Brin Best explains why your school’s fundraising work will not be truly effective unless it is underpinned by a clear vision and strategy

Now that the scale of the external funds available to schools is becoming clear, many bursars and business managers are being asked to turn their attention to bid-writing and other income generation activities, with the hope that individual schools can enjoy their fair share of the billions of pounds now available to schools every year. However, when asked what overall vision and strategy underpins this work, many schools still draw a blank. It is clear that fundraising work for many schools is still rather opportunistic and is simply not being driven by a wider school improvement agenda. And comprehensive fundraising strategies are still something of a rarity.

In this article I want to encourage you to be much more rigorous about building the vision that can drive your fundraising work, and in creating the strategy that will ensure you succeed. I will illustrate the article with examples of schools that have, and have not, managed to reach their fundraising goals in the last two years. The key message is that by making your fundraising efforts more professional, you can use external funds to make dramatic improvements in your school.

What is a vision for fundraising?
The National College for School Leadership has done much in recent years to champion the need for more strategic thinking in our schools. Perhaps most significant is the realisation that to be effective schools need to be very clear about the ‘preferred futures’ they are trying to create. A vision for a school sets out how things will have changed for the better in three to five years’ time – it is an empowering expression of what all staff and students are going to work towards. The best visions are those that are formulated through widespread consultation with key stakeholders – including of course parents and the wider community – but led by an inspirational headteacher and leadership team. A school vision can often be summarised in a concise and catchy ‘mission statement’, which can be used to give a sense of day to day purpose of the school as it works towards a brighter future.

Example mission statements
‘Learning for life, together’ ‘Celebrating learning in all its forms’ ‘A centre of excellence for excellence’ ‘Building a brighter future for all’

‘A happy school, a sustainable community’

When schools formulate and articulate their vision a series of actions usually quickly surfaces – projects that need to be carried out and things that will need to change in order for the school to reach its goals. It will soon become clear that resources will inevitably be required for some of these priorities, and this is where fundraising comes in. A school vision for fundraising, therefore, encompasses two parts: the overall vision for the school and where it is heading; and the vision for how fundraising is going to play a part in achieving those dreams. Note that the whole school vision should drive the fundraising work, not the other way round. There is a real danger of being attracted to funding streams that other schools are accessing, and may be fairly easy to access, but in fact do not address your school’s priorities.

It might be useful at this stage to pause to consider how clear your school’s vision currently is. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has your vision been articulated?
  • Who was involved in putting it together?
  • Are all staff aware of the things that bind you together as a school?
  • What specific projects does the vision suggest you need to begin?
  • How much money is going to be needed in order to start these projects?

From vision to strategy
If your vision is exciting enough people will want to work together to make things happen, and a carefully thought-through fundraising strategy will help you to reach your goals more quickly. This strategy should set out the actions, roles, responsibilities and protocols that will underpin your work on a daily basis. In particular, is should formalise the following key areas.

No strategy can be successful if there is not a named person driving the work forward. While increasingly in schools it is the bursar or business manager that takes responsibility on top of their other duties, some schools have found that different models can work too – as long as a financial manager is closely involved.

For example, a primary school in Manchester realised that a cover supervisor had untapped skills in organising fundraising work and accessing grants; so she was employed for an afternoon each week to work specifically on this type of work. By giving this person the title ‘fundraising coordinator’ it flags up in people’s minds that this is something that’s important to the school. The headteachers’ and governors’ involvement are also key. Headteachers need to take more than an active interest in fundraising – they need to be there at meetings, prepared to meet business leaders, and committed to be passionate advocates for the fundraising work at every opportunity. And governors need to be there when they are needed too. The biggest mistake to make is to think that fundraising can be carried out in the scraps of time left over at the end of the week. This will inevitably result in only scraps of money being obtained too!

