Business managers and bursars are ideally placed to help their schools develop more robust approaches to fundraising, argue Paul Ainsworth and Josephine Smith

In many schools, school business managers (SBMs) and bursars are playing an increasing role in sourcing funds for whole-school improvement initiatives. Some schools may even be under the impression that the appointment of a new SBM means that they pass on this responsibility entirely to this person. The reality is that large-scale fundraising needs to be a team activity and rarely works successfully if one person is solely responsible.

Ensuring fundraising is a successful team effort could depend upon close links between the SBM, governors and senior leadership team (SLT). As SBM you are in the best position to judge how the SLT and governing body’s skills could be deployed. This article discusses the ways you can play an instrumental role in your school by advising staff and informing sound school policy on matching financial capacity to school improvement, and includes some practical ideas you might want to share.

Most senior managers you will work with probably came up through the ranks by developing their classroom craft, before taking on increasing whole-school responsibility. Their experience of whole-school financial management will most likely have been learned ‘on the job’ and the challenge of applying for additional funding through whatever channels will not at first be an area of professional expertise.

Professionalism, however, is what is required and schools that have found themselves reacting to the challenge of raising significant funds for an initiative like a specialist school bid without a planned and financially savvy strategy will find that, despite the time and energy they put in, results will not be that fruitful. Brin Best raised this issue in an article for this publication (June 2007). So how can you as financial manager steer your school, using your expertise to advise on the best way to raise most money, most efficiently?

A common starting point for fundraising is a major sponsored event in which all the students participate. This has the advantage of schools being practised at organising such events and the act of students asking for sponsorship becomes an informal marketing campaign for the school. It is often a good idea to try and find a single event that all children can participate in rather than lots of different events. Statistically it appears that as students increase in age less money is raised per student in any sponsored event. This is borne out by the large sums primary school students are able to raise in comparison with their secondary school counterparts. The other issue is that each contributor tends to offer relatively small sums of money. Despite being a community event, with all the good that brings, a sponsored event is probably more a starting point than a larger fundraising campaign and raises awareness among students of the personal rather than financial contribution they can make.

Assisting with sponsorship events
Even though schools are well-versed in organising sponsored events, it is possible that a school has not tackled such an activity for a few years. Workforce reform may have made previous logistical practices different to those permitted now. Regardless of this, the SBM must aim to increase efficiency, and there are several specific things to bear in mind:

  • The event needs to be well publicised in school literature and in the local community.
  • Make sure, too, that it is advertised on the school website. It could also be featured on to allow family friends who do not live near the student to donate monies more easily.
  • Try to ensure there is a ready supply of sponsor forms in registers so if students lose or complete their first one they can easily collect another without it becoming a chore for the teacher.
  • Ensure the organiser on the day has the administration support they require – it is much easier for that person to retain their enthusiasm for the children if they are not worrying about typing up checklists and letters.
  • On the day, consider releasing your support staff team to help supervise the events alongside the teachers by only keeping a skeleton staff in the office for emergencies. The school business manager must, however, ensure that key events do not clash with other support team responsibilities, such as compilation of school reports, resulting in support staff being overburdened.
  • When the money is being collected ensure there is administration support available so the monies can be quickly counted and banked. Do not just rely on tutors to bring the monies to the office – consider deploying administration staff to collect it from the tutors. It may be surprising, but for some tutors collecting the sponsored money will quickly fall to the bottom of their to-do list and as a result money can sit in students’ bags, get lost or continue to be left at home!

If well organised, a sponsored event can be quite lucrative. A typical, keen sponsored student might raise about £15, meaning that an average primary school secondary school might expect to raise £2,000 and a secondary school £6,000, especially if the event was a significant one on the school calendar.

Increasing the size of donations
If sponsored events produce relatively minor sums how does a school increase the sum gifted by each contributor? Donors generally, albeit subconsciously, consider the ‘What’s in it for me?’ scenario. Events, therefore, that would increase the rate of donation would be things like raffles, gift auctions, 100 clubs, balls and fashion shows. In these situations the donor either receives a benefit through a purchase, an enjoyable social event or the opportunity of a prize. It is important not to fall into the trap of hosting one event after another which, as well as causing donor fatigue, is also exhausting for the school staff or volunteers who are organising the events.

