This is not an altogether unusual situation in my experience. As the COO of a small school I have found that increasingly it is within my domain to recruit the necessary funds used to maintain operations and build new programs. This also necessitates building and maintaining good relationships with financial supporters. The latter I find comes naturally to me, the former not so much. Let me explain how this evolved over time for me.
First, I found myself becoming more intimately involved in the annual fund drive. It progressed from proofreading fund drive letters, to designing fund drive letters, to recruiting and training canvassers, to designing a fund drive handbook, to becoming Fund Drive Coordinator. It became clear to me in time that to effectively sustain a good fund drive, it must have elements of a good marketing campaign: consistency and sustained effort over time. The most consistent aspect of a non-profit organization is generally its hired leadership. Boards and volunteers change and for consistency to accrue, the COO must take this part of the school operations seriously.
Secondly, I found myself more often needing to find funds to fund new programs. In small schools, seemingly small amounts like $2,000 can represent 20% of the annual Educational Supplies budget and Boards can be hesitant to add to an already very tight budget with ‘gratuitous’ new initiatives like Classroom Hatcheries or an instrumental band program.
Third, I realized very quickly that to accomplish both of the above meant that I needed to spend significant time building relationships with supporters. This for me meant ensuring that these supporters were being well communicated with, and that face-time was secured where it was presented. Grandparents’ Day became an opportunity to really get to know supporters - a day where I ensured that all details were well organized and delegated so that I could spend all my time talking with people, shaking hands, and bringing them an extra bowl of soup or cup of coffee. Let me give you a few pieces of advice that I’ve picked up along the way.
My advice to COO’s of small schools in regards to fostering supporter relationships and raising funds:
- Ensure that the annual fund drive is well done and that it reflects your school’s marketing/branding approach. The marketing story of your school should be part and parcel of your fund drive procedures and materials.
- Don’t be afraid to ask supporters for money for specific programs or initiatives. It sounds simplistic, but the worst they can do is say no. When you approach the supporter, be well prepared to sell the new initiative in a professional manner. Don’t be offended if they say no; find another supporter who is as passionate about the project as you are and try again.
- Make sure that you have the blessing of your Board in regards to programs that you’re raising funds for. Bring the Board into the loop early and have them suggest to you potential donors who may be interested in funding the project. Don’t ask the same supporters all the time, make sure that you’re finding new supporters and spreading the ‘asks’ around.
- Do all you can to build good relationships with supporters through face-to-face contact and through printed materials. When opportunities arise, seize them.
- Make sure that you have a good handle on your school’s supporter touchpoints. I have even found that I need to have my hands in things like membership renewals as supporters can become disgruntled if the only contact they ever receive from the Board of the school is asking for membership money. I can’t think of a negative aspect of having happy supporters.
I also suggest the following book for those interested in a more in depth treatment of fundraising from a Christian perspective:
Jeavons, Thomas, and Rebekah Burch Basinger. Growing givers' hearts: treating fundraising as ministry. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.