Action plan
This should make absolutely clear what needs to be done and who should be doing it in order to reach your fundraising targets. Those targets need to be clearly articulated too, with a timetable for when the money is required. Most schools fundraising now fall into the category of running either a minor (£10,000-£50,000) or major (>£50,000) campaign – and by using that word it helps to galvanise people into realising that it could be quite a battle to secure the funds you need.

Sometimes, schools are chasing several sums of money for different priorities, in which case a fundraising strategy is even more important. One of the many benefits of identifying an overall fundraising coordinator is that this person can take charge of overseeing the action plan, ensuring that people are carrying out agreed actions and providing other monitoring and evaluation controls. Action plans for fundraising also need to be flexible to respond to changing priorities and fundraising opportunities – we all know that education is one of the most fast-changing environments in which to work.

No school would accept money from a tobacco or alcohol company, but what about McDonalds, or a big supermarket? Is gambling something you are happy to promote? Fundraising can be a bit of a minefield from an ethical point of view, because you need to be careful that the values and ethos of your school are not being compromised because you are desperate for the additional funds, or had simply overlooked a potential conflict in your drive to raise funds. A classic example is schools that are working towards healthy eating status that encourage students to collect sweet wrappers that can be converted into school equipment. Other more subtle examples include a school in Doncaster that offended local parents because it gained sponsorship for its newsletter from a solicitor – only to find out that the firm specialised in family breakdown cases. Be proactive by agreeing some simple ethical protocols for your fundraising work and ensure that any new ventures are approved by a committee that has its fingers on the ethical pulse of your school.

Case studies
I present two case studies which illustrate the spectrum of fundraising work now taking place in schools. I invite you to consider which most closely resembles the situation in your own school, and what the next steps might be to ensure that your school does gain its fair share of the external funds now available to schools.

Concluding remarks
While a vision and strategy for fundraising will ensure that your work gets off on a very firm footing, schools that are most successful at raising additional funds have much more than these two foundations underpinning their work. In a future article I will discuss the ‘habits of mind’ of the most financially successful schools in the country, as well as explaining how an intimate knowledge of the fundraising landscape in the UK can give your school the fundraising edge.

Case study: lack of vision
This school decided to apply for a National Lottery grant and stage a number of events in order to raise £45,000 for a new outdoor play area. The impetus for the project came mainly from the school seeing other neighbouring schools be successful in gaining funds for the same kind of projects. There was a feeling that they did not want to be left behind when other exciting work was being carried out in nearby schools, and an Ofsted inspection was looming. As staffing at the school was tight, there were no clear lines of responsibility for taking the fundraising work forward, with the headteacher and the business manager sharing the role – or more accurately carrying out appropriate tasks when the time was available. The application process proved difficult because the school did not have a clear idea of exactly why the project was necessary. Indeed, not everyone at the school thought it was the top priority when ageing classrooms and poor library facilities were staring everyone in the face inside the buildings. Though the school managed to raise a few thousands pounds through a summer fair and various other small-scale events, the poorly-prepared application for £50,000 was not successful. The school now has a negative impression of fundraising and it has not made another application in recent months.

Case study: a focused approach
This school took a rather different view of fundraising and began by staging a series of meetings with staff and community members in order to agree what the priorities for the school were. From this work a small committee was formed which was led by the school bursar. The committee decided to draw up a series of projects that would move the school towards its vision of becoming known nationally for its innovative work on extended schools. As several of these projects required additional funding, internet and book research enabled the school to put together a shortlist of suitable funding sources, mostly grant-making trusts and various National Lottery schemes. A major campaign was launched to create a new community classroom and learning resource, which would cost the school £125,000. Several application forms were completed by a small team and advice was sought from the local authority extended schools adviser. Publicity locally helped to galvanise the work of the school and some key business donations followed. In March 2007, the community classroom was finally opened by the local MP and has proved very popular with families in this socially deprived area. The school is looking forward to raising the funds for the next phase of its extended schools programme.

Further guidance on the range of lottery schemes can be found at