Tags: Assistant Head | Deputy Head | Fundraising | Headteacher | School Leadership & Management

Fundraising should be seen as a powerful means of school improvement, rather than an isolated activity carried out by the Parent Teacher Association, argues Brin Best, education writer and director of Innovation for Education Ltd

How seriously does your school take fundraising? Is it included as a distinct element in your school improvement plan, or is it the preserve of a few key enthusiasts among your staff or PTA? Perhaps you occupy the middle ground, engaging actively with a range of funding streams but wanting to get more for your school?

However fundraising is currently viewed in your school, consider this – you have the potential to gain substantially more of the funds available and use these as a key driver for school improvement. The fact that schools in the UK are now accessing over £1bn in external funds each year illustrates that fundraising is no longer just about summer fairs, fashion shows and race nights. It can increasingly be seen as a powerful force for change in schools.

Fundraising has been overlooked by the vast majority of institutions as one of the most significant tools for school improvement. Every school can professionalise their fundraising activities and thereby bring in much-needed funds for a range of key priorities.

History of school fundraising

Maintained schools in the UK have always raised funds in an opportunistic way through a range of traditional activities, with most fundraising being focused on high-profile events that have become part of the culture in schools. There are likely to be several such events embedded in your own school which help bind your community together, as well as bringing in small to moderate sums of money on an annual basis.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, some state schools took advantage of the fact that they were entitled to bid for a range of grants from sources outside their local authority. Others became more business-like in their dealings with local companies, sometimes bringing in lucrative sponsorship deals. In both these ways, those schools that put time into their fundraising activities began to see rich rewards, and invested their booty in equipment and resources to help enhance opportunities.

The launch of the National Lottery in 1994 changed the face of school fundraising, with a range of funding schemes set up which were targeted at community groups and those organisations with education roles. More and more schools began to make applications for schemes that would enhance their provision across a range of areas – including the arts, sport and science.

The enterprising nature of some schools, however, meant that they raced ahead of the pack and began to bring in unprecedented amounts of funds, amounting to six or even seven figure sums. Success bred success and this has led to something of a two-tier hierarchy of those schools that get more than their fair share of the £1bn on offer and those that do not.

Getting things going

If you feel that your school is one of the ‘have nots’ when it comes to school fundraising, then the good news is that there’s never been a better time to do something about it. New funding streams are being launched every week, companies are increasingly looking to develop the ‘social responsibility’ programmes, and schools are waking up to the potential of income generation from activities such as lettings, car boots sales and even Asian weddings.

The question I am most often asked about school fundraising is ‘Is it worth the effort?’ In these times of best value schools are increasingly concerned that their efforts are rewarded and that time and valuable resources are not invested simply on a whim. My research into successful schools, carried out for a book on the topic, shows that whenever time is invested in fundraising, schools gain far more in return. Whether you can afford to protect a couple of hours a week admin time, or be bold and employ a part-time fundraising coordinator, I am convinced that, given a determined approach, you will feel your investment has been worthwhile.

One of the keys to success, however, will be to create a team that will drive things forward in your school. This needs to include you as headteacher and a governor, with both working to support your fundraising coordinator. Only if your fundraising work is given high status will it be successful and this means making time for it at staff meetings and in major school documents.

It is not possible in this short article to outline in detail all the strategies and systems that are needed to bring fundraising success, but the following 10 steps will provide a framework for your thinking. Notice that the approach I am advocating emphasises the strategic role of fundraising as an integral part of your school’s overall planning.

A success story: Royston School, Barnsley

The arrival of a determined geography teacher and an application form from the educational charity Learning through Landscapes (LTL) sparked at remarkable transformation at this school in a former mining village in South Yorkshire.

The application form asked if there was any part of the school that needed a makeover and the answer was unfortunately, ‘Yes, the whole lot of it!’ The teacher formed an environment group who, to begin with, carried out small-scale improvements around the school entrances. Additional trees, shrubs and tools were acquired via a couple of bank-sponsored conservation awards and, spurred on by these, the group submitted a full-scale bid to LTL.

The vision for the next stage of the project was to transform a courtyard of soggy grass into a micro-river system, complete with a waterfall, meanders, a gorge and even a mini estuary. A key element of the project was to power the stream via renewable energy. The idea alone generated a £1,300 start-up grant from LTL, and many awards later, after hundreds of hours of community collaboration, the finished courtyard was unveiled. The wind turbine at its heart was subsequently showcased in the Times Educational Supplement.

The creation of a unique, hands-on teaching and learning resource that achieved national attention in the media was extremely powerful. It demonstrated very forcefully that change was possible in this financially depressed area. It also showed that, even in this school in challenging circumstances, inspirational changes were possible.

Now promoted to school development manager and excused some of the meetings that sap the life out of middle managers, the teacher turned his attention to other areas of the school. These included the playground, the ageing sports facilities and a range of teaching and learning areas. Many additional grants and business donations were secured through targeted fundraising initiatives, which brought about a transformation of many parts of the school. In total over £200,000 was raised for a range of school improvement projects over a four-year period.

A level playing field?

Some schools have been reluctant to engage with fundraising because they fear that their particular circumstances will somehow disadvantage them when the key funding decisions are made. It’s vital to recognise, however, that though the playing field may not seem level to you, neither is it so for other schools. Whether your school is situated in the leafy suburbs, or in the heart of a tough inner city area; whether your results place you at the top of the league tables, or make you cringe when they are published each year, there are funding sources for you.

My work with hundreds of schools over the last five years has taught me that the danger of using phrases such as ‘we’d never get the money because…’ is that they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Instead, if you believe passionately in what you’re doing, then it is possible to achieve your funding dreams. The key is to build an exciting vision that keeps everyone motivated when things get tough.

Ethics and principles

Once you get fired up by the possibilities of fundraising it’s easy to get carried away and grasp any opportunity that comes your way. This is why it’s important to agree some protocols underpinning your work before you begin fundraising – and be sure your governors are involved in this process too.

While there is no school in the UK that would accept funds from a tobacco or alcohol company, how would you feel about having your new ICT suite sponsored by Microsoft, or your new sports hall named after one of the major burger chain companies? Is your school prepared to engage with gambling activities, or are there any kinds of events that are simply not appropriate for a school such as yours? Thinking through these questions in advance will help you to agree a position which all staff can follow, and avoid embarrassing incidents when you get things ‘wrong’.

Take heart

Reading about schools who have achieved remarkable transformations on the basis of external fundraising, it’s easy to feel a little daunted if you’re at the beginning of your fundraising journey. But take heart from the fact that all these schools had to start from scratch to begin with – they simply decided to make fundraising a priority and then pursued the funds in a very focused fashion.

Even if you do not view fundraising as a means of achieving major changes for your school, there are many schools who are bringing in handsome sums of money for specific projects or initiatives that are adding value to their educational offerings. While you are free to turn your back on the opportunities that fundraising represents for school improvement, your students and the wider community may find it hard to accept that they are not getting their fair share of the funding cake. In myriad ways, in hundreds of schools up and down the country, fundraising is making a real difference to what schools can offer and is already changing lives for the better.

10 steps to successful school fundraising

1. Appoint somebody to coordinate your fundraising. 2. Audit existing practice. 3. Establish your school’s current development priorities. 4. Identify which school priorities need additional funding. 5. Establish how much money is needed and over what timescale. 6. Write a fundraising development plan for the next two to three years. 7. Prepare summary proposals for each individual project. 8. Match the funds required for each project to the most appropriate sources. 9. Review your fundraising efforts at regular intervals.

10. Celebrate your successes along the way.

This article first appeared in Primary Headship – Mar 2007

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