by Jim Pingel
Christian leaders have a good sense of timing. They know that time is a gift from God, that God’s timing is always perfect, and that the Bible talks a lot to say about time and timing. Indeed God tells us to make “the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). He also encourages us to make the most of our time because “you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). We are to “not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). The Bible is clear: You are to make the most of your time. Most importantly, God knew the right time to send His Son to rescue us from our sins. As the Scriptures teach, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law” to save us from our sins (Galatians 4:4). If timing is such a big deal to God, perhaps we need to reflect more on the timing of our initiatives in ministry too.
When I served as the Executive Director of two smaller Lutheran High schools in the Midwest, I never had enough time. I’m sure you cannot relate. Seriously, though, when you are in charge of advancement, recruitment, strategic planning, the budget, congregational relationships, professional development, curriculum, teacher supervision, and can’t seem to find anyone to run your concession stand, you learn very quickly how to kill many birds with few stones.
One thing I learned over the years, after much trial and error, is that we could enhance our fundraising efforts through many of our recruitment practices. The irony of it all is that what started out as an inspiration to consolidate and manage a busy workload turned out to be a very fruitful endeavor all by itself. Indeed, I discovered that we could use our fundraising ideas and “double dip,” or use many of these creations, to enhance our recruiting efforts and vice versa. Let me give you a few examples of what worked for us.
The fall is a terrific time to fundraise—people are happy and excited about school in general. They are not spending money on vocations and travel since the summer has ended. Your snowbird donors have not flown off to Florida or Arizona yet. They weather is still pleasant. So here are some things we did linking our fundraising and recruitment endeavors:
Our fall benefit banquet (doesn’t everyone have one?) raised funds for student scholarships and endowments for financial assistance. One of the unique things we did at these events is have a few students, who received scholarships, speak to the larger group and publicly thank them for their support while telling their own Lutheran high story. Second, we also invited and assigned students, who received some kind of financial aid or scholarship assistance, to each of the dinner tables of our guests. If we had twenty-five tables of eight guests, then we had twenty-five students sitting throughout the banquet hall visiting with our contributors at each individual table. In short, we wanted our donors to interact with the very students whom they directly helped and made a Christian education possible. Our donors loved sitting next to and conversing with our students throughout the banquet.
We sent out annual fund appeals three times a year—early fall, early December (Christmas appeal), and in April. Our fall annual appeal usually contained more data than our other two annual fund appeals—the number of students enrolled at our school, the yearly cost to educate a student (we also included the daily cost because some donors loved to pay for “one day” of school), and our fundraising goals for the school year. We discovered that our donors liked to know this information. They wanted to see if their giving had “worked” or helped with our recruitment efforts. Again, we wanted our donors to see the link between fundraising and student enrollment.
As we geared up for a new year of student recruitment (it’s never ending), we created new student recruitment brochures, newsletters, posters, and postcards which we planned to give to prospective students and their families during our upcoming open houses, grade school visits, and direct mail appeal efforts. This is not unusual practice. Almost every Lutheran high school creates or purchases their recruitment materials and swag.
But here’s the really fun part: I mailed these recruitment brochures, newsletters, posters, and postcards to our donors who had supported our endowments and student scholarship funds and included a handwritten, personal “thank you” note to them. In other words, our donors received all of the student recruitment materials with a note from me saying “thank you for making this possible.” I often included the names of students “who would not be here without your generosity and scholarship funding” in my letter.
This opportunity provided me an easy, non-money ask and touch point with many of our top donors only a few months before I would be asking them for a Christmas gift/donation. More importantly, our donors saw, on these brochures and posters, a lot of smiling faces and the impact of that their donations had on the mission of the school. How easy was that? I disciplined myself to write about five personal letters a day for the months of September and October and inserted the letter with recruitment materials in a packet. Months later when I would visit some of these donors in their homes, they would have the recruitment materials sitting on their coffee tables. “So tell me a little bit more about this program,” they would ask me pointing to a brochure.
The Christmas annual fund appeal, of course, remained one of our more lucrative fundraising endeavors. Moved by the love of Christ and the Babe of Bethlehem, many donors give their “one-time” gift between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In this appeal, we did not focus so much on data but on the mission. In these appeals, we would often tell student stories and particularly of those whose lives had been touched in special ways by the love of Jesus.
Many of your schools do the same, but here is where we tied or linked fundraising to our recruitment efforts: In January, after our annual fund totals could be tallied the tax year, we sent a specially-designed thank you note to our Top 100 annual fund donors. I would write a personal message on each of these letters specifically thanking them for the uniqueness and the generosity of their gifting. They loved receiving a letter identifying them as a Top 100 donor to the school (many were surprised to be in the Top 100). Once again, however, we would include a new recruitment piece in the mailing. Perhaps it would be a poster sheet of the events we held during the first semester at our school for prospective families and students—open houses, youth gatherings, lock-ins, shadow visits, junior high dances, etc. Again the message to our donors remained: Thank you for all that you do to make this possible. Thank you for helping us recruit and raise up the next generation of Christian leaders. This was yet another advancement “touchpoint” which was easy to do and extremely well-received for the time we committed to it.
In addition to our spring appeal and spring auction, the highlight of our school year remained graduation. After graduation, I sent key donors, or prospective donors, a “celebration update” on our graduating class. Much of this material would be going into our summer newsletters for our prospective students and families anyway, but I sent it to our donors who would not otherwise receive this material. It had pictures of our graduates, scholarship dollars they received, universities they planned to attend and programs they planned to study, and all kinds of school updates and information and student biographies and stories. In addition to sending these recruitment newsletters to our donors, I included yet another personal note written on school stationary thanking them once again for their support. If I had not had lunch or breakfast with this donor recently, I might suggest that I would be calling them soon to get together.
Again, the point is that we took recruitment materials and sent them to our donors. We did not have to recreate the wheel. Furthermore, and this point cannot be overstated, the recruitment calendar kept me focused on the fundraising calendar too. As much as we worked to recruit new students and prospective families to our school, we were constantly re-recruiting and re-thanking our donors.
These were activities that were fruitful for the schools I served, and they worked well for my busy schedule too. I truly enjoyed making regular contact with my donors and sharing recruitment news with them. It made them feel young again and made them feel they were “on the inside” of the school’s strategy and planning efforts.
I’m sure many of you, especially those of you who run one-man or one-woman shops, do the same type of merging and alignment in your advancement and recruitment efforts. Perhaps you would be willing to share some other ways you consolidate your efforts to create better and bigger margins for your ministry for a future issue of the ALSS Journal.
Until then, remember that time is moving fast. Do more with less, and have fun doing it!