• Higher Education
  • Independent Schools
Reaching Grandparents: How Schools Can Engage an Overlooked (but Important!) Demographic
Hadley Rosen

There are more grandparents than in previous generations— around 70+ million in the United States—and they’re more involved than ever, too (source). Today, grandparents are forgoing retirement to the usual locales in favor of moving closer to their offspring, and may take over the pick-up/drop-off routine and carpooling for sports for their busy children. (Mom and Dad, are you reading this?)

One other important trend is that more grandparents are paying part or all of tuition, especially for pre-K-8 schools. A recent study by SSS by NAIS showed that 16% of independent schools’ tuition was paid for by gifts from grandparents (source). And, anecdotally, this number is growing as we hear from more Finalsite clients that grandparents are making the first inquiry to a school, attending open houses, helping their children and grandchildren decide which school to attend, and ultimately paying tuition.

And, with new changes to 529 plans in the 2018 tax bill that allow for up to $10,000 a year to be used for private K-12 school tuition, generous grandparents can front-load these savings vehicles and further the impact on their grandchildren’s education without triggering gift taxes.

Nonetheless, many schools are missing out on engaging this important—and caring—group to enrich their community, grow donations and improve retention.


Engage grandparents from inquiry to graduation and beyond

If you’re using an inbound marketing approach for enrollment, you’ve likely created personae for prospective students and families, but grandparents are often left out. With an average age of a first-time grandparents at 50 in the US, and an overall average 64 (source), this group isn’t in rocking chairs: it is made up of late Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who are tech-savvy, active on Facebook, and as connected to their mobile devices as millennials (source). But to engage this varied group well, you’ll need to learn more about them. 

One solution? Hold a focus group for your grandparents. Invite a group of current grandparents for a morning at your school to meet with staff from admissions, communications and advancement to share their thoughts on what’s working well and what they’d like to see more of to keep them engaged. Keep the agenda focused, serve food, and ask the head of school to participate in part of the day.

The outcome of this effort can greatly improve the way you communicate with and steward this group from inquiry on, with a better understanding of how your school’s unique grandparents tick. This group has an added benefit: you can assemble a formal Grandparents’ Committee with active grandparent volunteers and school staff.

Once grandparents are in your funnel, cultivate them with the kind of content on your website they care about and in the format they prefer based on what you learned at your focus group. Gen Xers and Boomers are on their phones, so Open House invites via email and text reminders work, and your website certainly should be optimized for mobile; but personalization in emails—like the kind to be available with Finalsite Inbound—show that you know them and understand their interests.

While their grandchildren are enrolled, go beyond only sending them an annual appeal an invitation to Grandparents Day. Invite them to share their communications preferences for receiving school email newsletters and special event invitations through a simple form, and give them options to follow you on social media, sign up for committees and volunteer.

After their grandchild graduates, continuing to steward grandparents like other alumni families makes sense. They’re potential major gift donors, should be considered for board seats, and, if they’ve had a good experience, are likely to be loyal to your school and spread the kind of positive word-of-mouth that increases enrollment.

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Give grandparents a home on your website and on social media.

Since grandparents are more involved than ever in the day-to-day of their grandchildren’s school lives — including an interest in grades, sports schedules and more — they want more information from the school as well.

By aggregating the content they care about into a public section of your site or a password-protected Portal, you’re telling them they’re a valued part of your community, while re-instilling the value of your school with every website visit.

And while grandparents might not need every piece of news, your grandparents Portal could share photos from Grandparents’ Day, information about a grandparents-specific fundraising initiative, volunteer opportunities, news about student and faculty accomplishments, or an invitation for grandparents to submit their name and story to be considered as a special speaker for career day.

The Center for Early Education in California’s beautiful page for grandparents and grandfriends shares an extensive list of events, including a special volunteer day and a grandparents and children’s museum outing, along with information about downloading the school’s app and a link to their construction plan for their campus enhancement plan.

Center for Early Education Grandfriends Page on Website

With welcoming text that shares the school’s mission for including grandparents, this group is given a page that’s attractive and up-to-date.

And, what do grandparents love more than photos of their adorable grandkids? Add a photo slideshow using Finalsite’s sophisticated Resources module and set up a quick slideshow in Composer; give grandparents the chance to scroll through, download and order copies of photos if you integrate with a service like Vidigami.

Don’t forget that grandparents are among the most active group on certain social media sites. Lisa Walsh, Associate Director of Communications at Rectory School, a K-9 junior boarding and day school in Connecticut, finds that the school’s grandparents are frequently on Facebook more than any other platform.

“Grandparents are often sharing things that we post at Rectory,” she said. “They are looking for pictures of kids in the classroom and in activities and want to share them with their families and friends. We recognize how important grandparents are to our students and to the Rectory community, and we want to make sure they’re involved with all the amazing things going on on campus, both in person and by sharing on social media.”


Grandparents pose with their Rectory School student in front of a branded backdrop at Grandparents’ Day; the event is highlighted on social media and grandparents are sent hard copies of the photo after the event. ​​​​​​

Gather Grandparents Frequently

Beyond a special Grandparents’ Day—which is often a school’s most well-attended event—holding regular gatherings of grandparents on campus will deepen their interaction with your school beyond just going to events or games. Grandparents would welcome a daytime coffee with the Head of School, or a special speaker for the Grandparents Association.

Don’t forget about grandparents’ impact on advancement: active grandparents are donors to the annual fund, can serve as fundraising chairs, and help write and sign letters to other grandparents; and on-campus daytime phone-a-thons to other grandparents let this group share their stories of why they give with others — inspiring future grandparents donors.   

Looking for inspiration on going beyond Grandparents Day?

Saint Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco makes it easy for grandparents to sign up for a Grandparents Club, and details its benefits.


Calhoun School offers grandparents cultural outings in New York City throughout the year.

TheCalhounSchool-Grandparents-Email Sign Up page on website


Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School gives grandparents many ways to get involved, and created giving tiers to recognize generous grandparent donors.

Zell-Grandparents-Get-Involved page on website

Schools are lucky to benefit from this generation of involved grandparents, and with the right stewardship and opportunities to engage them, they can only further enrich the lives of their grandchildren’s schools.

Interested in how Finalsite Inbound, Portals or Composer can help you enrich your relationship with grandparents? Let us know!

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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.

  • Admissions
  • Advancement
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