Navigating the transition from ‘friend raising’ to ‘active donor’

By Debra Price

A lot of schools have been asking us this month how they can best move from ‘friend raising’ to knowing whether these newly made friends might be ready to consider making a £ gift to their school.  Our advice?  The best way to know is to ask them.  

This doesn’t mean you jump straight in and ask for a £ gift, but you can certainly take a very important strategic step forward with what we describe as a process of ‘engagement mapping’.  Quite simply, it means asking old, current and even new friends of your School (typically alumni and parents), how they feel about your school, its vision, their relationship with it, and – hypothetically – whether they feel they might consider supporting your school at some point in the future through some kind of £ giving.

Learning more about whether an individual might consider supporting a particular project or campaign is frequently referred to as a feasibility study; a piece of qualitative research through which individuals might be asked for their views both about a particular target project, as well as their likelihood of supporting it through £ giving.

Engagement mapping is similar but different.  It is a means of exploring how engaged an individual is with your school now, and how they might become further engaged in the future.  Like a feasibility study, the process still comprises a one-to-one research discussion, but it differs from a feasibility process in two key ways.  Firstly, an engagement mapping interview can take place at any time: before, after or even during a fundraising campaign.  Secondly, engagement mapping seeks to learn far more about the preferences and values of your potential, current and past supporters.



An engagement mapping interview will seek to learn a great deal about what an individual thinks and feels about your school, and how these thoughts and feelings might impact on potential future giving support.  (This intelligence will also do much to explain why an individual might have given nothing to date).

For alumni – what do they like most about your community, what brings them back to school?  What might bring them back more often?  What areas of school life are most important to them?  What aspects of education do they care most about? Does the school successfully communicate its future plans and aspirations?  Are there any areas of your school development plan that excite their interest? What other causes do they support and why?  Can they ever imagine giving as much to your school?  If not, can they describe why?  How would they most like to be approached for a potential gift? What would have to happen for your school to rise to the top of their giving, or legacy list?  Is gift recognition (naming a room etc) important to them?  Would they be interested in being a campaign volunteer or ambassador?  The answers to all of these questions provide invaluable intelligence to help you plan and optimise future fundraising activities, and create the type of fundraising experience most likely to appeal to your school’s ‘friends’.

Engagement mapping is non-threatening because it rests heavily on an individual either responding to hypothetical questions and/or describing what has motivated them to support other causes, or make earlier gifts.  Remember – the individual is not being asked for money in this discussion.  Instead, they are being asked to describe all of the factors that would be likely to optimise their potential support, and make supporting your school a more appealing giving option.

A body of engagement mapping research is gold dust in helping prepare a fundraising campaign strategy because it helps you create a bespoke fundraising strategy most appropriate for the giving preferences of your stakeholders.  It also stops you from making unnecessary mistakes by potentially alienating individuals by pushing ahead and asking an individual for the wrong project at the wrong time.

So, when you are wondering how you can build on your school’s ‘friend raising’ activities and move a step closer to winning £ donor support.  Remember – you can simply ask them.


For more information about Engagement Mapping studies contact Debra Price, Head of Philanthropy:


Share This Story

“As a result of RSAcademics’ advice, the school has grown by 1/3.”

Anthony WallersteinerHeadmaster, Stowe School