An important ingredient in fundraising success is engaging your community. An effective communications strategy makes a big difference.
In this episode I talk to Henrietta Carter-Mayers, Director of Development at Godolphin and Latymer school. In recent years the school has implemented communications strategies that have helped engage its audience, with increased numbers and greater involvement. This progress has set the platform for impressive fundraising growth, delivering a fantastic increase in bursary support.
In this conversation, Henrietta shares principles and examples that bring to life this successful approach to communication.
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‘Something I always have at the forefront of my mind with our communications is to celebrate our community. Its so important to give them front row, centre seat.’
Full transcript of Episode 65
Hello, and welcome to episode 65 of the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast. This is the podcast for fundraisers and development professionals who want ideas to help you enjoy your job and raise more money, especially during the pandemic. Today, if you work in development for a school or other educational organization, I hope you’re going to find this episode really helpful, because today I’m sharing part of the interview I conducted with a fabulous fundraiser named Henrietta Carter-Mayers, who is development director at Godolphin and Latymer School. Henrietta and I have created a new series of training films called Ways to Grow Your School Fundraising Results. Wherever you work, the films are completely free and you can get your copy from the episode notes to this podcast, which are on my website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk.
So if you look on the podcast section of the website for the notes for Episode 65, you’ll be able to click on the link there to get ahold of this series of five short films in which Henrietta and I share examples and strategies to help you make progress with your fundraising. Now just to give you a little bit of background information, before we start, at Godolphin and Latymer, where Henrietta works, former pupils are known as old dolphins, and the school is fiercely proud of the success of its bursary program, which is made possible by its fundraising. And in this section of our conversation, Henrietta explained some of the ways they’ve been so successful in engaging their audience with what’s going on in the school and the wider community. Henrietta, thank you so much for making time for the interview. How are you?
I’m well, thank you. How are you?
Really well, thank you. And thank you so much for making time for this interview. First key idea that we can never let go of is working hard to really know and care about our audience, and then I think when you and I were talking the other day about another key tenant of your communications, it was to do with just how powerful a human need is to feel part of something, part of a tribe, part of an in-group. And there’s lots of psychological research about just how needed that is. But do you want to give me your take on how at your school and in your communication you make sure you do justice to that?
Absolutely. So first of all, I just have to say, don’t underestimate the power of belonging. If somebody feels like they belong to something, then they will be more invested in it, and whether that’s just mentioning it to a friend or whether it’s volunteering their services or wanting to contribute financially, and that’s so powerful. So since I’ve been at Godolphin, we started afresh, week cleaned up GDPR-wise, so we had about 3,000, just over, members of our alumni community that were on our mailing list, if you like. But since people have felt like they belong, that they really feel this relationship with the school, we’ve seen other people feel like they’re missing out. So our community has grown by over a thousand. It only grows organically with current parents becoming former parents and girls becoming old dolphins by about 300 every year. So that’s an exponential growth of 700 people, which is 20%, which is amazing.
So just to be clear, what you’re saying is since more deliberately sending the signal and creating this sense of family, there are people who didn’t use to be subscribed or signed up to receive who are coming forward saying, “What about me? Can I join?”
More than that. People would say, “I’m not getting them. Why am I not getting them? The rest of my year are getting them, or my best friend’s getting them.” Or, “I thought that I sent it through, but I want to be in touch.” Absolutely. And we make it really easy for people to do that. So we regularly post on social media and in our comms, if you want to reconnect, forward this email, and this is where you click. And then we routinely go into our Google Forms and update people’s details so they can easily rejoin the community, really. But it’s so important with that feeling of belonging, so how do you accomplish that feeling of belonging? It goes back a little bit to know your audience, and you’ve got to find some common threads.
So something really unique to Godolphin, so hopefully everybody will be able to find their something, their school or institution, is that we have a school birthday, which is a bit ridiculous, but traditionally it was celebrated on the 4th of May. We now celebrate it in February, just because May, obviously, is typically exam season and it gets a bit tricky. Historically there was birthday cake, games, birthday attire, et cetera. And obviously our celebrations have evolved throughout the years, but we still do games in form time. There’s still cake. The girls get to choose the lumps. It’s a great day. But previously to 2019, we didn’t really capitalize on advertising what we did to our alumni community. And this is a day that any old dolphin of any age can completely relate to. So we go big on it in our alumni communications.
