One often overlooked but essential component of your school's community is the role that grandparents play. Engaging with grandparents is a profound way to strengthen your school's community and expand your pool of potential donors. It's a big group, too — more than 55.8 million adults ages 65 and older live in the U.S., accounting for about 17% of the nation's population, and experts project that the proportion will grow to 22% by 2040.
What does that mean for your school? Today, grandparents are forgoing retirement in favor of moving closer to their offspring. They're taking over the pick-up/drop-off routine, carpooling for sports for their busy children, and these days, some 2.55 million children live in a household with their grandmother and grandfather.
Beyond their roles in the lives of their grandchildren, grandparents are becoming more and more essential to your fundraising strategy, too. Many grandparents provided gifts and online donations to pay for 16% of independent schools' tuition, one older study showed.
Expanded federal tax benefits in recent years are allowing tax-free withdrawals of up to $10,000 each year for K-12 private and parochial school tuition, and as of 2023, account holders can transfer up to $17,000 annually to an ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience — savings accounts for individuals with special needs) without incurring federal taxes.
Generous grandparents can front-load these savings options and further support their grandchildren’s education without triggering gift taxes, a great incentive for any nonprofit organization's parent engagement strategy.
Sure, there's a lot of potential for your fundraising campaigns, but sometimes, we underestimate the incredible power of grandparents, and many schools are missing out on engaging this important and caring group.
Engaging with grandparents isn't about shaking the piggy bank for funds (though that helps!), it's about embracing the wisdom and enthusiasm of grandparents so you can elevate your private school's impact on multiple levels — to enrich its community, grow its prospective donor base donations, and improve its retention.
Engage grandparents from inquiry to graduation and beyond
If you’re using an inbound marketing approach for enrollment, you’ve likely created a persona and calls to action for prospective students and families, but grandparents are often left out.
The average age of becoming a grandparent is 50, so this group isn’t sitting quiet in rocking chairs: it's made up of late Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who are getting tech-savvy, active on social media, and as connected to their mobile devices as millennials. But to engage this varied group well, you’ll need to learn more about them.
One solution? Hold a focus group for your grandparents. Send an online survey, or invite a group of current grandparents for a morning at your school to meet with admissions, communications, and advancement staff to share their thoughts on what’s working well and what they’d like to see more of.
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 donor base, cultivate them with the content on your website they care about based on what you learned in your focus group. Gen Xers and Boomers are on their phones, so event invites via email and text reminders work, and your website certainly should be optimized for mobile. Don't forget about personalization in emails—like the kind to be available with Finalsite Messages—to show that you know them and understand their interests.
While their grandchildren are enrolled, go beyond only sending them an annual appeal and an invitation to Grandparents Day. Ask them to share their communication channel 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 support grandparents like other alumni groups makes sense. They’re potential major donors, they 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.
Give grandparents a home on your website
Since grandparents are more involved than ever in the day-to-day of their grandchildren’s school lives — from grades, sports schedules, and more — they also want more information from your school.
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.
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, alumni stories, 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.
CESJD's beautiful page for grandparents and grandfriends shares an extensive list of events, opportunities to get involved, and information about planned giving and endowments. With welcoming text that shares the school’s mission, which includes grandparents, this group is given an attractive and up-to-date page.
What do grandparents love more than photos of their adorable grandkids? Grandparents are among the most active groups on certain social media sites, and if you're wondering how to get more donors, add a photo slideshow using Finalsite’s Resources module and set up a quick slideshow in Composer; give grandparents the chance to scroll and see your mission in action.
Looking for inspiration to increase donors?
Grandparents often possess a wealth of experience, wisdom, and historical perspective that can benefit schools in a profound way, and increasing donations from a school's grandparents goes beyond mere fundraising goals; it's about building relationships, demonstrating the impact of their contribution, and nurturing their legacy. That happens first — then the donations will come.
The Potomac School makes it easy for its grandparents and special friends to sign up and get involved — "Grandparents are Panthers too!"
Grandparent donations can be a testament to their belief in your school's mission and their desire to see future generations flourish. Showcasing the real-world effects of their gifts – be it through upgraded facilities, scholarships, or enriched programs – can help donors feel their impact and create a sense of purpose.
Involve 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 can serve as fundraising chairs and help write and sign letters to other grandparents. Let this group share their stories of why they give with others — inspiring more grandparents donors.
For grandparents who aren't as comfortable with tech, St. Andrew's School makes it easy for family members to submit their contact information on their behalf with an online form. Now, they can stay updated with mailings, newsletters, and event signups.
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.
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.