“You Can’t Just Do Away With Print”: A Conversation on School Fundraising with Gene Liechty

If you want to be effective at school fundraising, Development Director Gene Liechty says “you just can’t do away with print.” Here’s why.

In his 20+ years leading fundraising and enrollment marketing at dozens of schools, Gene Liechty has leaned in to our new digital realities:

“Today we’re using QR codes. We talk about search engine optimization. We talk about things that didn’t exist back in 2002…The face of it really has changed.”

Many of the schools he consults with understandably ask whether it’s time to move their development activities 100% online, away from any kind of traditional printed mailers or advertisements.

His answer is an adamant No:

“While I don’t rely on print to the extent I used to 21 years ago, I haven’t completely done away with it.”

We recently sat down with Mr. Liechty to find out why—and specifically, which print materials have proven to be no longer effective, and which would be foolish to abandon?

Enrollment Marketing – Almost 100% Digital

When it comes to enrollment marketing, print materials are increasingly irrelevant. A full-page ad in a local magazine may have done wonders a couple decades ago, but today, digital ads are the most effective form of advertising to increase awareness of the school and attract prospective families. What websites do young parents in your community visit most? Those will, without a doubt, be the most fruitful places to advertise.

With one exception.

Sandhills Classical Christian School, where Mr. Liechty currently serves as Development Director, prints a “Kindergarten Coffee” card that he distributes to local preschools to go home with students who are rising kindergartners.

“It costs me very little to supplement my largely digital [campaign] with a little bit of print. I’m not going to assume that every prospective parent with a rising kindergartner is going to visit the three websites that most young parents in the Pinehurst community visit.”

The card invites prospective parents to visit the school on a weekday afternoon to meet teachers and administrators, tour the school, ask questions…and enjoy a hot cup of coffee or tea. While he also advertises the event with digital ads, he still finds the printed cards to be well worth the effort.

Kindergarten Coffee cards, created by Paideia Graphic Design. Contact us for your own customized cards or digital advertisements.

Fundraising – Don’t Forget the Grandparents!

When Mr. Liechty begins consulting with a new school, one of his first questions is about their database of contacts—and how many grandparents are in it. He has discovered that about half of schools, unfortunately, don’t have grandparents in their database—a mistake that requires immediate correction.

Cultivating relationships with grandparents can yield significant results:

“[Grandparents] are so important for me in reaching my $2 million a year goal. They’re very significant because they have more expendable income than most of my parents. We literally get hundreds of thousands a year from the grandparent population.”

Print mailings still make a significant difference, because this is the type of appeal to which grandparents are most likely to respond:

“If I didn’t have a grandparent population that exists of people between the ages of 59 and 89, I might not do very much with print at all. But that grandparent population is less comfortable [with online giving] for a variety of reasons, either (A) they don’t understand the technology, or (B) they don’t trust it to enter their credit card information into our portal.”

Only half of grandparents will open an appeal that comes by email, Mr. Liechty has observed. Send a printed mailer, on the other hand, and every grandparent is likely to open it—and many will respond by mailing in a check. He notes,

“15% of the gifts that come into this school come in the form of a check in an envelope, in a BRE [Business Reply Envelope] that I send out still today.”

With such a significant percentage of a school’s potential giving population still responding best to these traditional methods,

“For me to ignore them to the extent that I’m saying I’m not going to put together an annual fund appeal that gets out and goes in the mail would be ignorant. So I’m going to bend over backwards to appeal to them to make sure that the ‘Ask’ is delivered in a way that they’re comfortable with.”

Annual Fund brochure cover, created by Paideia Graphic Design. Contact us for your own customized brochure.

Growing the Database

Much of successful fundraising depends on the ability to grow a school’s database, then knowing what to do with it as it grows. Each group—parents, grandparents, local community members—may require a different medium of appeal

Mr. Liechty uses every opportunity to add interested families to his school’s database. Last February, when Pete Hegseth came to Sandhills Classical Christian School to discuss his book Battle for the American Mind—an event that attracted around 1,000 people—attendees were asked to RSVP online, thus providing their contact information for future correspondence.

Similarly, when a new family enrolls in a school, Mr. Liechty finds that to be the perfect time to ask for contact information for grandparents. He recommends making this a standard practice in the application process.

It’s important to note that grandparents are not just for fundraising! A Grandparent Association is a fantastic way for them to develop relationships with them and to get them more involved in the life of the school.

“We also want to honor them. We want to invite them into the classroom and share their experiences.”

Will digital communication eventually replace all things print? Maybe so, but that time has not yet arrived.

“We’d like to think we’re a little more techie than what we are. But the reality is, when you consider my population, especially that significant grandparent group, you just can’t do away with print. That’s my argument.”

Let’s make this year’s fundraising and marketing campaigns a success!

Contact us to start a conversation about how we can help your school look its best online and in print.