So we include a link to our newsroom where we’ve got photos, we’ve got videos. We’ve even managed to take out… Some amazing colleague in the comms team found an archive video that was done for a big anniversary, amazing black and white footage. That was our most popular bit of comms that we’ve sent out actually yet. But in doing so, we found that people of all ages come together to recognize the day. And now we have sending us in birthday cards and sharing their story about how they celebrate the school birthday. And it completely brings people in, and we’ve been able to use that, lever that energy from our alumni around our birthday into a different campaign to reconnect with lost older old dolphins and also former staff. So we created this concept where our year seven and eight pupils, to teach them about the old dolphin community, our alumni community, because that’s such a vital part alumni relations is that they make birthday cards for our alumni or former staff community.
So a member of my development team came up with the idea on the school birthday, when we celebrate it in February, they all write a bit of a paragraph about their experience at the school, what they’re doing, we package them up and we send them out, we record who we’re sending them to, and we send them out. And it was such success that we’ve even done that for Christmas cards as well. And the response has been utterly overwhelming, especially during these isolating times, with old dolphins writing back and real friendships struck, really, between current dolphins and old dolphins. And the benefits worked both ways for our old dolphin community, but also for our current peoples to realize the power of our alumni network. And it’s been great to reconnect as well with former members of staff who had lost touch with us, or perhaps didn’t quite have the confidence to come back into the community.
Henrietta, I absolutely love this idea and I can totally see how the act of leaning into the thing that the old dolphins already know about and care about and doing this extra reach out, my goodness, it must have made such a difference, especially during the pandemic to be receiving these lovely cards and so on. Is there anything else you want to say about this tactic or for the viewer who might not be able to do a school birthday, but could potentially search for their version of a hook with which to reach out and do something creative?
Absolutely. So I would just say, with the power of belonging, if somebody really feels that connection with the school or the institution, then they’re going to feel everything that the school is going through as well more deeply. So whether that’s hardship or whether that’s celebration, they’ll be there for it, they’ll be showing up for it. So something that I always have at the forefront of my mind with our comms is to celebrate our community, because our alumni community and our girls are why we’re here, our peoples are why we’re here.
So it’s so important to give them the front row, basically, front row and center seat. So something I’ll use an example of our comms specifically that we did in COVID times is we habitually celebrate our old dolphins on social media, we repost things, we document things if people graduate, people qualify as a doctor, however big or small, we want them to know that we’re proud of them, whatever they’re doing, because it’s that community spirit that you really want to tap into.
But with COVID obviously, the first lockdown, 1.0, we were all in our homes, we were hearing these amazing stories about our NHS workers, clapped for our carers, people getting PPE equipment from schools, et cetera. And we used the opportunity to get these stories, and I’ll come on to how we got them in a minute, to get these stories from our old dolphins, whether it’s the medical student that hadn’t qualified, but was being suddenly accelerated through their training in ITU and writing a humbling account of their experience there, or whether it was the undergraduate who was stuck at home because she couldn’t be at university collecting science goggles for a local care home, we celebrated our community and we actually ramped up our comms, so we did it more frequently because we saw it as an opportunity to get into people’s inboxes with real heartwarming, hard hitting stuff, really.
But we shared, we celebrated our community, everything they were doing, big and small, however difficult it was. And it’s that goosebump moment, my team always laughed at that. That’s what you want. That’s why you do it. And the pride that I felt in our community, and I know my colleagues did too, but the pride that our alumni community found in their fellow alumni, that they didn’t even know, that they couldn’t even relate to, whether it’s because their career was completely different or their age bracket, whatever it was, the pride that people, and the strength that people took from that was insurmountable, and the outpouring of good messages.
