It’s a well-known fact in non-profit fundraising circles: Individuals give the majority of charitable dollars. Here’s another: 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, as do their private and post-secondary school counterparts. Instead, say the experts, they’re more likely to raise funds from bulky federal proposals.
According to Stan Levenson, a fundraising consultant in Poway, Calif., you can raise more money with 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 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.
The key is meeting face-to-face with a key contact inside the organization, or with the individual donor. This means identifying the key contact or individual donor; making the contact and securing the meeting; and preparing for 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, so I know of at least one terrific source!)
Once you have the contact information, you’ll want to draft a one-page letter to the program officer listed as the contact. Introduce 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 state how much money you need. 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, or even corporate or foundation people who could eventually get you in to see someone who makes giving decisions.
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.
• Meet at the foundation office. Your first visit should be to the funders’ 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 had the same comment: 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. Preparing for the meeting
• Do your homework. Before you even contact the foundation, know its giving priorities, the inside contacts, and recent gifts. Levenson 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?
• Thoroughly understand your needs–but be open. 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. “You don’t want to be the person with all the answers,” says Levenson.
• Identify team members’ roles. 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, who will lead the meeting, who will answer program and budget questions, who asks for the gift, who “finesses” the ask, and who closes.
• Know the benefits of giving. Take time to make a list of the benefits of funding your schools, which should be given to everyone who will be involved in the meeting. What exactly will the gift help you do? What academic areas do you expect to see improve? How will student life be better? What will your teachers enjoy with the new facilities?
° Invite the donor to do a site visit. Although you might 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.
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 make sure the meeting runs smoothly–and . . .to do the asking.