Archive for the 'Soft Skills' Category

Do You Approach Fundraising Like an Entrepreneur Would?

Recently, Donald Trump and Robert Kiyosaki teamed up to write a book on the subject of entrepreneurship called “The Midas Touch”.

In this book, they list five attributes that separate successful entrepreneurs from unsuccessful ones. These characteristics are:

  1. Character
  2. Focus
  3. Brand
  4. Relationships
  5. The Little Things

No matter what you think of Donald Trump, he has had a long and storied career as an entrepreneur, so it’s worth at least considering what he has to say on this matter.

I’ve stated many times before that I believe that school fundraising is a total sales job. You are trying to convince people to spend their money to buy a better product, namely a better school experience for their children. It doesn’t matter if you’re running an auction for your school, or a carnival, or a walk-a-thon. It could also be a product sale or a direct mail appeal. Whatever form your fundraiser takes, you are engaged in the art of sales.

Therefore, I think it’s appropriate to consider yourself an entrepreneur of a sort. You have to be creative, bold, and fearless when it comes to figuring out the best ways to earn the most money for your school.

So, if you are an entrepreneur, then, let’s look at the five markers of success that Trump and Kiyosaki highlight in their book.

1. Character. School fundraising is notoriously filled with “no’s”. You hear them all the time. It would be very easy to get discouraged and walk away from the effort of raising money in a school environment. I think it is especially frustrating because the cause itself is so important- their children’s education. It is going to take the strength of your convictions and your character to stick with this noble but frustrating calling.

2. Focus. This is a tough characteristic to maintain over the long haul. There are so many other important activities and responsibilities pulling at you that your volunteer time sometimes takes a back seat to other pressing matters. It is unrealistic to expect one person to maintain a laser-like focus on school fundraising during the entire school calendar, so I think the better strategy would be to get several people to share in a part of that necessary focus. Make sure you have a good team to work with on the task of raising money. Going it alone is a sure-fire plan to get burned out.

3. Brand. I know this sounds very “marketing-speak” but it does have a significant importance in your school fundraising campaigns. Just like you are attracted to certain marketing campaigns out in the world, you should think about the ways you present your fundraising materials for public consumption. How is your audience going to react to your fliers? Your website or Facebook page? How will they respond to your ideas for fundraising events? Do you keep them interested with new uses of technology? If you are sending out black and white, clip-art type of announcements, no one is even going to read them. There goes your participation and there goes your revenue. continue reading

7 Tips on How to Think Like a Board Member

Today’s post is directed primarily at the people who are responsible for leading private school fundraisers. In a public school setting, fundraising events are usually funneled through the building principal, who is accountable to the superintendent, who, in turn, answers to the overarching school board. In most situations, your grassroots level efforts probably won’t rise all the way to the top.

However, in the case of a private school, the board of directors is very much involved in fundraising. In fact, some people would argue that the board’s most important function is that of ensuring the school stays well-funded. Remember, that in a non-profit organization, the board is the supreme authority.  The principal and all other employees are accountable to the board members. By the textbook definition, what the board says, goes. Therefore, it is wise to keep them happy and well-informed.

The goal of this article is to help a school employee or parent volunteer to think like a board member in order to move your plans forward with total buy-in and cooperation.

Think: Mission
The first thing I recommend doing before you make an initial presentation to the board about launching a fundraiser is to consider if your plans mesh with the school’s goals or mission. The last thing you want to have happen is that you rush in and make a grand proposal, only to have it immediately crushed because it flies in the face of everything the school holds dear.

For instance, I worked at a Christian elementary school that had a prohibition in its by-laws against any forms of gambling. That meant no raffles at our annual auction. Raffles can be a great source of income, and I’ve worked on raffles in the past. However, if I tried to change this policy at the Christian school, I would have been soundly rebuked and lost a lot of credibility with the board.

It is wise to remember that the board is charged with “protecting” the enduring mission of the school. In most cases, board members do not take this responsibility lightly. If you are new to the community or you have a novel idea, you should quietly ask a few people of influence if your idea fits the mission.

Think: Resistance
If your idea does fall within the parameters of the school’s character, the next step is to think about if you will meet any resistance to it. You would be surprised- even if your plans are as simple as a cookie dough sale, there might be someone on the board who objects to some element of what you’re proposing.