But also the inpouring into our inboxes of stories of other old dolphins and acts of goodwill, that content really does produce itself. Every time we prep for a comms, which by the way, shouldn’t be two weeks before you send it out, it should be two months before you send it out, we think, “Gosh, what are we going to include this time?” We have our set formats, but who’s going to take the spot is always up for grabs. And it always inevitably comes into our inbox because people want to share, even about alumni that they’ve never met or don’t know about. So don’t underestimate the sense of the power of belonging, and if you really celebrate your community, it’s very easy to hinge all your comms from really.
Yeah. That’s wonderful, isn’t it? When I teach storytelling on various courses, one of the great reasons it can be so powerful is the more you tell stories, or even try to tell stories, the more it causes the person you’re talking to to remember their version of the story, and to want to tell it back to you, and that’s true when we’re in conversation. And it’s also true, I’m sensing, in the bigger picture of communication and social media and so on. So the more you’ve done this, the more you know it’s working because people are feeling they belong more in that very moment where they want to share their version of the story, and so it self perpetuates.
Hi, it’s Rob, and I just want to jump in really quickly to let you know about our Major Gifts Mastery Program, which is our flagship training program, and is a combination of masterclasses and one-to-one coaching to help fundraising professionals from education and other charities to grow their confidence and their income. To give you a sense of the difference it makes, here’s what one fundraiser, Sara Davies, who’s an experienced higher education fundraiser, said about how it helped her.
I finished Rob Woods’ Major Gift Mastery Programme, and it’s been amazing. The last six months of doing this course I’ve had the most successful time in my job to date. I’ve had three or four major breakthroughs, and my confidence has increased, and it’s no coincidence. I know this course has helped massively. Also my colleague who works with me has been doing this course as well, and she’s had the best six months in her career as well. Again, major breakthroughs, and I really encourage you, if you can find the budget within your organization, to apply for this.
If you’d like to find out more, go to brightspotfundraising.co.uk/services, and then click on Major Gifts Mastery Program. For now, though, back to the interview, as I asked Henrietta for another principle she uses to create such engaging communication. These are fantastic tactics, Henrietta. If there was a third idea that you have felt can help with our approach to comms, what would it be?
The art of balancing content, I think consistency and ingenuity as well really comes into that. So it’s about having your content that is really reliable, that people enjoy features of. So I think just the fact that we have some… Our comms follow pretty much the same format every time. And it’s about having that consistency, but it’s also about having that excitement. So we have our old dolphins who have been in the spotlight, our alumni in spotlight, whether that’s in the media or that have gone above and beyond or done something extraordinary.
But we also have some… We have these buttons at the bottom of our comms, just using this example, but we have book of the week… Book of the term, rather, podcasts of the term, and then in COVID, workout of the term. But what we do is we make the resources from alumni. So we find our alumni old dolphins or alumni and old dolphins that are authors or that are fitness instructors or that have a podcast or that are musicians that record or something. And we let them generate the content.
So yes, is the yoga workout from the old dolphin yoga guru going to be applicable to the 95 year old living on the Norfolk coast? No, but is she going to draw excitement and energy from the fact that, “Wow, there’s a 25 year old yoga girl who all the old dolphins out there in the world can do this workout.” Yeah, she is. And equally, on the flip side of that, is the 20 year old going to be bored by the archive imagery feature in our newsletter? No, she’s not. She’s going to think about the 90 year old who’s really going to enjoy that. She might not click through, but she’ll still see it as a key part of the school’s history. So I would encourage people to balance the content with what’s important to the school now, of course, keep that format consistent, but to not be afraid to do something a bit exciting and fresh. It’s important that that comms don’t become stale.
Yeah, so you’ve got the consistency that we always have these kinds of kinds of slots, so people know where they stand and they know what to expect, but then within that you are taking more risks and you’re being creative in how you fulfill those slots. And I really love the sub signal, the subtext it sends, even if I received some content that didn’t really match my interests, the signal it’s sending, that we are a family and we look after each other and there’s lots of different voices within this family. That in and of itself, even if content doesn’t suit me is, again, making me feel that I’m cared for because you’re showing that respect and inclusiveness to that month’s contributor.
