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8 Ways to Find First-time Donors for Your Private School
Connor Gleason

A new school year is always filled with promise and possibility. Among these opportunities is the potential to find new donors to support your school's development and fundraising efforts.

Your school's website and communication tools serve as an effective way to reach potential donors, and the fall is the perfect moment to inspire your community — especially new families — to embrace the tradition of giving back and supporting your school.

They’re just a click away, ready to support causes they believe in — you just need the right tools and strategies to engage them. Reach out, connect with them, and guide them toward becoming (longtime) supporters of your school.

It’s time to streamline your online donation process, tell powerful stories highlighting a donation's impact, and effectively reach out through email and social media. Implementing these strategies allows you to tap into new resources and build a stronger, more supportive community. 

Here are practical strategies to find donors for your school this year.

1. Prep Your Website for Easy Donations

The first step toward increasing your donor base is to make donating as easy as possible. First-time donors won’t be encouraged to make their first gift if making a gift is challenging or doesn't feel secure. That includes:

  • A Prominent 'Donate' Button: Ensure a “Make a Gift” or “Give” button is visible and accessible from every page on your website. Whether in the footer, in the omni navigation, or through a sticky nav. This makes it easy for potential donors to find and start the donation process.
     
  • Streamlining the Donation Process: Simplify the process. Aim for minimal steps from clicking "Donate" to the final confirmation, making it quick and easy for donors to contribute.
     
  • Offering Multiple Payment Options: Cater to different donor preferences by offering a variety of payment methods. This can include credit/debit cards or digital wallets like PayPal.
     
  • Ensuring Secure Transactions: Make sure your website offers secure transactions to protect your donors' information. This builds trust and confidence in your donation system.
St. James Giving From mockup on laptop and iphone

St. James School makes it easy to make a gift with a branded, mobile-friendly giving form embedded directly on their site. Notice the pre-established giving amount, the one-click constituent field, and even the option to turn it into a recurring gift. Simple, easy, and secure!

Click me

2. Educate Your New Families on Your Giving Culture

Particularly for new families, a new school year is a time to immerse them in your school's culture of philanthropy and show them how every gift, no matter its size, can make an impact.

Here’s how you can educate families:

  • Understanding the Gift: Before one donates, they must understand what their contribution will support. Create a section on your website detailing various annual fund initiatives, major campaigns, and the programs donations typically fund.
     
  • How to Make a Gift: Provide a step-by-step guide on how someone can donate, highlighting the different methods available.
     
  • Showcasing Impact: One of the most powerful motivators for a donor is seeing the tangible impact of their contribution. Regularly update your community with success stories, testimonials, and progress reports.
Visitation Giving Page

With plenty of resources about ways to give, the impact of a gift, and more, Georgetown Visitation educated its families and stakeholders about its giving culture and its mission to support its young women. Remember, when you equip potential donors with knowledge, you're not just asking for support — you're inviting them to be part of the journey for your school and students.

3. Personalize Your Email Outreach

Email remains important for encouraging first-time donor engagement — and if it’s personalized, your engagement rates will soar. Personalize your email communications with their name, their student’s name, and relevant information about their school level.

For example, a parent of a primary school student won’t have much interest in the accomplishments of the senior class, so instead, speak to the recent success of the lower school.

  • Incorporate compelling narratives, photos, videos of your school's initiatives, progress updates, and appreciative testimonials from students and faculty.
     
  • Always conclude with a clear call to action, directing them toward donating.

4. Harness Social Media

Social media is an invaluable resource for engaging potential donors. In fact, nearly 70% of Gen Z and Millennial donors prefer to hear from nonprofits on social media. And because of its social nature, regular updates about fundraising goals, giving initiatives, and the success stories made possible by gifts will have a ripple effect and encourage others to join the movement.

instagram story donation sticker

Pro Tip: Utilize tools like Facebook's 'Donate Now' button or Instagram's donation stickers in stories.

5. Promote Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Turn your community members into ambassadors for your cause. Provide parents, staff, and alumni with the resources to create personalized outreach or social media challenges, like grade level or class participation challenges. Peer recommendations can often have a more significant impact, helping you reach potential donors in networks outside your immediate reach.

Sage Ridge Media Kit for Giving

Sage Ridge has added a media kit to its capital campaign efforts — complete with press releases and pre-designed graphics, ready to be shared on social media featuring the important area of campus supported by the campaign.

6. Promote Recurring Donations

Turn a first-time gift into an annual gift! Recurring donations provide a steady stream of gifts and demonstrate commitment from your donors. Ensure your website’s giving form allows donors to set up automatic recurring donations. Make it simple for them to choose the donation frequency — weekly, monthly, annually, etc.

recurring gift gif

7. Recognize Donor Contributions

Donor recognition is a fundamental aspect of donor retention. Donors want to see where their money is going and the difference it makes. Throughout your giving pages, demonstrate the tangible impacts of previous donations. Whether it's improvements in facilities, successful projects, or scholarships awarded, seeing real-life examples and testimonials of how contributions have been used can instill confidence in potential donors and inspire them to contribute to your school.

Pro Tip: Always ask for their permission before public acknowledgment — many humble donors wish to remain anonymous or downplay their generosity.

Lovett School’s “Attitude of Gratitude” social posts highlighted the impact of gifts made to its True Blue Annual Fund. The visuals and testimonials from the students are a great touch and drive home the generosity of its community.

8. Leverage Website Pop-Up Notifications

Website notifications can serve as effective last-minute reminders for potential donors browsing your website. These notifications, triggered either by the duration spent on the site or after scrolling, could highlight a fundraising goal or an ongoing project that requires funding. The key is to balance being persuasive and respectful, ensuring the visitor isn't overwhelmed.

Key Takeaway

This school year holds the promise of growth and new development for your fundraising. By adopting a strategic and proactive approach, with these tactics in hand, your school can find new opportunities and expand its donor base.

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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.


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