February 26, 2013

Ask an Expert: A Private School’s Annual-Fund Appeal Angers Parents

A mother who wishes to remain anonymous wrote to ask about an annual-fund solicitation from her son’s private school. She said that she and her husband found the appeal so offensive that they are withdrawing their son from the school. She writes:

“I wanted to get your opinion on how our child’s private school is addressing annual-fund donations. They created a “reward” plan that gave children whose parents donated to the annual fund a dress-down day out of uniform. It is not mandatory to give to the campaign, but clearly suggested. The school is for children with dyslexia and learning-processing disorders, so singling children out for the decisions of their parents seems even more harsh. They also e-mailed out to all the parents a class photo, so it was clear who had worn a uniform and now given and who earned a dress-down day. Images were also posted on Facebook. Having formerly worked in development, I find this strong-armed tactic desperate, unprofessional, and shameful. Would you provide your insight and opinion?”

We asked Brian Daugherty and four of his colleagues on the annual-giving team at Campbell & Company, a Chicago fundraising consulting company, for their perspective. They write:

“Rewarding children for their parents’ philanthropic support of the school is not necessarily a bad idea, but it is poorly executed in this instance. It has the capacity to embarrass children, and that is not the message we want them to receive regarding philanthropy. The reward for philanthropy is making a difference in the world, and it’s about what we give, not what we get. Putting in place such a potentially negative “anti-award” could have short-term benefits but be detrimental in the long term. At some point, these children will themselves be potential donors. One negative experience here could negatively affect their feelings about supporting the school in the future.

“It would be better to have put together a donors’ “honor roll” document that could be sent home to parents to recognize those who have been supportive. There are a variety of standard recognition tools that could be used for this, including a donor wall at the school, an e-mail to parents recognizing donors, or an online donor honor roll.

“A way to get students involved in a more positive manner: Have a thermometer tracking the percent participation for each class, and provide an ice-cream party or some other reward for the entire class if it reaches a desired threshold of either dollars or participation rate. Perhaps the reward would be a day that the entire class can dress down so the children can celebrate their success collectively. Then they could send a picture out to all of the parents that would be something they could keep and be proud of, whether they gave to the annual fund or not.”

What do you think of the consultants’ response? Use the comment link below to share your thoughts. And if you need some free advice on a fundraising problem or issue, write to

Send an e-mail to Holly Hall.