What can schools in the UK learn about fundraising from their American counterparts? US-based education writer Michael Aguilar looks at how a school in Georgia has used fundraising as a key tool to enhance educational opportunities for the next generation of students

In the United States public schools are funded by the state that they are located in. The state funding goes far enough to pay for the bare bones of an educational facility, but, in common with the UK, there is not much left for the kind of innovations that make education come to life. This article will showcase the fundraising efforts of a successful school situated in the state of Georgia, as a means of illustrating the diverse funding strategies that are being used in the USA to improve provision in schools. The hope is that schools in the UK might be able to learn from the approaches tried on the other side of the Atlantic, to the benefit of their students.

The funding dilemma
Northview High School is a suburban school in the quiet town of Duluth, Georgia, located nearly 30 miles outside of Atlanta, the state capital. Northview is one of the flagship high schools in the state. It has repeatedly been named one of the top schools in the state and, for the last three years, has cracked the top 500 of Newsweek magazine’s ‘Top 1,000 High Schools in America’, an astounding feat when you realise that Newsweek ranks around 24,000 public high schools in its yearly assessment.

However, the $3m that Northview receives from the state seems paltry compared to the total teacher salary at the school that totals over $11m alone.

Northview also receives funding from the county that it is located in. Fulton County, the richest county in Georgia, allocated nearly $800m to its 93 schools to support what the county deems necessary to enrich educational opportunities. That divides up to $8,380,626 per school.

Therefore, the funding that Northview receives from the state and county is enough to cover its teachers’ salaries but not the costs of facilities, sports, administrators, clubs and fine arts. So it is clear that Northview has quite a task of fundraising in front of it, requiring a very special approach to bringing in additional income.

Effective leadership brings success
Peter F Zervakos is the principal and mastermind behind turning Northview into one of the premier public high schools in the southeast US. Northview was opened in 2002 and since then Zervakos has maintained his and the school’s motto and mission statement of ‘Ever upward and onward!’ and the mission ‘to instill excellence in academics, arts and athletics’. The evidence is everywhere to be seen in this vibrant school.

Aside from being named in Newsweek’s coveted list, Northview has also won the Governor’s Cup twice. The Governor’s Cup is an award given to the school with the most improved SAT (scholastic aptitude test) scores over an academic year in the state. The graduating class of 2007 boasted a 96% graduation rate and a 91% enrolment rate in four-year colleges and universities. The class of around 600 also earned over $16m in scholarship offers.

Northview has also been home to 10 state championship athletic teams and also offers every single sport recognised by the Georgia State High School Athletics Association, along with some club sports not officially recognised. Among those teams are numerous athletes who have earned athletic scholarships to play sports at colleges of every athletic level.

Aside from academics and athletics, Northview offers enriching programmes off the field and outside of the regular classroom. These include three orchestras, three concert bands, a marching band, two jazz ensembles, five different vocal ensembles, a multitude of theatre and drama activities, and visual arts classes. Those programmes have received multiple honours as well.

Partners for success
Zervakos and his senior leadership team are setting an example in their tireless efforts to improve the quality of education at Northview in the face of such funding constraints. So what can the average school leader learn from Northview’s example?

The primary resources that the school takes advantage of are local businesses in the Duluth area. The companies and businesses that Northview works with closest are its so-called ‘Partners in Education’. These are a group of 48 businesses that help to fund Northview’s extracurricular activities and at the same time garner precious advertising for themselves.

The Partner in Education programme is an opportunity for businesses to get involved with Northview without just writing a cheque. Partners in Education frequently donate equipment to the school or get involved by offering internships and bringing guest speakers to the school.

This is attractive to small businesses in the area because not only are they gaining some exposure but they are also assisting in training their own future workforce. The more that a business puts into the education of this generation, the more benefits the economy will see when it enters the workforce.

In an essay called ‘The Importance of Advertising’, Cathie Elliot, the owner and a broker of the Clarke Agency in Gunnison, Colorado wrote, ‘Sales… make for success. Advertising makes the sales happen. Advertising is often as important to a small business as location, employees, and cash flow. It’s an essential form of business communication, for both products and services. It’s difficult to sell anything to people who don’t know about you.’

Zervakos doesn’t think companies expect to gain their money back from the advertising they get from Northview, but he does believe that the good report that an organisation earns by investing in the school could sway its potential customers. Northview’s loan from a local bank for improvements to its athletic facilities is the perfect example of a company earning a reputation because of its investment in the school.

