Fundraising: Raise More Money with Intention
We can all agree this is an area of discomfort for most Montessorians, yet a necessity to keep our doors open.
To make things more challenging, many Montessori schools are smaller nonprofits with limited bandwidth. And those Montessori schools that aren’t nonprofits also face fundraising challenges for specific initiatives.
So, we’re left wondering how we can possibly extend ourselves in our fundraising efforts when we have so many other things on our plate.
The answer isn’t black or white, but it is simple:
We must put more intention, strategy, and thought into our fundraising efforts from the early planning stages.
In other words, rather than the same-old fundraising campaigns, it’s time to think deeper — about who we reach out to and how we reach out to them.
Here’s what we took from that discussion:
Begin with an Asset Mapping Exercise: What Value Do You Offer?
Before fundraising, it’s important to start with an asset mapping exercise.
Asset mapping is a way of brainstorming and outlining your school’s value to the community.
How has your school demonstrated a positive impact? On children, families, and the larger community as a whole?
For Montessori schools, this goes far beyond the traditional academic benefits, but also the social and emotional development of your students — such as the lifelong joy of learning and sense of independence.
During this exercise, speak not only to the value of Montessori but of your school specifically.
How are your guides special?
What makes your campus unique?
Consider how you can talk about your impact and value to those unfamiliar with your school.
Asset Mapping: What Are Your Relationships? How Can They Help You?
Next, it’s time to consider how your relationships within your community (i.e. guides, parents, board members, alumni) can benefit you in your fundraising efforts.
Here’s what we mean:
While personal contributions are always appreciated, a member within your community may be able to introduce you to individuals, businesses, or networks that can contribute even more.
For example, a board member may have a family friend who donates to local schools regularly.
Or perhaps a parent works at a local business that donates a large portion of their profit each year.
Consider who your community members might know and how you can reach these resources.
Asset Mapping: What Are Your Stories?
As Montessorians, a lot of our communication to funders, prospective families, and individuals outside our institution is centered around explaining what, exactly, Montessori is.
In other words, we try to sell ourselves by explaining how the Montessori method works.
But instead of spending time and energy explaining how Montessori works, consider shifting the narrative to show what it looks like in action.
Humans like a good story. We connect with stories. And we also make donations based off the emotional connection, not little details.
Therefore, brainstorm a few powerful stories that demonstrate your school’s impact — a student who overcame a tough challenge, a shift in a family’s quality of life, a tangible change that impacted a student through your school’s program.
This story should showcase the value of your school through empathy and experience; so, instead of spending time talking about how Montessori works, you can spend more time highlighting real benefits through stories.
Remember, nobody makes donation decisions based on facts.
We make donations based on emotion. And while donors will search for facts to support their emotion-based decision, it is the empathy that drives their choice to give money.
Of course, it’s imperative to ensure the stories you choose are sensitive and appreciative of the main character (i.e. your student or family); and, keep in mind that you probably don’t need more than one story to share per year, although you can come up with two or three if you’d like.
Funding Appeals: How to Diversify
We already touched on individuals within your community who may introduce you to new, potential funders.
But let’s take that one step further.
If you feel like you only ask the same individuals (like your current families) for donations each year, it may be easier to diversify than you think.
First, ask yourself:
Who are you getting money from now? (For example, parents or local businesses). And, who haven’t you reached out to?
When it comes to funders, don’t be afraid to get creative and reach out to individuals and businesses you may not have considered before. Neighbors, local sororities, a business down the street — you may be surprised by who makes a donation.
How are you asking for money? Is it a general request for donations? On a seasonal basis? An annual fund appeal? Are you basing it around special projects or needs?
If you’re only fundraising around a general appeal or end-of-year appeal, it’s time to diversify.
How can you sprinkle in additional appeals, such as fundraising around a project? A special program? New materials?
By getting specific and switching up the appeal, donors are more likely to give multiple contributions each year. Just make sure to space out your fundraising efforts.
Data You Don’t Have: What to Do When Funders Want Test Scores
So, you have a list of new, potential funders to contact.
You have a strong case for the value you provide your local community.
You have a real story that demonstrates your school’s impact.
You even have multiple funding appeals for the upcoming year.
But after all that work, what happens when the potential funder seeks test scores before donating?
Test scores aren’t a part of our genetic makeup in the Montessori structure. And, as a result, many of us panic a bit at the request — when in fact, the answer is simple:
First, offer those personal stories in place of test scores as proof of the work your school achieves.
If anything, these monumental moments are more telling than any numbers could be and highlight not only the educational benefits of your school but also the social/emotional value. Let's remember that donors are human, too. If we help them understand the immense value in our approach, numbers will begin to look irrelevant. The power is in the narrative we create.
After offering your personal story, if your potential funder seems unmoved — don’t sweat it.
Instead, move on.
Alas, not every school is fit for a donor, and not every donor is fit for a school.
During fundraising, your time and energy are too precious to spend on one donor alone who seems difficult to convince.
In a world where there are many individuals and businesses who would support your school, it is a waste to try to convince anyone your worth (beyond reason, of course).
Prospective funders are certainly entitled to ask for facts and data to support their emotional connection to your school before giving their money; yet, if they don’t seem like the right fit, don’t spend too much time trying to convince them — save that for the right people.
You Have the Tools You Need: Go Forth!
As a Montessorian, you are a natural empath.
And ultimately, fundraising comes down to connecting with other people — communicating the incredible change and impact you offer children and the community alike.
Use the power of your heart and school to reach those in your community. The funding will come.
And when in doubt, don't forget there is a community here to support you. So many of us have been through this and have tips to share!