Another ‘What’s in it for me?’ possibility is recognition for the donor. Schools raising money for new buildings, for example, are afforded the opportunity of giving a lasting reminder of the donation. One of the most effective examples of this seen in schools is where donors sponsor a brick in a feature wall – one that is placed in a prominent area of the school. Each brick is printed with the name of a donor, a student, a family or even a member of staff. This type of donation is all the more successful as tax can be claimed back from the gift. For contributions from individuals the school could set the minimum donation of £100 a brick, perhaps setting up a standing order payment arrangements where donors contribute £10 for 10 months.

Why not market this opportunity at the same time as the sponsored event and include details of it on the form to give people a different donation opportunity? If your school worked on 100 bricks this would raise in excess of £10,000 with the gift aid you can claim back.

The SBM and their support team are key to turning ideas like these into effective fundraising events. The SBM must lead their team so all administration is both speedy and accurate to stop any potential donors being lost in general school administration. This includes the following good practice:

  • Donors who provide one sum must be sent written thanks as soon as possible to retain their goodwill.
  • Standing order forms must be distributed rapidly and then politely followed up to ensure that initial enthusiasm is converted into a donation.
  • Accurate records must be kept of all communications – there is nothing worse than for a donor to be forgotten or to be approached a second time when they have already given.
  • The same is true for financial records relating to gift aid – the school business manager must ensure these returns are completed at the appropriate moment so the monies are correctly collected.

Company sponsorship
To raise larger sums of money schools need to approach businesses to see if they will be prepared to make contributions. You should be aware that it is often very difficult to obtain sums of money from national companies. They are so savvy about giving that they tend to have departments set up specifically to deal with these approaches. Any large contributions they make to schools tend to be in areas of specific deprivation.

A better avenue of approach is to consider local businesses. For large donations often the most fruitful approaches are to successful local business people who already have a link to the school. It could be they attended the school themselves or members of their family did or even that many of their future employees do.

However much we explain the benefits to the donor in terms of pure altruism, ie how they’re giving will improve education in the area, people are rarely motivated to give large sums of money purely for this reason; they are understandably hoping for some kind of recognition. Schools ambitious about raising large sums of money need to be confident and ask people who they have a relationship with for significant amounts.

Again the brick idea could be profitable. For small local businesses, such as those on small industrial estates or local shops, schools could ask for donations of £250 – again the tax can be claimed back. Potentially larger benefactors could be asked for sums of £5,000, £10,000 or £25,000 which might not be wholly unrealistic if appropriate companies can be found.

For example, for £5,000 one of the classrooms could be named after a local business and a school could list it as a school supporter at the bottom of headed letter paper or in school marketing information. Ten thousand pounds could see the library named after the company and £25,000 could see a floor named after the business, who could also name the rooms on that floor. What is important is that the room linked by name to their business is of a high standard. Finding five large donors would raise the money needed for a typical specialist college bid. With a potential audience of 1,000 plus parents, not to mention other stakeholders, visitors to the school, community users and the future workforce that is students, advertising opportunities may be an attractive possibility and many businesses may be keen to be associated with local education initiatives.

Professional approaches
Senior leaders sometimes have enthusiasm for the end project but can lack the business acumen and philosophy to move ideas from strategy through to practice. It is at these times that the SBM is crucial to the operation. There is no doubt that to access these large sums of money schools must be professional, single minded and persistent in their approach. The SBM can suggest careful thought is given to who the most appropriate donors are and how they might be best approached. However, there is the risk that the senior leadership team will decide that they do not have such skills and hence perceive it is the SBM’s role. In reality, though, this is one area where governors should be prepared to be involved.

