Annual Fund in 5: Modeling Best Practices for Community Engagement
On any given day, Mrs. Cindy Gibbs fields phone calls from independent schools across the country, seeking advice on how to successfully build an annual fund program. As the Assistant Director of Development for Mount Paran Christian School, Mrs. Gibbs and her colleagues in the MPCS development office are joined by a committee of enthusiastic parent volunteers to conduct a five-day “blitz-style” fundraising campaign, dubbed Annual Fund in Five.
So, just how did MPCS grow its annual fund participation rates from a mere 28-percent in 2004 to 88-percent parent participation in 2022? By listening to families and engaging the school community.
DOING MORE WITH LESS
It takes a combination of tuition and charitable donations to provide the distinctive qualities that an independent school education offers: small classes, exemplary teachers, and exceptional exploratory offerings, just to name a few. As is the case for many independent schools, in an effort to keep tuition as affordable for as many families as possible, tuition at Mount Paran Christian School does not cover the full cost of educating each student. Tuition covers approximately 90-percent of operating expenses; the other 10-percent comes from tax-deductible charitable giving, which is necessary to help sustain and expand the school’s mission.
The Annual Fund raises unrestricted gifts to support the annual operating budget, which includes instructional materials, program support, equipment and technology, professional development, and facility maintenance, all in an unapologetically Christian environment. When The Annual Fund at MPCS began in 2004, annual giving participation rates hovered around 28-percent. With a small development office that often “wears multiple hats,” the team recognized the need to do more with less. Armed with data from parent surveys that indicated fatigue from year-long giving asks, the development team rolled out its first fundraising “blitz” in 2013 - Annual Fund First in 10. The aim was to encourage families to make The Annual Fund their first giving priority to the school, focused within a 10-day targeted giving period.
The two-week campaign, hosted each October, featured parents asking parents to support The Annual Fund. Giving messages were refined and made more clear, as the team realized that parents did not truly understand how The Annual Fund resources were used throughout the school. The team narrowed down 10 tangible ways The Annual Fund benefits all students - 10 days, 10 reasons to give. The ten-day blitz was met with great enthusiasm and success.
REACHING THE "MAGIC" NUMBER
In 2018, the MPCS development team made the decision to strategically push the “blitz” timeline closer to the start of school, while simultaneously scaling back from ten days to just five. Now, The Annual Fund is launched in mid-September, reinforcing the message that giving to The Annual Fund should be a family’s first and most important gift to the school, above all others. The five-day fundraiser is held schoolwide, with no competing asks during this time. It is the one and only time parents are solicited for The Annual Fund for the entire school year.
Mount Paran Christian School has been intentional with both the timing and messaging of The Annual Fund. Even in the midst of a capital campaign, the emphasis on Annual Fund giving first and foremost has led to consistent giving rates. The focus for the development team has always been on parent participation, versus amount raised. Parents are asked to pray about their giving and then asked to give sacrificially. The aim is to gain more than 75-percent parent participation, as this is the “magic” number large foundations require before considering grants to schools and organizations for projects.
The process has now become seamless, with the parents’ committee leading the charge, supported by the development office. One parent couple per grade level joins the committee, committing to two years of volunteer efforts. Parent volunteers are set up for success and are eager to join the committee. In 2020, even during the pandemic, giving participation reached 88-percent.
INTENTIONAL COMMUNITY: GENEROSITY AND GRATITUDE
As MPCS continues to be intentional about building a community of generosity and gratitude, Annual Fund parent participation is a good indicator that parents are generally pleased and happy with what is happening in classrooms and on the campus on a day-to-day basis. MPCS parent and Annual Fund parent committee member Brendan Crowley shares, “The MPCS Annual Fund…benefits the whole school community. [It is] never about the individual but, instead, the participation of all, at the level at which they could contribute to achieve the goal.”
As excellent faculty and staff pour into students daily for the common purpose of Kingdom building, the hope for the future and the sense of community is directly reflected in Annual Fund parent participation. It’s the entire community working together for the success of all students.
HOW IT WORKS
The focus for the MPCS development team has always been on parent participation instead of the amount raised.
Goal: 100-percent parent participation in giving a gift of any size to The Annual Fund.
Leadership Giving: Before parents are approached to give, the school’s Board of Trustees leads by example, with 100-percent giving. Faculty and staff are then asked at pre-planning to give in a two-day mini-campaign. In 2021-2022, faculty and staff supported The Annual Fund with 98-percent participation. Gifts from faculty and staff who are also parents of students at the school count as both staff giving and parent giving.
The Plan: The week of giving features a huge kickoff at morning carpool. The parents’ committee is joined by cheerleaders, the marching band and the school mascot, Shelton, in a full-blown effort to energize families and offer a visual presence for the campaign. Banners and signs adorn the campus to remind parents that this is the week for giving to The Annual Fund. Volunteers are also present at carpool on Wednesday afternoon and Friday morning to reinforce the timeline of the campaign.
The week concludes with a technology giveaway at the Friday night football game. The development team is on-hand with a booth at the concessions area to encourage last-minute participation. The results of the campaign and the winner of a laptop are announced at halftime of the game.
- Engagement: The digital campaign also kicks off during the week of giving. A series of daily emails are sent, highlighting the impact The Annual Fund has made on student experience at the school. The weekly school e-newsletter features the five-day campaign as the lead story, and a social media campaign on Facebook and Instagram runs in tandem with the daily emails. On Facebook, nearly 12,000 people were reached by the 2021-2022 Annual Fund in 5 campaign, with close to 1,300 engagements. Instagram posts received nearly 1,000 “likes” and had nearly 3,000 views. All together, the 2021-2022 Annual Fund in 5 campaign has been one of the best years yet, with The Annual Fund finishing at 88-percent giving.
Amber Irizarry is the communications content manager for Mount Paran Christian School. She received her Master of Arts degree in Communication from Georgia State University and her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of North Georgia.
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