‘The company becomes a part of the community. They really aren’t making any money off of it from a business standpoint,’ Zervakos says. ‘But as a result of that it puts them in such good feelings with the community because they have supported the school. That is an example where they as a result have had business drawn back to them by individuals who have said, “Well, I want to support Peachtree Bank because they supported my kid’s school.”’

A bold and business-like approach
Northview also excels in cross fundraising. One of the primary ways that a school can promote itself and raise funds is to make money from its own events. For instance, Northview students have managed a school supply store in the cafeteria every year since the school came into existence. Also, the Fine Arts Organization association keeps all of the profits that come from selling concessions at school athletic events. The money that the organisation makes from the concession profits is one of its main profit generators. While many schools have trouble keeping their fine arts programmes afloat, Northview’s is rising above others because of its great funding.

In one of the school’s boldest fundraising schemes, Zervakos signed onto the idea of the Titantron, a scoreboard equipped with advertising space and a video screen, which would play advertisements during the school’s (American) football games. At the time of its construction the Titantron is the biggest screen of its kind at any school in the United States.

The advertising money that it generates goes not only to benefit the athletics programme, but many of Northview’s other extra-curricular activities. Businesses not only pay to have advertisements played on the video screen of the Titantron but also pay for fixed ads around the video screen.
It is rare that at a Northview event there is only one way for the school to make money. The school has found many ways to raise funds through its more popular events for the organisations that are usually struggling to make ends meet. This helps to keep the entire school functioning at a high level.

Harnessing student and parental support
One of the biggest sources for Northview’s success in fundraising is its ability to get its two most integral groups involved in the process. The students and the parents at Northview are both groups that are actively involved in garnering more money and opportunities for different clubs, sports and organisations across the school.

The students are a unique group at Northview. The school is situated in a comparatively affluent part of Georgia and the principal often finds that students are more inclined to go home and ask their parents to write a cheque to the school rather than do the work that it takes to raise funds themselves. However, he believes that there is something to having a student earn their ability to play a sport, act in a play or otherwise engage in the things that they love to do.

Many parents do not have time to attend fundraising activities and would rather just write a cheque, Zervakos says. But the tradition of holding such money raising events will continue due to the fact that it encourages team building in the students and is affordable for all.

Giving students the opportunity to work together to earn something for their team or club gives the students an added level appreciation for what they have earned. No longer are the football pads or band instruments just something that the state authorities or students’ parents paid for. Students begin to take pride in their fundraising. Northview students take so much pride in their ability to raise funds that Zervakos has found that starting fundraising wars between classes generally gathers money faster than any other type of fundraising!

Aside from the typical fundraising of selling treats and washing cars, Northview’s students have been able to raise funds for their school through their own achievements as well. Northview’s student population has qualified for multiple academic grants. Earning a grant is something that a student can strive for and put on his/her college application and it is also something that a student knows will leave a lasting mark on the school.

Northview’s parent population also prides itself on getting involved in earning its students’ rights to participate in the things that they want to participate in. In an interesting twist on the parent teacher associations of the UK, Northview has a PTSA – a parent teacher student association. It is one of the more active organisations on Northview’s campus. Aside from throwing an extravagant party for each year’s graduating class at the end of the year, the PTSA also raises around $100,000 annually for different school functions.

Aside from the PTSA, Northview’s parents take an active role in fundraising for the clubs and sports teams on campus. This benefits the organisation in more ways than one. It also frees up the club sponsor, band director or athletic coach to focus on enriching the students’ education he/she is entrusted with. Thus, fundraising is usually a more efficient process because a parent can focus entirely on bringing in money while the club sponsor can focus entirely on instructing.

Learning the lessons
All in all, one of the most striking things about Northview, and the aspect that other schools could emulate, is its ability to get everyone involved and leave no one out. Northview has made a commitment to excellence in all fields of study and enjoyment.

However, with as much as Northview has going on, at the centre of it all is its principal. Zervakos is constantly reminding his students, parents and teachers what is really important about fundraising.

Zervakos and Northview excel in fundraising but what they are known for state and nationwide are the results of their fundraising. In the end, it is not important how much money a school can raise but rather for what educational gain that school utilises the funds raised. In the words of this inspirational leader: ‘You have got to be careful that your organisation doesn’t become so focused on the fundraising that you lose focus of what your real purpose is.’

Michael Aguilar writes on education matters from his base in Atlanta, Georgia