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How to Raise Money for Schools (without Eating Bugs)
Connor Gleason

Year after year, advancement and development offices spend countless hours dreaming up creative fundraising ideas for their school to pay for programs and close the gap in their annual fund.

And yes, while fundraising for your school is a critical component of remaining financially sustainable, it’s also about doing it in a way that stays on brand and avoids resorting to demeaning or crazy events just to stir up excitement and participation.

As far as school fundraiser ideas go, yesterday's car washes, bake sales, and dunk tanks don’t cut it anymore. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to hear stories of school leaders camping out for the night on the school's roof as an incentive to meet campaign goals.

One school charged students $2 to watch their principal and teachers eat bugs in conjunction with World Edible Insect Day and the school’s study of insects (they ended up raising more than $600...)

Another high school in Idaho converted its hallways and classrooms into a haunted house, raising $3,000 to support activities throughout the year. Scary...

Advancement offices sure do like to put the "fun" in fundraising, but it's essential to think about the message you’re sending. Wild and crazy stunts might be flashy, but they can send mixed signals—you want your school to be known as a place of learning and excellence, not just for doing outlandish events.

Moreover, not everyone is a fan of extreme fundraising. Communities are diverse, and schools need to consider the preferences of everyone involved, including those you’re asking to give — and those at the other end of the bargain.

So, how can you increase school donors and raise funds — without lowering the bar?

Sure, your school benefits if an unusual event engages your community and gets folks to donate. But with a comprehensive online giving strategy in place, you’re creating an easier way to give and building a philanthropic culture that doesn’t resort to eating crickets or paying to tape school leadership to a wall.

Let's talk about how to increase donor giving and show respect to everyone involved.

Engaging Your Community the Right Way

Successful fundraising hinges on how well you engage with your community and establish a connection, and every fundraising event should reflect the values of your school. If creativity and community involvement are part of your school's brand, then great — unique fundraising activities can be a great fit, so enjoy the ice baths and pies in the face.

These events can create a sense of community, spirit, and shared purpose that purely online campaigns might not achieve. Participation in fun or unusual activities can humanize leadership and demonstrate their dedication to your school's needs and willingness to go the extra mile.

But your fundraising strategy shouldn't undermine authority or respect, and it certainly doesn’t replace the need for a straightforward and efficient way to collect online donations.

If your school is struggling to meet its fundraising goals in the first place, it could be a sign that it’s difficult to literally make a gift online. Your school’s website, communications tools, and the overall giving experience can be pivotal in making fundraising engaging, straightforward, and impactful.

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Fundraising Tools | Making the Most of Your School Website

Your school's website is the platform that will significantly enhance your fundraising efforts. It's crucial to make a positive and lasting impression that reflects your school's professionalism and commitment to quality.

A well-designed, user-friendly giving form and pages that use vibrant colors, imagery, and clear, concise text will support a donor’s desire to give. It’s the ideal platform to showcase your school's accomplishments and the positive outcomes of past fundraising efforts, too.

Saint James School Giving Page

Just like Saint James School has done for its recent giving campaign, this could include outlining goals for enhancing facilities and student experiences with a beautiful landing page.

Simplifying the Donation Process with Mobile Giving

Making a gift while using a smartphone is growing — mobile users made up 33% of non-profit online donation transactions last year and yielded 34% more donations in recent years.

To collect donations, it’s important to ensure your giving pages are mobile-friendly by having giving pages and forms that use:

Responsive Design

  • Ensure that the layout of the giving pages adjusts automatically to fit the screen size of various devices, including smartphones and tablets.
  • Use a flexible grid layout that resizes content and images to give an optimal viewing experience on all mobile devices.

Simplified Forms

  • Keep the donation form simple and concise. Limit the number of fields to only essential information to reduce the time and effort required to fill it out on a mobile device.
  • Consider using drop-down menus, checkboxes, pre-defined giving amounts, and toggles for quicker navigation and selection.

Intuitive Navigation

  • Design large, easy-to-tap buttons for easy navigation on touchscreens.
  • Ensure all clickable elements like links, buttons, and form fields are well-spaced.

Fast Loading Times

  • Optimize images and other media to reduce file sizes without losing quality, ensuring quicker page load times on mobile networks.

Accessible Text and Readability

  • Use larger font sizes and high-contrast colors to improve readability on small screens.
  • Ensure that text is easily scalable for users who need to zoom in for better readability.

Security and Trust

  • Donors should feel confident that their contributions and personal information are safeguarded.
  • Implement secure, mobile-friendly payment methods and clearly display security badges and encryption indicators to reassure donors that their transactions are safe.
chartwell giving mobile mockup

Chartwell School brings many of these aspects together in its giving form and supporting pages — a mobile-friendly experience, supporting visuals and quotes, clear form fields — everything embedded right on the page.

Enticing Calls to Action

How can donors be expected to make a gift if they can’t find your giving form or page? A prominent and easy-to-find donation button significantly increases the chance of a contribution.

Mount Saint Joseph Giving page

With call-to-actions (CTAs) easily found in its website’s footer, main navigation, and sticky navigation, Mount St. Joseph Academy makes it easy to find ways to donate and start the simple and streamlined process.

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Communication Tools to Connect with Donors

While SMS open rates can be as high as 98%, email is still one of the best ways to inform and engage your donors. Email communications sent regularly are most likely to receive recurring gifts from donors, and almost half (48%) of non-profit donors say that regular email communications are most likely to keep them engaged.

A mass notification system like Finalsite’s Messages XR allows your team to reach parents and donors across multiple platforms with just a few clicks. Simply create a message, select your lists, and then engage your community through their preferred device, like email, social, voice, text, or website and mobile app notifications.

Oakhill Day School used Messagex XR to send updates over email and to mobile devices to keep its community engaged throughout Giving Tuesday.

oakhill day school thank you email mockup

Don’t forget about social media, too! Platforms like Facebook, X, and especially Instagram can build excitement with alumni, staff, and students and their families, so share updates about your fundraising campaigns!

Making Donors Feel Valued

Making donors feel appreciated is an essential part of online fundraising, and it's important to recognize and appreciate your donors in meaningful ways throughout the school year.

Regular Updates

One effective strategy for donor recognition is to regularly acknowledge their support in school publications, events, or on your school's website. This not only shows appreciation but also publicly affirms the importance of their contribution and shows the impact of their donations — Oakhill Day School nailed it with its Giving Tuesday efforts!


Clarity is another key component of making donors feel valued. Being open about your school's fundraising goals and how the funds will be used builds trust and respect for the donor's contributions. It reassures donors that their money is being used responsibly and for the intended purpose.

Key Takeaway

Respect, inclusion, and streamlining the donation process should be at the forefront of fundraising efforts. Fundraising ideas that spur participation and help cross the finish line are great, but to avoid needing the “extreme,” an online giving experience that benefits all participants is a win/win for everyone — especially the bugs.

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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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