Private schools across the country are experiencing a surge in admissions inquiries as families face hard decisions heading into an uncertain and unprecedented school year. One of the questions our independent school clients have been asking is, “what do we do with all these new families?” The aside to that question, though often unspoken, is “what do we do with all these new families considering that many of them may only see this as a temporary fix until school goes back to normal?” How you answer this question, and the actions you take based on those answers, has the potential to both “win” these families over towards long-term retention, as well as help integrate these families quickly into the culture of philanthropy you’ve worked so hard to build.
How you integrate a new family into your school’s community is important. Many schools make the mistake of assuming that they should tread lightly around new families with the relationship to the development office developing over time. The problem with this approach is that too much is left up to chance, and you are up against an unknown timeline. We recommend implementing a number of easy, and fun, intentional activities that are proven to work in any climate but will be even more important this year.
New Parent Meetings
We cannot emphasize enough the effectiveness of individual meetings between the Head of School, Director of Development, and new families. Invite each set of parents in for an individual meeting, during which you spend 95% of the time just getting to know them. How did they hear about the school? Why did they choose your school over others? What would they like us to know about their children? What activities are their children interested in? What are the parents’ careers and hobbies? And… most importantly…How would they like to be involved in the life of the school? During the last few minutes, the Director of Development shares a few immediate ways they can get involved (Parent’s Association, Booster Club, Arts Council) and ends with an explanation of Annual Giving and how new families have contributed in the past. It is not an ask, but an education of what happens at the school and how new families are involved. These meetings should begin after the first couple of weeks of school and end before the first grading period. Is it a big time commitment? Yes! Is it worth it? Yes! You will walk out of each meeting with a family who feels seen, heard, and poised to engage in the school community immediately.
New Parent Chairs
Peer-to-peer fundraising will always be the most effective fundraising strategy. Work with your admissions department to identify a set of parents who were new the previous school year that embraced the school community and contributed to the Annual Fund. By asking them to be the face of new parents, you are providing new families with a peer. They can speak at new family gatherings, telling their story and why they felt compelled to give back to the school above and beyond tuition. Since you are likely not having an in-person event, send a video from the New Parent Chairs welcoming the new families to the school and sharing their own story. Having a new parent social event? Have the invite come from the New Parent Chairs. There are so many ways to utilize this role – be creative.
New Parent Socials
While this will certainly be trickier this year, with proper social distancing and limited numbers, you can successfully offer opportunities for new families to interact and bond with other families, particularly at the beginning of the school year. Invite a select few parents to breakfast after drop off during the first few weeks; if your school is still holding athletic events, organize a new family tailgate prior to the first football game or homecoming; organize a picnic for new families or for all families by class year – everyone brings their own food and chairs to the football field. Use your imagination. The point is to offer opportunities for new families to quickly form relationships with each other, while also creating intentional moments for yourself, the Head of School, principals, and the admissions officers to become more than just names and faces.
New Parent Annual Fund Solicitation
New families should not be lumped into the general parent solicitation plan but should be considered as a separate plan altogether. Now that they’ve heard from the New Parent Chairs at a back to school event (or virtually), personalize the annual fund request to this audience, sending the letter from the New Parent Chairs and including the average gift from the most recent year’s new parents. Track new parents separately and use this information in communications to help encourage new families in their giving as well as motivate established families (especially if the new parent participation percentage and/or average gift is higher than that of other parents!) If a particular new family stands out early, ask if they would film a short video sharing their story and why they chose to give (and keep them in mind for next year’s New Parent Chairs!).
The key word in all of this activity is intentional. New families should have a separate strategy in your annual giving plan. With proper coordination between your admissions and principals’ offices, you can help develop a robust cultivation plan that benefits both long-term retention as well as fundraising.
For more information on new family strategies and other creative school fundraising ideas make sure to check out Fundraising for Schools.