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4 Digital Fundraising Tips for Schools in 2019
Hadley Rosen

Your school’s potential donors have many worthy causes competing for their generosity: other alma maters, political campaigns, natural disasters and more all vie for their attention online. So how can your cause stand out among the noise? 

To improve their fundraising efforts in 2019, schools need to focus on: 

  • engaging their youngest donors;
  • using inbound marketing tools;
  • improving the donation experience and making it mobile-friendly; and
  • incorporating Instagram video into their fundraising strategy to capitalize on FOMO (fear of missing out) for Days of Giving to be successful.

Let’s take a deeper dive into how your school can make the most of these tactics. 

4 digital fundraising tips for schools in 2019-engage gen z, master inbound, improve donation experience and embrace instagra


1. Engage Generation Z Online

Just when you thought you had marketing to Millennials under control, in comes Generation Z. This demographic of current students and alumni, born between 1995 and 2010, is expected to grow to approximately 32% of the US population this year (source). 

As the true digital natives, they’ve developed a great filter for being “sold to” online that’s even more refined than that of Millennials’, and have deep experience engaging with brands on social media. Known to fundraisers as “Philanthro-teens” because of their desire to give back, they want to make an impact and contribute to social good. In fact, more than 26% of Gen Zers have raised money for a social cause, and 32% have donated their own money. (source

Sounds like a good group to focus on, right?

For schools to successfully engage this growing group and compete with other causes that get their attention, they’ll need to show how donations make an impact, include young donors in volunteer activities, grow peer-to-peer programs, and, since they’re on their phones a median of five hours a day (source), provide a flawless, memorable mobile experience. 

Get inspired by these schools successfully engaging Gen Z: 

Punahou’s campaign, “My Punahou,” didn’t leave out younger alumni or current students in sharing why it’s important to give back. Their video-heavy landing page brings in short stories of what Punahou means to parents, alumni, and current students. 

Showing that even young donors can make an impact boosts donations from this demographic. In fact, the school’s class of 2018 participated in the annual fund at a rate of nearly 20%, raising almost $20,000!

St. Mark’s School engages young alumni with clear calls-to-action on their alumni page that encourage them to get involved as volunteers or to join a Facebook page. The photo-heavy layout is easy to scan and looks great on mobile, too!

2. Focus on the Inbound Marketing Funnel for Better Engagement 

We recently surveyed 270+ independent schools on their use of inbound marketing tools and found that while many are doing social media marketing and creating content marketing strategies, less than ⅓ are using the kinds of inbound fundamentals like email personalization and persona development that can lead to fundraising success. (Thinking “What’s a persona?” Then click here!)

Since email is far from dead, fundraising emails need to be engaging, purposeful, and directed to the right persona to cut through the noise of the 100+ emails the average person receives each day. Fundraising emails need to look good and function well on every device, too, or donors may get frustrated and give up before they make a gift. 

St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville, Virginia knows that their community is busy and they don’t want their messages to get lost. Using Finalsite’s email module, Messages, they create visually-engaging, simple messages that encourage donations, like this one that recently let families know that the school year is halfway over. 

image of an email thank you for making an impact

They keep their emails engaging, personalized and purposeful, too: this email campaign to the current parents shares family stories of why they give, and features clear calls-to-action to take the next step. 

“Finalsite’s platform allows us flexibility in communicating with and soliciting constituents in an easy and effective manner,” said Rachel Balsley, the school’s Assistant Director of Communication. “We create whatever look and feel we'd like for a specific email or campaign, encouraging users to open, click, and engage with us, as well as the ability to schedule and track performance.”

The school’s fundraising emails are part of a larger campaign, said Rachel. “We use our emails to link to custom pages on our site that are branded similarly and use Forms and Payments to accept gifts.” 

Finalsite’s Inbound Marketing Platform provides schools with software modules to measure email success, and to speak to donors with personalized pages that truly personalize the donor experience.

3. Improve the Donation Experience

No matter Gen Z, Millennial, or Baby Boomer, everyone wants an easy donation experience online. And since we’re on our phones more than ever, mobile donations are growing, too. In the past year, such gifts have increased a whopping 205%! (Source).  

If your donation page features a lengthy form that’s nearly impossible to fill out from a phone, it’s time for a change.

For St. Anne’s-Belfield School, Finalsite Payments greatly simplified the donation process for the entire school, and made it easy to manage it from within the Finalsite platform. 

“Using Payments has made it much easier for our donors. Since it’s already connected to PayPal and Apple Pay, our donors don’t have to get out their credit card and can make a gift quickly. And they can make recurring gifts, which we hope will increase their total gift” said Rachel. 

“For our team, we can access giving reports from within Finalsite without having to log in to an external platform,” she said. 

image of STAB's giving page

Finalsite Payments’ is a boon for schools with international donors as well: with more than 29 accepted currencies, it’s simple for advancement teams to accept gifts from mobile devices at international alumni and parent events or from donors around the world. Combined with Finalsite personalization element that can display giving pages in a visitor’s language, the donation experience is truly tailored to different personae. 

4. Embrace Instagram Video to Spark FOMO for Days of Giving 

It’s the time of year for Days of Giving, and with Instagram Video being easier to use and having more adoption than ever, now is the time to try it out to inspire the type of fear of missing out that leads to donations.

For Brooks School, using Instagram to highlight their 2018 Day of Giving, #Brooks378, kept followers updated and engaged with live video and GIFs of faculty and alumni. In one day, the school was able to raise more than $190,000 from 750+ donors!   

Using the Instagram hashtag Brooks #378, they boosted their reach and engaged donors with more video, and thanked donors at the conclusion of the campaign. Using Finalsite Feeds, they were able to pull in posts to key site pages during the campaign, too.  

brooks #378 hashtag on instagram

After the day concluded, Brooks pinned their Giving Day videos to their Stories, inducing FOMO for those who missed out this year and hopefully sparking excitement for upcoming campaigns. 

an image of Brooks School's instagram profile


Hadley is Finalsite's Director of Communications and is a former independent school teacher, fundraiser and marketing director with a passion for cooking, travel, and spending time outdoors with her growing family. She founded the FinalsiteFM podcast network and enjoys meeting Finalsite clients from around the world.

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