Helicopter parents may be the bane of a dean’s existence, but for fundraisers, an involved parent is nothing short of awesome.  Helicopter or no, what are the best ways to connect with and engage parents in the fundraising life of your institution quickly and successfully? The following are five tips to engage the families you serve.

  1. Speed is everything.  In most things fundraising, time is on your side.  It takes time to develop and nurture a relationship, and in major gifts, that’s okay.  You’ve got time.  Except when it comes to parents.  Technically, you’ve got four years.  But do you really?  No.  When parents give, they are most likely to do it when they know their child or children will benefit from the gift.  So the cultivation of parents must start when their son or daughter is a freshman.
  2. Establish your brand. Make sure to include parents in your magazine and other educational or special interest mailings.  Consider developing an e-newsletter just for parents, and dedicate a section of your website to parents.  Like everyone, parents want to support an institution they trust and believe in, so establish a strong identity.
  3. Consider a Parent’s Council or Association.  A parent’s council or parent’s association will take staff and resources to develop and maintain correctly, so be sure you are ready to take this step before committing to it.  But if you are ready, it is one of the best ways to involve parents in the mission of your organization, and begin cultivating in them a sense of ownership of your programs. Recruiting volunteers to serve on the council or as an officer of the association is an excellent cultivation tool.
  4. Host special events.  Many successful parent programs begin the process of involvement by hosting summer welcome events in regions where several families live.  These may take the form of a picnic or casual event at a public venue, or better yet, at one of your more active and senior parent donor’s homes. Events in conjunction with student orientation, and of course a fall parent’s weekend are also recommended.
  5. Get to know your parents.  Your fundraising success with parents depends on knowing your incoming parents as soon as possible.  Only from this position of knowledge can you begin to forge relationships and plant the seeds for philanthropic support.  Many successful colleges and universities use wealth screening to identify wealth, lifestyle and philanthropic aspects of their incoming parent population. 

A parent fundraising program can be a major success for any college or university.  It’s a win for the parents, for the students and for the institution.  But time is of the essence, so don’t wait until the summer is over.  Your window of opportunity could close before you fully open it.

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