School is officially back in session, and fundraising committees are starting to plan. Whether your school wants to support an external charity or have an internal project that needs funding, it can be tricky to know how to create new and exciting ways to engage supporters. We chatted to Ian Gower, a school fundraising guru, to pick his brains.
After volunteering at a local Gala Dinner, I discovered how mobile technology had just started to help increase donor engagement at events. I have now been in the fundraising technology industry for 10 years and have had the privilege of helping over 400 non-profits maximise their fundraising at a wide variety of events and online campaigns.
Schools are fantastic at maximising fundraising potential in the most unlikely scenarios. One client of mine took the initiative to register parents for the auction on her iPad as they dropped their children off at school in the mornings – they had the highest level of participation than any other year. However, the most innovative fundraiser I’ve seen, has to be when a school was raising money for a new sports hall. They got everyone to pledge through their phones to buy a brick with the donors’ names engraved on it for the new building, over £80k was raised in just over 10 minutes, and donors got a really visual representation of their vital contribution, and a clear way of quantifying what they’d made possible.
Schools benefit from already having a captive audience – the parents – so half of the hard work is already done. The good news is that you don’t always have to have a grand Gala Dinner to run a successful auction – there are far more solutions available than there used to be, like online auctions. Perhaps open the auction up to parents and supporters in the run up to a school fete, so it still has the buzz and excitement of a physical event. You don’t necessarily need to have staff present either. Teachers and faculty are more stretched than ever before, and delegating to students or hiring industry professionals can make a world of difference to the overall success of a fundraising drive. A great low-cost remote auction could be ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ themed, releasing an item a day in the run up to the Christmas holidays. Use your imagination – the opportunities are endless.
One of the biggest challenges a school faces is having the same pool of prize donors each year. You are contacting the same people to generously donate their commodities, their time and, their business to your auction. However, compelling the item, their repeated inclusion in auctions can decrease their fundraising potential. I would suggest ‘bundling’ some of the items to enhance the experience, giving it an even more exclusive feel. You could also look at utilising projects done by the children themselves, auctioning off meaningful artwork for example. If you run out of new and exciting prizes that you can pool from your contacts we can help you out. For instance, holidays on consignment (sale or return) in your live auction can be sold multiple times by an auctioneer, can raise huge amounts and create a great atmosphere in the room too. I was at a school in London recently where we supplied a Villa in Bali that raised an additional £13k for their chosen charity as the auctioneer was able to offer the same holiday on different dates to the top 3 bidders. Needless to say, our client was over the moon!
A private school in London held their event in the hall at The Royal Hospital Chelsea. It is a stunning setting with amazing surroundings and their use of banquet tables made a nice change to the standard circular tables. Instead of having paper bidding or shared tablets, guests were encouraged to bid via their smartphones. It stands out as my favourite because they went over and beyond to make sure the auction was marketed to its maximum potential. The auction went live a week before the event and the marketing campaign surrounding it ensured that it reached the mobile handsets of thousands of supporters. Before the doors had opened on the evening itself they had nearly reached their fundraising target with hundreds of active bidders. Amongst the most popular prizes was a collage of artwork made by the pupils themselves; the sentimental nature of the prize created a mobile bidding frenzy. They also had a very good auctioneer who was full of energy and took the time to research the items and helped promote the silent auction too.
We often hear from staff that they don’t want to give parents the impression that the school is struggling, or that they feel awkward asking parents for donations. This mentality is common, but they have a fantastic donor base at their fingertips, they just need the confidence to tap into it. In actuality the majority of parents take great pride in their children’s school and relish the opportunity to not only support it, but shout about supporting it. Protecting the heritage of the schools is a very worthy cause for most parents. It’s also important not to forget that alumni also have pride in their Almer Mata and by engaging them you can involve the local community and drum up as much support for your cause as possible. People certainly won’t think that you’re struggling. They will see that you are trying to make a difference.
Along with having the same items each year, many schools tend to include too many live auction items. I would recommend you stick to no more than 6 key prizes as a maximum to prevent it going on too long and to give your guests something to focus on – there is such a thing as too much choice! It's always nice to start the live auction with a cheaper fun prize to capture the attention of the room, for example I have seen everything from walking sticks, parking spaces and “Be Headmaster for a Day” all being successful as a first live auction item.