What Would Happen if We Picked Up the Phone and Started Calling?

by Barbara Barron | Posted September 2nd, 2020

Around the country, schools and other non-profits are staring at the calendar and trying to decide how and when to launch their Annual Funds.

Truthfully, no one really wants to do this. But is there even an option? How many of us work at organizations that can just skip raising those annual dollars? I’d say, none. 

We know that the Annual Fund is imperative. Maybe never more than this year. And yet, there is so much we don’t know: what will school really look like in a few weeks or months? What will the election yield? What will be the mood in the country on November 4th?

What are anyone’s feelings at any given moment? Heck, our own moods likely fluctuate sometimes widely from day to day. Hour to hour.

Nothing is as we expected. 

But what do we know? That this virus is not done with us. That these “unprecedented” and “uncertain” times are ever-so-much more than that. The number of people whose business has been affected has not subsided.

Everyone is worried. There’s no real end in sight. 

OK. What else do we know?

Every parent  — everywhere — wants and needs the best, safest possible education for their children. Teachers’ health and safety (and sanity!) is paramount. Our schools bring huge value and hold great relevance for all of us. Independent schools are far better suited to handle this moment precisely because our class sizes are smaller. Our teachers are talented and nimble. They can respond to the needs of their students. The independence in independent schools means teachers are free(er) to teach to the moment. 

And all of that needs to go on, whether schools are meeting in-person, teaching remotely, or some hybrid of the two. That means we, as advancement professionals, need to do our part. The work we do to raise the Annual Fund dollars our schools rely on makes it all possible. Those funds help our schools retain and support great educators. They provide a robust and responsive program. 

So, let’s get at it.

But how? 

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Here’s a radical idea: what if we simply call everyone to ask for their support? Seriously. No mailed brochure and letters. No dealing with mail houses or any real or imagined concerns about deliveries. What if we divide up the list among our team and call everyone?

We ask how they are. We give them any kind of update we have. We explain that in these mystifying times, we don’t want to “assume anything.” We say that we understand their situation may be in flux. Or perhaps “just different” than the last time we talked. We want to be sure we are in close connection with them.

Then we ask for their support — and we listen. 

Maybe things are fine. Perhaps they are one of the fortunate families and are happy to step up and make a significant commitment. Maybe they realize others may not be able to give, so they want to help us ensure the school remains stable. Heroes.

Maybe things are in flux and they aren’t sure what they can give. Maybe they need more time. (Understandable!) In my experience, people appreciate the personal contact and that rare opportunity to be real. You will have done your job and can keep doing your job with far more current information. You can offer to follow up at a time they think might be better.

Pro tip: 2020 may not be the year of the 100-day Annual Fund campaign or the hard push for 100% participation (which was never about the donor anyway).

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And perhaps the answer is that the bottom has fallen out. They can’t commit this year. They are struggling to manage tuition. If that’s the case – then your presence, you listening at this painful time, is what you are called to do right now.

I suspect those may be some of the most gratifying calls you make. They build the connective tissue between you and your community members. 

During this crisis, amid the unknowns, we need to return to fundamentals. Show up. Be real. Ask for support for your fine school. The results of your good work ensure that your teaching colleagues can do theirs. You have a role to play in helping keep your community together.

There are organizations that are simply not going to survive. Your work helps prevent that from happening to your school.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope you’ll share. Wishing you good luck and meaningful conversations.

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