Article: What Einstein can teach us about school fundraising

With the start of a new financial year looming on the horizon, Richard Morris, author of Givenomics and Co-founder of not-for-profit social enterprise TheGivingMachine, discusses how schools need to diversify their sources of funding and support.

When Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” I have to think he had spent quite a bit of time fundraising…

Of course, everyone wants fundraising to be nice and friendly and not a hard sell. At heart, though, repeatedly extracting money from a supporter base comes down to increasing the efficiency and diversity of your approach.

While larger charities must focus on efficiency (as they have many paid staff and ‘time is money’), this can lead to a less personal approach from the need to deliver a return on investment from the ‘donor base’.

A different school of thought
With school fundraising, however, the diversity of methods becomes a core focus. How many different ways can we engage parents to part with their money? Raffles, beetle drives, ‘wear
something special’ days – they are all valid and entertaining, but they assume a never-ending
source of income and all, basically, go about things in the same way. Chasing after more and
more from a smaller pot. Could that, in fact, be the definition of insanity?

Many schools we work with at TheGivingMachine tell us that the economic climate has made it far harder for people to support their schools as they would like, and repeated requests for more when many can’t afford it can alienate supporters. So let’s look at that problem from the opposite direction. How many parents, families and local businesses really ‘know’ your school? And how many of those would support your school in some way? Don’t think about money as such; think about ‘support’ in terms of people doing something they feel comfortable with to help your school.

Firstly, how can you build an audience of people who ‘know’ your school? Parents are a given, but that can be extended to the wider range of families, local businesses, council members, staff and their families and so on. Consider how you can build an audience that way and an easy-to-manage relationship. For example, I’m a trustee of East Herts YMCA and we’ve done exactly this with a blog article every two weeks, building up a local distribution to almost 200 people who didn’t know us well before.

‘Sell’ your school
Your school has great success stories, amusing anecdotes, achievements, plans, hopes and dreams – share them all! See how people react and that will give you a basis for building your prospective audience, identifying what engages them most. From that you can see how you can enable them to participate in events and activities and reward them for it. The reward is crucial, as we all respond well to being thanked for even small courtesies – it builds relationships.

So you are building an audience that knows you and they now have a chance to engage more with you and respond to requests. The lowest level of engagement might be something that supports your school at no extra cost to the supporter. TheGivingMachine, for example, enables people to generate free donations for their chosen schools and charities every time they shop online.

Other ways to convert behaviour into donations include mobile phone and jewellery recycling, but these are not easy to run on a regular basis. A benefit of these methods, though, is that the ‘ask’ is not for money – which means it’s more comfortable for many people doing the asking! It also gives the school fundraiser a way to approach the business community. Even companies that are hard
pressed for cashflow can respond well to a request to ‘give for free’ when buying paper or printer cartridges or recycling mobile phones. It’s an easy win for both sides.

So where else could this ‘new’ money come from? Local retailers, for example, definitely want more custom and will often offer discounts if you promote them. Instead of giving a 10% discount to a supporter though, you may be able to convert that into a donation for your school. That way the donation is priced in, but feels like it is free.

The power of conversion
The power of converting money in this way was a major learning point for me from building TheGivingMachine. If I’m selling a product to you and give you £1 off, in many cases that is
insignificant. But if every time I sell the same product I give that £1 to a school or charity that
you choose, the £1 becomes much more important. I’ve called this concept Givenomics and
it helps define a new source of income for all schools and charities.

You will read in all media that ‘giving is down’, with levels of fund-raising reduced across all sectors. I would argue that the will to give has not diminished, rather it is the ability to do so that has suffered. Schools, like any other cause, need to be creative and rethink how best to develop new,
wider audiences to convert goodwill into meaningful contributions, whilst also rewarding those who are making a difference.

So, go and do something different and expect different results. Einstein would be proud – and it might just save your sanity.

Article originally published in Education Today March 2013, Finance & Funding Section

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