How Independent Schools Can Be More Data-Driven
by Mike Montalto
April 15, 2021

We can’t talk enough about how important data-driven strategies are for fundraising organizations. And we’ve covered many of the ways nonprofits can use donor data to improve their outreach before. But today, we’re going to talk about how independent schools can be more data driven with their fundraising.

As you know, every organization is different. But despite having different missions, audiences, and goals, every fundraiser can do more with a data-driven approach.

After all, you can connect with donors more personally when data drives. And the more personal and relevant your communications feel, the more likely you are to inspire donors to give, so they can help you achieve your goals.

In this sense, independent schools are like any other nonprofit. If you work for an independent school, your mission is probably related to creating opportunities for tomorrow’s leaders.

I think everyone can agree this is an important outcome. And you will need your community’s support to accomplish this mission.

Here’s how your independent school can be more data-driven in your outreach, so you can raise more money, and build a brighter future.

A graduating year isn't just a number, it's an important part of an alumni's identity

1. It’s all about the donor.

True or False? Emotional stories are the most effective way to inspire giving with your appeals.

It’s false!

Now, we’re not saying that you should ditch your stories, or how you play on the emotions of your donors all together. But you should appeal to a donor’s sense of identity above all else.

And this is especially true for educational institutions!

There are a few easy ways independent schools can be more data-driven and appeal to a donor’s sense of self. For example, using an alumni’s graduating year as the focus of your appeal is a great way to start.

As we learn, grow, and discover ourselves during the formative years of our lives, we develop a special connection to the place where it all happened. The year we graduate isn’t just a number. It’s an important part of our personal identity.

It’s a four-digit code representing that period of growth.

That’s why a phrase like, “a lot has changed since you last walked these halls in 1999” pulls a donor in. It brings back memories of walking through those halls to their locker every morning, the day they graduated, and everything in between.

You can go further if your data allows it. Does your database hold information about what extracurricular activities alumni donors participated in as a student? That’s another strong piece of data that can be used to speak to a donor’s identity!

READ MORE: How to Tell a Donor-Centric Story

Be more personal by versioning messages based on extracurricular activities that former students participated in

2. Make it feel special.

Using variable content in your outreach can help drive those points home. Take the example of using a graduating year from the example in the section above.

You can do much more than simply mention the year a former student graduated. Why not include a class picture along with your appeal to make an impression and bring up some memories?

Or go even further and take some clippings from the school newspaper to remind students what was going on around the time the graduated!

You could take the same approach if a former student played on a sports team or was a member of an academic or social club. Bringing up memories of the big game, the theater club’s annual production, or another big event in someone’s life is a great way independent school can be more data-driven and donor centric.

READ MORE: How to Rise Above the Noise

Segment your audience to reach supporters with more relevant communications

3. Who are you speaking to?

While it’s great to bring up those old memories, it’s also important to think about where a donor is now.

And segmenting audiences and reaching out with versioned communications for each group is another way independent schools can be more data-driven and relevant with their outreach.

For example, alumni, current parents, parents of alumni, and parents who are also alumni have very different relationships with your school.

So, you should not be reaching out to these groups with the same message.

After all, the examples above wouldn’t motivate a parent of a current student the way they inspire your alumni. However, current parents will be much more interested in the day-to-day happenings at your school than a former student.

And parents of alumni will need a very different message all together. You will need to create messages that inspire this group to provide the next generation with the same opportunities their children had as students at your school.

And of course, you can take segmentation as far as your data allows! You can create a segment of former student athletes and put emphasis on your athletic programs for this group. And do the same for students who were members of a debate team, photography club, or other specialized activity.

READ MORE: Three Easy Ways to Segment Your Nonprofit’s Audience

DOWNLOAD: Fantastic Fundraising Emails - The Complete Guide for Nonprofits

Appreciate yesterday, build for tomorrow.

It’s great if you’re thinking about ways your independent school can be more data driven. After all, it’s not always easy to make a change and try something different.

Our biggest piece of advice is to use your data to appeal to a donor’s sense of identity. Educational institutions have a natural opening here. After all, your donors spent four important years of their life as a student there. Or they are probably the parent of a child who did or is currently.

This means, the majority of your donor base already feels connected to your organization. Your school has a special place in their heart. And they understand how important the experience was for shaping them into who they are today.

The key is using your data to remind them of that. And then showing them how they can provide a similar experience for the next generation.

So, start by appealing to a donors’ sense of self, drive home the point with variable and versioned communications, and then let them know what they can do to make a difference!

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