As the holiday season approaches and your academic programming slows down, things are heating up in advancement offices at independent and private schools across the country.
And while the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, many advancement directors are counting down the seconds until the deadline for tax-deductible gifts is set to expire and fiscal goals are reset with the new year.
A recent CASE Voluntary Support of Education survey found that U.S. independent schools' annual funds cover only about 26 percent of the school’s yearly operating expenses — a figure necessary for most schools to help close the divide between tuition and operating costs and the end of the calendar year is an opportune time to close that gap.
Before the clock strikes midnight, advancement and development offices at schools can leverage their software and communication tools to fight through the noise, make it easier than ever to give a gift, and honor donors with genuine appreciation in hopes of increasing gifts and donations.
Throw the confetti if these six strategies are included in your school’s end-of-year giving efforts:
1. Optimize your giving pages
First and foremost, schools need to make it as easy as possible to make a gift, especially while using a mobile device. Data in NAIS’s trend book suggest that over a quarter of recent online donations were made with a mobile device, and that number only continues to grow. Reports show an increase in charitable giving, with overall U.S. giving growing by 9 percent in 2021 — the largest increase since 2012.
To “capitalize” on your end-of-year giving efforts, make sure your giving page is mobile-friendly, meaning:
- It can be easily found in multiple locations throughout your site, including your main navigation, footer, and as CTAs
- Your giving form is as simple as possible with limited form fields, preset donation amounts, and conditional fields
Saint James School in MD has a streamlined “Give Now” page that makes submitting a donation easy on a mobile device. A drop-down, conditional form condenses the length, a pre-established giving amount takes the guesswork out of deciding on the right gift, and by placing the form at the top-left of a two-column page design, the giving form shows up first, ready to receive a donation. Nicely done!
Here’s more advice on a great giving page design:
- 6 Creative Ways to Give Your School's Giving Pages a Little More Love
- 6 Easy Website Updates for Earning More Donations
- Top Mobile Giving Strategies for Schools
2. Revamp your thank-you page
Show your appreciation by including a video message from students, faculty, or parent representatives demonstrating the impact of your gift. A heartfelt thank you, followed by a personalized message and receipt, will properly acknowledge your donor’s gratitude and make them more likely to give again (and hopefully more) in the future.
Every year in early December, The Stanley Clark School holds its annual Clark Day of Giving. It’s a chance for the school to rally around its community as the calendar year winds down. A brief but impactful video shows that support from students, faculty, and friends of the school — masks or not, you can get a true sense of the appreciation from the community.
3. Beat the clock with a social media giving challenge
A campaign can help a grassroots effort pick up steam quickly, especially if there’s a little friendly competition involved. Alumni class and grade-level giving challenges can spur participation and provide an incentive to give, while taking that challenge to social media can publicize your goals and help it see even more engagement across the web.
Looking for a way to boost awareness and engagement? Move your giving challenges into the social sphere with branded hashtags, badges, and more!
The McCallie and Baylor Schools are continuing an epic 87-year rivalry with a giving challenge this fall. In the spirit of friendly rivalry, the fundraising challenge supports both Tennessee schools, and the plan is simple: the school with the most alumni and parent participation at the end of the challenge wins! They’ve sent up a snazzy landing page that details the challenge and pulls in the latest social content with an integrated social media feed to help spread the word.
4. Visualize your goals with graphics
Graphics can help visualize our goals, and when we see a tangible measure of our progress, we’re encouraged to help it cross the finish line.
A giving thermometer or progress bar can help visualize an end-of-year giving challenge, but beware! This strategy can also backfire — a giving campaign that falls short will sting even more if your efforts stumble. A thermometer that never rises, a bucket that never fills — however you choose to visualize your campaign, be wary of how that will look if your campaign fails to take off.
Seoul Foreign School didn't need to worry about meeting its annual fund goal — a bright red thermometer helped encourage donors to surpass the $250K goal by 15 percent.
The Stanley Clark School once again does a great job at gathering support — but this time, they visualized their participation goals with pizza icons — the perfect way to work toward a celebratory pizza and pajama party if the goal was reached.
The Episcopal School of Dallas uses pie charts (am I sensing a food theme here?) to support its message on a campaign microsite. That visual representation, along with stories of impact and gratitude, adds multiple web design elements to the “Together We Will” page and helps create an engaging experience for users.
5. Provide more options to give
Casting a wider net by offering more ways to give can help boost participation in your fundraising strategies. Pledges, company matches, or gifts in kind might be options for your school when time is short. With its largest user group being 25 to 34-year-olds, Venmo is a great option for a younger audience, and with just a few clicks, a gift can be made using the popular platform. Last year alone, Venmo reported a payment volume of $230 billion!
For schools, one of the best features of Venmo is that it offers social proof. Users can share their payments with their friends, family, or connections to encourage participation or to create a little friendly rivalry. Not every gift has to be visible, though; the privacy settings can be adjusted on the app — to public, friends, or private. This social-media-style feed also comes with features like emojis and animated stickers, and who doesn’t love a good emoji?
Don’t have an account? You can set up a business profile through Venmo and share your QR code with your community to help them make a quick donation during a giving challenge or through your school’s website.
Georgetown Prep offers nearly a dozen ways to make a gift and help the school meet its goals, including a Venmo option. Log into the app, search for the school, and donors can make a gift in seconds while seeing who else is showing their support.
6. Follow the countdown through an email campaign
To maximize tax deductions for the current calendar year, it’s crucial to make charitable gifts by December 31. As the year winds down and before the busy holiday season carries donors away, remind your community that donations made through gifting appreciated shares of stock are a generous option. By gifting it to your school, your advancement office gets the value of the stock, while the donor gets to file a deduction for the full amount — just in time to hit fundraising goals.
Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart knows the importance of reminding its community about this option and the deadline. In the days or weeks prior to New Year's Eve, consider sending a meaningful message that carries the value of a gift, the impact it makes, and what’s needed to make a tax-deductible gift. Going forward, be sure to remove donors who have participated from your email list to avoid soliciting them needlessly.
Every department has its busy times of the year, and for advancement offices at independent and private schools, the close of the calendar year is a critical time for receiving gifts to the school. Leveraging your school’s digital presence across your website, email campaigns, and social media accounts will encourage donors to make a gift before it’s too late and help carry that momentum into the new year.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.