Philanthropic advice to educational institutions and their foundations

The education community has felt the full impact of the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis.

During this enforced pause, educators are reflecting on an urgent question:

“What changes are needed for the upcoming winter session? “

The answer to this question will have a considerable impact on the entire education system, and we can only salute the strength, rapid mobilization, and innovation shown by educators everywhere. While students are the focus of these discussions, the equally important question is, “what should we do with current or future funding programs?” Should you hit “pause” on fundraising or use this momentum of mobilization and social awareness to rally donors to your vital educational cause?

Here is what we propose:

  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

In times of crisis management, it is highly recommended to regularly issue newsletters to students, to parents, to donors, staff, educators, and partners to keep everyone informed on the steps your institution is taking to deal with COVID-19.

No time? Inadequate resources? We suggest calling on volunteers, such as trusted graduates, parents, employees, teachers, or well-regarded retirees who might agree to take on this valuable task and help communicate the pride you all have in your institution. These friends and alumni are part of the pool of people who make up your institution’s “collective memory” and who might welcome an opportunity to use their well-honed skills to rally volunteers and financial support to your institution.

Do you already have a communications team? The input from volunteers might help to craft better messages or allow your team to produce more messages, increasing the frequency and relevancy of your messages. After all, many hands make light work!

  • Develop a sense of belonging

Educational institutions have an enormous reservoir of strength: Your alumni and friends!

The best performing schools, colleges, and universities have developed and nurtured a sense of belonging from the first day students attend the institution, and often, throughout the graduates’ lives. Is now the time to rally those who already know you to your cause?

This time of physical distancing is also a time of social awareness. That the actions of a few can affect the wellness of the many. That kindness, consideration, self-sacrifice, and patience will allow our communities to avoid unnecessary pain, suffering, and death. We’ve learned new ways to line up in grocery stores, to create new products, to change the way we work and socialize, in short, to adapt. We have also learned to listen to experts, to respect learning and experience from cleaners to doctors.

Most people learned these skills through the very social act of going to school, to college, to university. Many might wish to support programs that will benefit future generations through education. Have you told your friends and alumni how to help? 

  • How and when to fundraise?

President Kennedy, said that “in the Chinese language, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity.”

So how should educational institutions, faced with an unprecedented crisis, find a glimmer of opportunity and start a fundraising campaign?

  1. Mobilize your Development Department if you have one. If not;
  2. Find a volunteer leader who will lead this effort;
  3. Form a steering committee whose responsibility will be to plan your campaign and craft your message. The steering committee can be composed of members of your school staff, teachers, students, alumni, retirees, but also of parents and friends;
  4. Identify an objective that will speak to immediate post-COVID-19 needs, such as scholarship funds for students, or funds for research projects. The important thing is to find a cause that will speak to the moment and be relevant to your potential donor;
  5. Set a realistic financial goal;
  6. Prepare a communication campaign centered on electronic communications, e-mails, social media, text messages, modification to your website, allowing you to get in touch electronically with your potential donors.

Electronic communications from e-mail to web meetings, to YouTube videos, to social media will be your new friends. Consider crowdfunding and try to combine your campaign with volunteer (or paid student) telemarketing organized remotely. Regular communications will be essential.

Finally, the question is: when do we start? As you can see, every campaign requires a degree of planning. We believe that you should begin laying the organizational groundwork now. Electronic campaigns are quite inexpensive to launch. We suggest starting as soon as you are ready. Typically, autumn is a good time, but physical distancing regulations, should they persist, may allow you to reach a wider summer public that in the past.

Should you require assistance, BNP Philanthropic Performance can assist you in multiple ways. Over the last 20 years, we have helped over 600 not-for-profits, and charities collect over $1.2B in charitable gifts. We have worked with the full spectrum of clients, including schools, colleges, and universities.

We wish you great success in transforming this global threat into an opportunity to mobilize your alumni, friends, retirees, parents, staff, and educators into champions of your institution!

Stay safe

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. Malcolm X

Yves Bourget, Strategic and Business Development Consultant for BNP Philanthropic Performance