What next for schools in a post-pandemic setting?
The Bursar’s Review, published by the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association, recently invited Gifted to contribute a thought piece on how our Directors saw the shape of schools fundraising, post-pandemic. Here we share a snap shot of the key observations in Chris Goldie’s article, which you can read in full if you’re a member of the ISBA and subscribe to their quarterly magazine.
As we immerse ourselves in the new academic year and the world begins to resemble what we were once used to, fundraising has to emerge from its period of slumber, quickly re-establishing itself as a vital component of any school’s business plan. For some, capital projects that were first mooted a number of years ago, are very much back on the agenda. For others, the desire to offer more bursaries or to increase levels of hardship support has strengthened as the economic impact of the pandemic becomes more apparent.
Choosing to continue fundraising
Since March 2020, Gifted has been engaged by 10 schools – some independent and some state - who recognised that they couldn’t afford to wait until it was all over before starting to plan and deliver effective fundraising strategies. These schools wanted to be ready for that moment when society simply had to move forward once more. That time is now. Our professional experience as a consultancy, strengthened as a result of what we have learnt from parents, alumni, development professionals and senior leadership teams across the country, tells us that schools are eager to reignite their fundraising programmes.
Good projects still attract great support
We’ve also learnt that there is plenty of confidence out there; that a good project will attract great support; and that wealthy prospects in particular have not suffered as badly, from a financial perspective, as had been initially feared. We also detected considerable support for projects which showed ambition and a positive future. It was made very clear to us that, as a direct result of the pandemic and the emotional strain that it has put on so many people, we all want things to look forward to and enjoy.
Keeping things personal
In reality it will be some time before schools can stage large-scale cultivation or information events, such as reunions, alumni dinners or year-group evenings. Whilst there is a perception that people are keen to go out and mix after so many months of restrictions, there remains a lingering reluctance among many people, particularly the older generation, to do so. Cultivation events therefore need to be smaller and more exclusive. They need to be focused on those most likely to be supportive at the highest levels. This, much more personal approach, demands greater time commitment from heads and senior management team members. It may well require greater investment in Development resources, so that a school’s senior fundraising professional can dedicate more time to engaging lead prospects and less time researching, a role that’s best done by someone more junior and wholly dedicated to the task.
Investing in your fundraising resources
Finally, it’s worth recognising that if fundraising strategies are to become sharper and more focused; communication tools are to be improved and used more extensively; and development departments are to be upskilled or expanded, there will be a need for greater investment in fundraising resources. For some this might be unpalatable but the simple truth is that in order to fundraise effectively, all schools need to recognise that the right amount of investment needs to be made. At the end of the day, fundraising is a business like any other. It can’t be delivered effectively if it’s not resourced appropriately. In the post-pandemic context that we now operate in, ensuring that your fundraising department is properly but not excessively funded, will allow your team to deliver an adapted, flexible strategy with confidence.