Finishing Strong in a Strange Year

May 5th, 2021 by Barbara Barron

As we head into the final stretch of this fiscal and school year, now is a great time to stop and take a quick assessment.

For many, you may be right where you hoped and planned to be. (Awesome!) For others, you may be behind where you were in the B.C. days. Or even behind what you projected for this year. Tough, but common.

In either case, I am here to remind you that there is still time. Good, strategic work can always make a difference. Time for a little analysis. I invite you to pour yourself a fresh cup of something, clear your desk, and mute the ringer on your phone. I’m going to walk you through some strategic planning.

  1. To begin, open your donor list and sort them in descending order — with the largest donor at the top.
  2. Start with the donors on the list who have already given this school year. Ask yourself:
    • How does this gift amount compare with last year? How does it compare with what you asked them to give? (Hopefully, you did ask for a specific amount.)
    • What else do we know about them right now?
    • When was the last time they heard from us?
    • What stewardship have we provided to make sure they know how much we appreciate their ongoing (add: increased, steady) support?
  3. Next, let’s take a look at the donors who have not yet given. Ask yourself:
    • What do we know about them and how they are doing?
    • When was the last time we were in touch with them and what was the nature of that point of contact (to remind? to thank? to check-in?)?
    • Can we try a different approach? Can we call rather than email, again?
  4. Lastly, let’s see about donors who have outstanding pledges. Ask yourself:
    • What’s the plan for collecting? Are we looking at pledge reminders as the opportunity they are for us to say thank you, again?
    • What do you think is the “real real” about how much you will collect and how you will end this year? Getting an accurate, even if it is a slightly disappointing, projection is a smart move right now. The business office will be grateful for the clear view about where you think you’ll be on June 30th.

Great. You’ve already done some fantastic work today. I hope that coffee helped.

But we’re not done, are we? Of course not. Because most important of all is our stewardship work. Each year, we begin with the best of intentions. We vow to make stewardship a priority. But like so many other important goals, creating a true culture of philanthropy can get pushed off. Stewardship is one of those good habits that, like exercise, gets easier and more rewarding when done regularly. When we make the time, it pays off. Big time.

“But why, Barbara? Isn’t it enough for me to do the all-important work of touching base with donors to check in on their donations?” It’s a start, friend. The crucial step that so many development programs ignore is the task of letting our donors know the true value of their gifts. Making sure that they know we don’t see them as an ATM. When we get in touch for the purposes of something other than asking, they (and we) know that it’s not always about money. In fact, it rarely is! It is, instead, a bit of a brag. Your job is to tell your community of donors about all the good work going on every day in our schools that their philanthropy is supporting and sustaining. It’s about the mission, people! It’s always about the mission!

So what are some good, new ways to doing this? Something other than a simple e-mail that gets popped off before the end of the workday? Perhaps it’s time to get some fresh photography – images of students and teachers at work. Something to share. With so few parents permitted on campus right now, most are hungry for that sneak peek into their child’s day. Our teachers are already doing a terrific job sharing daily work. So, let’s give them a break and step in to grab some photos and videos. With this sweet asset, you’ll have the opportunity to add your own personal message of gratitude. Message: “Let me show you something! Isn’t this so cool? And you made it possible!”

Perhaps now is a good time to give the community a “Report” from your office. You can sing the praises of teachers and programs that are on fire. You can thank families for keeping the school a priority amid the uncertainty and myriad competing needs in our society. Maybe you build out a written report with some great photos. Maybe it’s a heartfelt letter in the school newsletter. Or a quick but highly customized “thank you” video. You know your school and your families. The key here is that, whatever you choose, it needs to feel different from business as usual. I often urge those of us in this profession to “surprise and delight” donors. We want to make them feel our gratitude. Lean into this and make it special.

These are still extraordinary times. Nothing is as it was, and quite possibly will never be that way again. One of my brilliant clients termed this moment “the in-between”. We’re not at the start of the year or at the end. Knowing that things will only get more manic, let’s take this time and do something that has meaning and impact right now.

And if we need reminding, the research is clear: thoughtful stewardship equals results. Something like 90% of donors report that when we thank them promptly and personally, and we report back to them on how we put their gifts to good use before we ask them to give again, they will give again and likely give more.

Good luck with whatever you choose to do. You know I’d love to hear about it. Shoot me an email.

As always, stay well,

Barbara Barron

[email protected] // @BBAdvancement

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