December is fast approaching - ‘tis the season of annual appeals and Christmas donation requests. Those who work on the budget side of Catholic schools are usually all too familiar with “the gap.” In many of our Catholic schools, especially those serving low-income families, the tuition we charge does not cover the cost to educate. This revenue gap must often be bridged through the generous donations of benefactors because raising tuition would price out the families we serve. Given the urgency and challenges surrounding fundraising efforts, much attention and time is often devoted to disseminating best practices. As the Director of Development for Saint Ann School in Chicago I found workshops on crafting a compelling appeal letter, tips for engaging your alumni base, and strategies for perfecting “the ask” to be readily available.
Certainly, the ask is important. When you believe deeply in the transformative power of Catholic education in children’s lives, you are compelled to invite others to share their financial gifts and make an excellent Catholic education available to more and more children. But the ask is only the beginning. Strengthening, sustaining, and transforming Catholic education requires that, when we ask others to invest in our schools, we invite them to become part of our school community. We must not only seek gifts, but steward them well. Stewardship is all about cultivating relationships and when done well, moves us beyond the transactional ask-give-thank sequence that too often dominates the fundraising world.
A few practical, but impactful, strategies for stewarding gifts include:
- Turning the traditional phone-a-thon on its head and hosting a thank-a-thon. People are often overwhelmed by requests during the holiday season. Surprise them with a phone call or an email that doesn’t include an ask. At Saint Ann, our benefactors loved hearing about the different programs and improvements that their gifts helped make possible. As an added benefit, the 7th and 8th grade students learned valuable lessons in gratitude and honed their phone etiquette.
- Connecting the “thank you” to individual students. Our Compañeros program matched donors to students – making it explicit that their gift would help fund the gap between that student’s tuition and the actual cost to educate. Students would send Christmas ornaments and Easter cards and other communication through the year, and invite their Compañero to an end-of-the-year Mass with them.
- Inviting and involving. While some people may prefer to limit their involvement to donating, the best way to steward gifts is to foster a relationship. Invite donors to the school, solicit their advice or opinions, and share good news with them on a regular basis.
Asking for donations to support our schools’ missions should be just one way we are inviting others to engage with our school community. Stewardship can’t be an afterthought and it shouldn’t stop at saying “Thank You.”