The kind that will have your donors feeling the same way about your school as those parents did about the Ritz Carlton.

But we have our eyes open for them. And we make time to capture and share them.

Easier said than done, right?

In order to really to create meaningful buzz at our school, we need to reorient our programs, our schedule, our days, our thinking, to craft unique moments and experiences and then act on them. 

My smart friend Jay Goulart often says: “Different isn’t always better but better is always different”.

I think that’s the litmus test, right there. Is your idea different? Is it out of the norm? Will your doing it surprise and delight? Then it’s worth doing.

It’s as simple as that.

How will you create an experience for a donor that she remembers and tells everyone about? What have you done lately that you are pleased with?

I recently visited a great little school and witnessed circle time at the lower school. It was outstanding: calm and purposeful and still joyful. Everyone from the kindergarten to 4th graders engaged, listening, and respectfully participating.

Afterward, I met with the school’s Board Chair for a cup of tea. 

In our discussion, I was surprised when he wondered aloud how they could better capitalize on the opportunities he was seeing pass them by with some families of means.

I shared what I’d just experienced at “circle time” and put it to him this way: 

“When your advancement program is as engaged and purposeful and joyful as what I just witnessed at your very own Lower School, you will – hands down – have the best advancement program in the country.”

And it was true. So often what we’re looking for is already there, reader.

How are you distinguishing your advancement program through the experiences you create for your donors? I’d love to hear about it. Just use the form at the bottom of this post.

Or, if you know your school needs a shot in the arm in this area, give me a call. Let’s talk about how we can apply some of the Ritz-type magic to what you’re doing.

My name is Barbara Barron, and I’m writing this blog to share advice on a profession that I adore.

I’ve been working in the field of Independent School Advancement for nearly 20 years. In that time, I’ve had the pleasure of creating and implementing successful Strategic Fundraising Plans for so many incredible schools. I’ve had the privilege of seeing real growth at The Carey School, Marin Primary & Middle School, Woodside Priory, Crystal SpringsSage Ridge and others. (Maybe we’ve met!)

Nothing makes me happier than seeing a struggling school start to thrive. My hope is that you’re here to make a positive change as well. I hope my advice can be a part of that change.

Shoot me an e-mail if you want to swap tips, or share your voice here.

Let’s do this, together.

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