Does the “average school” really exist?

One message we consistently share with clients and have shared with IDPE members at recent regional meetings is the danger of ‘becoming average’. Naturally, averages are used to help interpret data. But taking the average of any data point as an aspirational target or a benchmark from which to grow misses the fundamental point that there is no such thing as an average school, or at least I am yet to find one claiming, or aspiring, to be average!

Successful fundraising is reliant on a handful of core factors: committed leadership, a compelling case for support, enough prospective (and ideally engaged) donors, the correct resourcing, and a strategy to deliver it. Strengths and weaknesses in each of these areas will differ for each school and should determine how you structure, invest in, and execute your development programmes.

Setting benchmarks our leaders understand…

Thanks to the survey, it is now easier to see where you stand in terms of return on investment (ROI), staffing numbers, budgets, and fundraising performance. This is hugely helpful information. What no survey can tell us with great accuracy is what your ROI, staffing levels, budget, and fundraising targets should be.

A school that boasts strengths across all the core factors above should be optimistic about breaking the mould in terms of ROI, not simply exceeding an arbitrary ratio perceived as good performance. Those starting out need to fully understand their own position and build from there, which may not be to immediately transplant the blueprint from a similar school that has enjoyed success. Those in the midst of their development journey should make informed decisions as to how they increase their resource to realise potential. The overriding finding of the report is that investment in development over time positively influences fundraising performance.

… but data must play a role in that benchmarking

It is important to reflect on the breadth and depth of your constituencies – something that varies significantly in every school. By considering and best utilising the data that you know about your audience, you can begin to measure their engagement with your school. Using this data to identify your constituents’ interest in your school will allow you to:

  • Resource staff appropriately
  • Set a well-informed goal with clear rationale
  • Create a budget that aligns with your staffing, audience, and ultimate goals
  • Prioritise your constituents and your time and resources devoted to them
  • Shape your case for support with clarity
  • Target your messages carefully
  • Ask your supporters properly

No matter the size of your constituency, every audience has the potential to include high net worth individuals. Analyse your data carefully for clues, and use engagement opportunities wisely to find out more. By combining different data elements, you can easily segment your audiences into new and exciting ways to help you target your messages more effectively.

This article is part of a series providing our analysis and key takeaways from the 2016-2018 Graham-Pelton/IDPE Benchmarking Report. Read other articles or sign-up for our email list to have the latest news on the benchmarking report and other fundraising tips sent straight to your inbox.

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