Quiet, Passionate Givers
We all remember our favorite teachers: those men and women who shaped our lives by giving us the encouragement we needed to feel good about ourselves, to try harder and achieve more. These are priceless charitable gifts that last a lifetime. So why are teachers largely ignored by fundraising groups?
“We call teachers ‘the philanthropists next door,’” says Kristina Carlson, president of FundraisingINFO.com, an Internet-based fundraising company that helps nonprofit organizations raise money. “We have a database of philanthropists who have given from $5,000 into the millions, and one of the things we see consistently with educators is that they tend to make large gifts later in life or as parts of their estates. Many teachers live frugally but, over time, they accumulate significant money.”
The National Education Association tracks teacher demographics with comprehensive surveys every five years. The latest “Status of the American Public School Teacher” report was released in August 2003 and held some surprising information about educators.
First, most teachers spend $443 annually of their own money to meet their students’ needs. Teachers also spend an average of 50 hours a week on instructional duties. These statistics prove that teachers are passionate people, but because of the relatively low annual salaries (averaging about $43,000 according to the NEA report), educators historically have been overlooked as potential donors. It would behoove fundraisers to look again.
“Most public-school teachers make significant financial contributions by supporting individual classroom projects,” says Julia Swope, director of membership for the Texas Classroom Teachers Association. “These include special incentive programs for their students, and purchasing any necessary instructional supplies that are not covered by the school district.”
“In our experience, teachers respond best to e-mail that has a direct-response mechanism,” says Gary Ingle, executive director of the Music Teachers National Association, an association for independent and collegiate music teachers. Given the nature of teachers’ busy lives, e-mail does not intrude on lessons, and the teacher is able to respond immediately regardless of day or time.”
As a group, he adds, teachers don’t consider themselves wealthy, so they’re very selective about giving.
“Our communication through fundraising copy must be highly personal,” he says. “Music teachers care about individuals, especially students. We must also communicate a compelling vision of how students will be positively impacted by our organization, and that this vision cannot and will not be accomplished without our organization or their support.”
“When preparing fundraising copy for teachers, it is important to acknowledge them as informed readers,” says Kristin Sargent, an analytics consultant for software and services provider Blackbaud. “Teachers need to be recognized for the contributions they make on a daily basis and the impact they have on the success of the institution overall.
“Talk about how their gifts will not only assist in reaching the targeted goal financially, but also how they will help send a clear message to the rest of the school community about the broader impact educators can make,” she adds.
She suggests these tips for approaching educators about donations:
- Ask for their donations before you reach out to others (such as alumni and parents). This recognizes that teachers play a vital role in the institution’s success. Plus, once support from teachers has been accomplished, the development office has a good talking point when it reaches out to the rest of the organization’s constituents.
- Consider approaching educators when they return from summer break and are planning for the year.
- Encourage other teachers to help ask. Setting up a faculty annual fund or major-gift committee can be the difference between success and failure for an internal fundraising program.
Christine Weiser is a Philadelphia-based reelance writer and publisher of “Philadelphia Stories,” a nonprofit literary-arts publication.
Go to www.philadelphiastories.org for an extended version of this story.