Absolutely. And I would just lift it from our email content, or the paper version that we send to our older old dolphins, but this also applies to different social media platforms. We do a series of Monday motivations, and don’t be afraid to really tap into what, not your core issues, but the core challenges that your old dolphins face. So recently we profiled an old dolphin who spoke about the challenges and struggles of motherhood, and that was four times more popular than any other posts we’ve ever done about women in STEM or anything, because it’s inevitably something that lots of alumni can relate to. Indeed, I think it got two and a half thousand impressions, which is literally four or five times what we normally get. So yes, don’t be afraid of balancing that content between the fresh content, but also keeping that regularity and consistency that’s really important.
Yeah. And you may have made the point already, but the fourth idea I wrote down as a key principle you’ve used is that notion of consistency. Is there any other thing you’d like to say for the viewer or listener about achieving consistency without really the work-life balance going to pot? How can we be consistent and create this really interesting, valuable content, but do it in a manageable way?
So there’s so many different layers to that. So consistency doesn’t happen by accident. I’ve spoken about it when we first started this conversation about it’s got to remain in house style, it’s got to remain in the school’s voice, the school’s messaging, and the school’s key aims, really. But the three Cs, so be consistent and have clarity and compound your message. So be consistent, that’s not just in your content, but the timing of your content is really important. Have clarity in what you to have clarity, in what you’re trying to achieve with this, but also make sure that that’s really clear. If you pull someone off the street that had no idea what school you’re working for, would they be able to gauge the key aims of the content. That’s so important. And don’t underestimate the importance of compounding a message. So something without fail that we always include in our comms, our newsletter comms, but on a regular basis on other platforms is our fundraising.
Not because we say, “Can you please donate? Can you please donate? These are the important causes.” But we talk about the need, and that’s really… It’s a priority. There’s one priority. There’s one need. And that’s something that we consistently share about, the successes of it and the impact that it has, but you just need to be consistent. So plan what your communications are going to be, get into a rhythm. It’s a difficult muscle to flex, but it really needs to be found. You need to find that time to plan your social media, plan your comms, and plan the structure of your comms. Because once you do, you can measure the success of it or the failures of it, and you can just pivot it slightly. But having said all of that, consistency is key, but don’t be afraid of a bit of ingenuity.
In COVID times we pivoted. Does something need to be more regular if the world is stuck in their home? Yeah, it could be, because then they’re going to be reading more emails. Or if a certain social media campaign’s getting really good feedback, could it be a permanent feature? Yeah, it could be. Really listen to your audience. It doesn’t take hours. It takes 10 minutes to look at impressions on social media or click-throughs, and also the different members of your team. It doesn’t have to come from you because you’ve got the strategic oversight as director of development.
In our development department it’s the development assistant that looks at those stats and bring them forward. And that gives her great identity and a confidence to say, “This is what we’re doing really well. This is what we’re doing badly. Accountability there for everybody. But also this is what I think the whole team should focus their efforts on, on these platforms.” And that’s absolutely something that then manifests itself and comes to fruition. So it’s about empowering your team and your community, but not straying from those three Cs of consistency, clarity, and compounding your message. It allows the school’s key aims and needs to really be presented to your community in a palatable, tangible way.
Well, I hope you found this excerpt from our conversation was helpful. If you did, remember to subscribe to the podcast today so that you never miss an episode. As I mentioned earlier, if you found the ideas in this section of our conversation helpful, then I promise you’ll get lots more ideas and inspiration from the new training video series we’ve created especially for development professionals and fundraisers in schools. It’s called Ways to Grow Your School Fundraising Results, and in it we have time to go into more depth on a bunch of things that schools can do at the moment to help raise funds in spite of the pandemic. It includes more detail on major gifts, on successful appeals, on creating a clear, persuasive case for support, and lots more.
It’s completely free, so if you’d like to get your copy, just go to the notes for episode 65, which is on the podcast section of my website, brightspotfundraising.co.uk, and click on the link. Just before I go, I’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone who’s been getting in touch and spreading the word about this podcast with colleagues and on social media. Henrietta and I would love to hear what you think about this episode. We’re both on LinkedIn and on Twitter I’m @Woods_Rob. Finally, thanks so much for listening today and best of luck with your fundraiser.