You can never be aware of every possible sticking point, so give yourself enough time before the board meeting and schedule individual conferences with each board member. This can be as simple as a phone call or an email. The point is to explain what you want to do and give each of them the opportunity to vent to you privately.

At this juncture, you can either try to solve the board member’s problem or decide to go in a different direction. Once you have assembled everyone’s opinions, you are then ready to introduce the topic at the board meeting. Assuming that you’ve been able to satisfactorily answer any concerns, you should have much smoother sailing now. Not lining up your support ahead of time could result in arguing, hurt feelings, and resentment. continue reading

5 Critical Components of a Well-Written Fundraising Letter

Pen and paperOne of the most important tools available to any fundraising leader is the fundraising letter. With a finely-crafted missive, the leader will be able to clarify the mission, excite the audience, and deliver on the stated need.

However, getting the letter to the point where it is “finely-crafted” is the hard part. I believe there are five key components that should be implemented to give your letter a much better chance of hitting its mark.

Before you begin writing, I recommend that you jot down a quick outline. This will help you plot your individual points, provide your supporting evidence, and generally keep you on track.

The outline should be broken down into five sections. These are: attention, interest, desire, conviction, and close. By following these five “guideposts” you are taking your reader on a directed journey, exactly where you want him to go. And fortunately, since this progression makes rhetorical sense, the reader will actually be happy to go along for this ride, as opposed to a letter that is all over the place and never really gets to the point.

Let’s break down each of the sections.

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10 Ways to Get Your Teachers to Want to Fundraise

When I was the principal of a private elementary school, one of the things I always tried to do when planning a fundraiser was to get the teachers on my side.

You would think that simply because the teachers were school employees, they would be more than happy to do whatever they could to make sure we had the funds needed to do things like purchase supplies, buy new textbooks, fund field trips, and cover payroll. Unfortunately, however, that wasn’t always the case.

I found that some teachers, not all, actually resent the fundraising process. They believe that they were hired to teach, and that’s it. I agree that teaching is an incredibly demanding job and these dedicated servants don’t get nearly the recognition nor the compensation for what they do on a daily basis.

However, a school, in my opinion, is a community, and everyone has to pitch in to make it work. One of my favorite movies is the film Gandhi with Ben Kingsley. There is a scene in which Gandhi’s wife refuses to “rake and cover the latrines” at their ashram, deeming that job for a lesser type of person. In no uncertain terms, her husband, a peaceful sort, straightens her out, and she finally agrees to “rake and cover the latrines”.

Now, I’m not saying that fundraising is analogous to cleaning a toilet, but you get the point. Nobody is too good to help at any job. That’s my motto.

So, I heartily believe that teachers should be active and cheerful fundraisers. No exceptions. If they believe enough in the school to accept a paycheck they should believe enough to sell some cookie dough, if that’s what it takes.

Here are ten strategies I used to win over the more reluctant educators. continue reading

10 Ways to Say Thank You to Your Child’s Teacher

If you are reading this blog, chances are you are a pretty involved parent in your child’s education. You are most likely involved in fundraising activities, field trip chaperoning, room mothering (or “fathering”), and the countless other opportunities to play a vital role in your child’s education.

I would also guess that you have a pretty good relationship with your child’s teacher. After all, the teacher sees your child for six or seven hours a day for 180 days per year. That’s a lot of influence he or she can have on your offspring. Of course, it’s a good idea to know who that person is.

As a former elementary school principal, I witnessed the spectrum of relationships that parents have with teachers, and I’ve heard the “secret” teacher lounge chatter about those relationships. Therefore, I think I can offer a few suggestions on ways for parents to say thank you that will be truly meaningful to and appreciated by your child’s teacher.

1. Volunteer in the Classroom
Most classrooms are overcrowded. That is to say that the ratio of teachers and aides to students is higher than anyone would want. This isn’t only distressing to the parents, but it is also a source of great concern for the teachers. By and large, teachers really do desire excellence, but many times, the numbers make that an elusive goal.

Therefore, I would find a way to volunteer your time as a part-time classroom aid. I’ve seen a mom volunteer one hour per week to listen to students read. The teacher really appreciated that, because the kids got more individualized instruction.

Maybe it’s something you can only do once per month. However, if you pool your time with three other parents, that’s a once-per-week help the teacher is getting, and that’s significant. continue reading