The best way of turning well-intentioned energies into long-term benefits is by developing a strategy. Such clear sightedness by the SBM can also prevent the fundraising responsibility falling entirely on their shoulders. The following step-by-step actions should be communicated:

1. Identify a person such as a governor who has a link with potential donors.
2. The link person should make some initial phone calls to invite potential donors to receive some literature outlining the school’s developments.
3. The marketing material should be sent out.
4. A second phone call should be made by the link person to arrange a meeting in person, either at the business or school with the potential donor, link person and member of school leadership team.
5. A meeting should be held where the school developments are outlined and possible donation avenues suggested.
6. A follow-up phone call should be made and a letter of thanks sent.
7. Continued contact with the potential donor should be maintained through school newsletters to keep them informed about developments. Donors will sometimes make contributions months down the line.

In the above scenario the SBM would probably not be the link person in many cases. Instead, they can give coaching to the person who is, and, through regular communications with individuals, ensure the approaches and follow-up calls are made. There is obviously no point in the people putting this time in if the administration team does not effectively distribute information. The administration team must be constantly reminded of the high priority of this work. Potential donors usually enjoy contact with the headteacher or deputy head so the SBM needs to advise them on how they make their approach. There is a tendency for teachers to not be brave enough in the sums they can ask for. In addition, they need guidance on the tax benefits donors can receive from their giving. Lastly, the communications following such visits needs to be first rate if any kind of relationship is going to be developed. The SBM needs to act as the link between SLT and the administration team to ensure this happens.

All the results of this collective hard work could amount to the sums of money that initially seemed ambitiously out of reach, taking many schools into the tens of thousands.

Key points
So what next? You’ve advised the senior team and given practical, ambitious but realistic suggestions. How else can you contribute to the momentum of raising funds for a key whole-school initiative? Here are some key points that the SBM should bear in mind.

Decide on your strategy and, just as importantly, the key drive behind the fundraising. Is it much-needed buildings or delivery of the curriculum in a way to suit your school’s specific needs? Perhaps you need resources for a key project to drive school improvement forward? Whatever your needs you need to be clear about the aims of any new developments and the impacts and benefits they will bring. Other good practice advice includes the need to:

  • Produce high-quality, high-impact marketing material.
  • Launch the campaign to governors, staff, students, parents and the local community.
  • Share with neighbouring and feeder schools the benefits of your fundraising and how they would gain as a member of the local educational community.
  • Set up teams – for example teams to lead the sponsored event, contact small local businesses for one-off donations, or a select group to approach larger businesses for more strategic support.

The suggestions above outline possible routes for a professional approach to raising a large sum of money while also involving students, staff, governors and other stakeholders. For any strategy to be successful it has to be valued and contributed to by all involved in the life of the school. Such buy-in usually means that the buildings, resources or initiatives will be appreciated, well looked after and the whole school will feel a sense of pride and ownership in their acquisition. As an SBM your contribution as adviser and knowledgeable professional will enable you too to feel a sense of achievement in the progress of the school and help secure your place as a major player as part of the senior leadership team.

Many schools are discovering that working with a range of partners helps them to reach their fundraising goals more easily. Partnerships make sense for several reasons:

  • There are many partners in your local community that want to be associated with your school or can gain themselves by partnership arrangements.
  • Working with partners lightens the load on those charged with coordinating fundraising in your school.
  • Partnerships can help you to set your sights on
  • community needs, which are more likely to be funded from external sources such as the National Lottery and grant-making trusts.

If you want to expand the range of partners you work with, begin by reflecting on those partnerships you currently have in place. This is most easily done by preparing a mind map that shows all the internal and external partners that you have links with at the moment. Then consider what new links could be made with the following, adding these to your mind map:

  • parents/carers
  • other schools
  • further and higher education institutions
  • businesses
  • charities and voluntary groups
  • clubs and societies
  • other providers of services to children – eg health
  • centres, children’s centres, youth clubs etc.

Parents are a key area to focus on but many schools do not think to gather systematically information on the occupations, interests and hobbies of this vital group. While this information can only be given on a voluntary basis, schools have found that most parents are happy to provide it.

Paul Ainsworth is the deputy head of Belvoir High School

Josephine Smith is the deputy head at Longfield High School