My passion for parent engagement started long before I became one – it was built when I served as a summer orientation leader while I was a student at San Diego State University. I loved meeting parents, sharing about the student experience and providing resource suggestions as a member of the student panel geared for parents.

Later, my first professional frontline fundraising role had me expanding the parents program from a purely programmatic one to a program that built generosity to inspire individual gifts. That passion stayed with me, and only grew years later when our oldest starting touring colleges. I was able to experience universities from the parent perspective, and I saw so many opportunities to grow how we invite parents and families into a generous relationship.

Fast forward to today, where I find myself discussing parent fundraising regularly during coaching sessions with clients. The number one topic: the differences between inviting parents and alumni to give.

With parent fundraising heavily underway, let’s look at those differences and how we can use them to better engage our enthusiastic new parents.

  • With alumni, our job is to re-engage. They often have not heard from us in years, or even decades. Parents are the exact opposite: they have been deeply engaged with us for months. They read everything about our campuses they can get their hands on, shop our books stores and look for campus swag on Amazon, decorate high school graduation parties with school colors and mascots, and they post, post, post their child’s campus choice on social media. (Decision day takes over Facebook in the days surrounding May 1!) These folks are ENGAGED, and aligning our work with that ongoing daily engagement is a critical tool in building generous relationships.
  • High schools have taught parents that generosity is a normal part of the educational experience. They are giving to performances (costumes, instruments, props), athletics (uniforms, transportation), competitions (registration fees, tutors) and on and on. Parents are prepared to be generous during the child’s college education as well, and when we don’t invite them to give early, we change that pattern and that message for the worse.
  • Higher education philanthropy has an opportunity to build from the foundation laid by high schools. High school programs regularly focus on need or maintaining programs. However, at our institutions, philanthropy inspires our supporters to dream – to dream of how we can solve significant challenges, build stronger communities, create first- and best-in-class programs and more. This model strengthens parents’ relationships directly with our institutions outside of their students’ relationships.
  • Many, many parents will be ready to discuss giving early – even in the first meeting. By using probing questions about high school giving, educating them about how we align giving to vision and strategy at our institutions and inviting them to make a gift, we can build on parents’ excitement for this next step in their children’s lives. Even the first call to a parent can be energizing, as they’ll often want to talk with us. But, let’s make sure to be clear about our role in securing support, and then serve as a bridge to other areas of campus as needed.

But it’s not just freshmen parents we should be engaging. Our youngest walked across the commencement stage earlier this month, and his campus did an exceptional job of weaving the message of Wildcat for Life with speakers who role modeled philanthropy in meaningful and relatable ways. We had family members with us for their first visit to his campus, and I guarantee that if any of us were to receive an engaged solicitation, we would give. Our pride was once again swelling at our son’s choice, and all that the campus did to foster his growth. We felt deeply connected to the community, their vision and goals. All we need is a fundraiser to bring it home. 😊

Whether you are welcoming new parents, or looking to continue to keep graduating parents/families philanthropically engaged, parent pride is at an all-time high from late April through move-in or start a new job day. Think about how you’re building excitement about philanthropy with parents and families, and how you can grow their engagement into giving. And don’t wait: Our parents and families are bursting with pride, and that pride can translate into meaningful philanthropic partnerships with our campuses right now.

Need a bit of extra guidance or coaching around parent philanthropy, language or strategy? KDD Philanthropy and our coaching team is here to support you with customized training or coaching. And this is a topic we are passionate about! Let us share our energy and practical approach with you.

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