It’s a well-known fact in non-profit fundraising circles that individuals give the majority of charitable dollars. It’s another that the single best way to secure a gift is a face-to-face meeting. As the saying goes, people don’t give money to causes; people give money to people. Fundraisers know it; salespeople know it; and you should know it, too.
But K-12 schools don’t typically go out and meet the funders, like their private and post-secondary school counterparts. Instead, say the experts, they’re more likely to raise funds from bulky federal proposals.
According to Dr. Stan Levenson, a fundraising consultant in Poway, Calif., you can raise more money for less effort by going to private and corporate funders–and individuals. Levenson, who is currently writing a book called How to Get Grants & Gifts for K-12 Schools (to be published in 1999 for Allyn & Bacon), says that K-12 leaders must learn to approach private and corporate foundations–as well as individual donors–if they want to raise substantial gifts for their technology purchases.
“The good fundraisers get out and meet the funders,” Levenson says.
Why don’t K-12 school leaders meet funders? According to Levenson, they don’t have experience. Usually, Levenson said, school fund seekers have raised dollars through formula grants. But big purchases, such as technology equipment and services, demand a supercharged funding strategy.
The key is meeting face-to-face with a key contact inside the organization, or with the individual donor. This means:
1. Identifying the key contact or individual donor;
2. Making the contact and securing the meeting; and
3. Planning the meeting.
1. Identify the contact
You can identify key contacts from directories published specifically for this purpose. (I’m the editor of School Technology Funding Directory, published by eSchool News, and so I know it’s the most up-to-date resource of its kind!)
Once you have the contact information, you’ll want to draft a brief, one-page letter to the program officer listed as the contact introducing yourself and your organization. Briefly outline your proposed project–perhaps obtaining funds and human resource assistance to build a wide-area network that will connect all the schools in your district–and how much money you need. You might want to offer to visit the program officer to discuss your ideas further.
Here’s a great opportunity to pull in others for help. Ask your board members to start by coming up with a list of individuals to solicit for gifts, says Jenine Rabin, donor relations officer for the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Rabin, who oversees personal solicitations from individuals totaling $1.7 million a year, says that board members probably know a lot of people in the community who would be willing to give a donation. Even if it’s a small one, they can be moved up the giving scale later.
Your board members may even know corporate or foundation people who could eventually get you in to see someone who makes giving decisions. The key is to work with the people you already know.
2. Make the contact and secure the meeting
Your goal in the meeting is to get the program officer or the individual donor interested and involved in your schools. You want to communicate the needs of your schools, and how they fit with the foundation’s giving priorities. “Once [donors] understand and become involved,” Levenson says, “they will give to schools, and in many instances will give major dollars.”
• Meet at the foundation office. Your first visit should be to the funder’s office. You’re on their ‘home turf,’ and you can get them interested in your program. Taking the time and effort to travel to a potential funder’s office is part of what Levenson calls the “nurturing process.” Before you leave, set up the next meeting at your school.
• Bring your top administrators and board members. Bringing a team of top school leaders will help make an impact on a foundation, Levenson says. “If you’re going after big bucks you need to get some big people involved,” Levenson says. That means the superintendent, technology director, and perhaps a couple of board members.
Levenson sees this played time and time again. Last year, he took a superintendent from a San Diego area school system to meet two funders. Both program officers commented that it was only the second time they’d ever met with the head of a K-12 school system who wanted to ask for money–and the effort paid off.
3. Planning the meeting
• Do your homework. Before you even contact foundation, know their giving priorities, the inside contacts, and recent gifts. “It’s absolutely critical to match up your needs with foundations’ interests,” Levenson said. He also suggests trying to find some personal connection with an inside contact–perhaps you both went to the same college. If you’re approaching an individual, know something about his or her interests. Do you know people in common? Does the individual sit on any community boards? The good news is that it’s a very good time for schools to ask for technology money from all kinds of sources. “Right now, schools are in the spotlight,” Levenson says. “There’s more and more money going into schools.”
• Thoroughly understand your needs. You must have a solid idea of how much money you need. But at the same time, be flexible enough to ask for suggestions from the program officer. “Look at them as resource people,” advises Levenson. “You don’t want to be the person with all the answers–be open to suggestions about how to improve your project, and incorporate them into your proposal.”
• Identify team members’ roles. Rabin says that before any meeting, all team members must be very clear about what role they will take during the hour or two you’ll be spending with a program officer. That way, the meeting can run smoothly without any key point falling through the cracks. You’ll want to discuss, for example, the following responsibilities:
• Who leads the meeting?
• Who sets the tone?
• Who answers program and budget questions?
• Who describes the organization?
• Who asks for the gift?
• Who finesses the ask?
• Who reinforces the ask?
• Who closes?
• Who is responsible for the followup/confirmation?
• Know the benefits of giving. You’ll also want to come up with a list of items to be sure to cover, such as your schools’ student population profile, mission, and needs. This will help you identify the benefits of funding your schools, which you should take the time to list out and distribute to everyone on your side who will be involved in the meeting. What exactly will the gift help you do? How will the money be spent? What academic areas do you expect to see improve, how will student life be better, what will your teachers enjoy with the new facilities?
Show off your schools
Although you may want your first meeting with the foundation or individual to be on their turf, persuading them to do a site visit is also a great way to get their active involvement. Once they accept the invitation, Levenson says, you’ve got a foot in the door.
Make sure you roll out the red carpet for visiting program officer. Levenson personally goes to the airport to greet visiting funders, and arranges for both arrival and exit meeting with top school personnel. The tour of your schools should occupy most of your day, but don’t forget the niceties–which might include lunch or other hospitality. At the end of this critical meeting, Levenson says, it’s not unusual for the program officer–impressed with what she’s seen–to say, “Why don’t you send me a five-page proposal for $100,000?”
Finally, you might also think about bringing in a consultant to help with major gifts. A good consultant can set up meetings, lay the “nurturing” groundwork before the meeting, and go along with you to help make the ask.