The parental fundraising team is a fanstastic resource. Paul Ainsworth and Josephine Smith look at how to maximise the work it does
As the role of bursar increasingly changes to become the school business manager (SBM) the list of tasks and roles a school may wish you to undertake becomes ever more varied. One task that a headteacher may be very keen to pass on to you is leading the school’s fundraising activities. These could be for a capital project, a specialist schools bid or in some cases providing much needed revenue to employ additional staff to deliver school improvement initiatives.
In the June edition of SFM, Brin Best discussed the importance of developing a strategy and vision for your school’s fundraising activities. This article, and its follow-up in the next issue, makes the assumption that your school has clearly identified specific reasons for fundraising and considers the next practical steps.
Recognising your skills
As the school business manager you are likely to have a different skill set than school leaders who come from a traditional teaching background. It is unlikely you would wish the burden of school fundraising to fall entirely on your shoulders but there is no doubt you will have aptitudes that will make a school’s fundraising activities far more efficient.
Traditionally the engine room for schools’ fundraising has been the parents’ association. As SBM you have a key role to play in supporting the efforts of such a dedicated and enthusiastic band of volunteers. This article shares some examples of good practice, gives some practical advice about how you can channel such energy and suggests there are ways you can help maximise the fantastic resource of such a well qualified but low-cost team.
Taking the lead
Historically one of the roles of many deputy headteachers was to attend parents’ association meetings on behalf of the school. With the ever-changing nature of the role of the SBM, however, you may find yourself being asked to attend alongside the deputy or headteacher or even take their place depending upon the agenda of the meeting.
Working with parents can be extremely rewarding but does sometimes present moments of frustration. As a school business manager you spend your working week juggling the debits and credits of some fairly large sums of money. Perhaps some of the hardest earned however, is that raised by a team of dedicated and loyal volunteers who stand on cold car boot sale playground pitches, dress up as Father Christmas, tirelessly sell raffle tickets and serve refreshments at school presentation nights in the hope of contributing that little something extra to the school budget.
Long gone, however, are the days when parents would spend just a few hours of their spare time fundraising for their child’s school; parents’ associations have been so successful in raising money in the past that a place on the committee brings with it certain expectations that fundraising totals will be bettered year on year and certainly in some smaller primary schools the money is relied on for important initiatives and attempts to introduce additional but costly high-tech resources into school.
Cherish and support
The first thing that needs to be understood is that the parent fundraisers need cherishing and supporting. A school business manager offering interest and support automatically communicates a high regard and appreciation for the many hours parent fundraisers will inevitably put in. Why not take a lead and encourage teaching staff to support the ventures suggested, whether you are a SBM in a small primary school or a 2,000 strong secondary? One tireless mum of four primary aged boys described how she had spent 30 hours with groups in every class of a 140-student primary school encouraging students to draw a picture of themselves for the school calendar. Another mum, a qualified graphic designer, offered her services to put her son’s primary school calendar together and said that it would take her most of the weekend (if she had billed the school for the work it would have cost over £500). Organising simple thank you notes, invitations to be special guests at assemblies or front row seats at speech day presentations are all things a SBM could do to recognise the hard work and valuable contribution made.
Recognising what parents can offer
Of course many parent fundraisers will bring to the role their own particular skills: from the organisational prowess it takes to run a busy household to the qualifications and skills of their professional lives. One dad, a qualified sports coach, offered his local school his services during the holidays and put on holiday club activity days. The fees for the days covered the costs of sports equipment used during term time by the school, as well as contributing to the fundraising target for the year (and helping to meet some of the extended schools agenda). Other parents can provide contacts, resources from their businesses or links to providing business partners. On a simple level this might mean high quality raffle prizes; on a more substantive level parent contacts could find that all-important sponsor for a specialist school bid. The SBM is key in taking ideas like this and using the enthusiasm of the creator and turning it into reality. Parents may not be aware of the practicalities involved in this process and the SBM could take the responsibility for mentoring and encouraging the project to fruition. This might involve acting as the single point of contact for the parents and taking their queries, finding the answers from the relevant specialist and communicating this information.
The chair of the parents’ association of a Wiltshire Catholic primary school described what she saw as the difference between parents’ fundraising activity of the past and current successful strategies.
‘As a rule of thumb our committee decides whether to go ahead with initiatives only if they will make £10 or more for every hour of work put into them. We take a much more business-like approach now after exhausting ourselves in the past with some high-effort, low-profit activities,’ she said.
A recent bonfire night celebration took 14 hours of time to organise and deliver but made over £900, for example. The more business-like approach looked for opportunities for secondary selling and fluorescent glow sticks proved the biggest money spinner of the term! Not all parents’ associations will have this level of business acumen and in such circumstances the SBM could sensitively begin to develop this attitude, not only among parents but also with the senior teacher who attends their meetings.
As SBM your advice to a parents’ association along similar lines should generate a really efficient fundraising calendar that would be sure to raise funds without donor fatigue setting in, or clashing with other established events. As a school employee your involvement could also maximise profits. Administrative support provided by the school office, access to a photocopier for example, as well as the facility to claim VAT back on orders that go through the school accounts will all maximise profit and show support and involvement by the school.
Maximising your school’s efforts
Fundraising activities that have a proven track record are also something you can give advice on. The turnover of parent committees is understandably high as children get older, family commitments grow and so do parents’ own professional duties. You are well placed to advise fundraisers about what has been successful in the past. You will also have a good idea of the school’s demographic profile, as well as some of the professional skills that exist amongst the parent body.
It is well worth providing administrative support for the committee with the aim of developing checklists of how the events have been organised. This is sure to be a time-saver in the future and can prevent expensive errors being made. In addition, through networking with other SBMs and by reading the educational press, you will glean additional ideas for successful events. Standard letters to parents, inserts for the school newsletter and so on can all be kept on file and reproduced in the house style of your school.
You may find that your parents’ association is frightened of developing events which seem expensive. It is surprising how this attitude can even be prevalent in affluent areas. However, these events can be far more efficient in raising large sums of money. Your knowledge of the profile of the local area may encourage the group to raise their aspirations of the sums of money they can hope to raise.
One example of this is a school that traditionally hosts an end-of-term summer barn dance with a ploughman’s supper. The tickets are priced very reasonably at £10 and a bar is organised. You may consider this kind of event but provide it with a very different take. Why not change this social event into a summer ball? The same simple buffet meal can be provided, but this time in a seated environment; the musicians play popular music rather than country music and the guests attend in evening wear rather than casual clothing. Essentially a repackaging exercise could increase the ticket price to more than £30 a head, and in some areas this could be in excess of £50. The result is that for the same hours of work the sums of money increase five fold. Rather than considering the money raised in hundreds, it can be measured in thousands. If you increase the aspirations there is an expectation that the quality of the event may be higher. This does not necessarily mean there is an increased financial outlay, instead the expectation needs to be on the event being run in a more professional style.
High-quality publicity material
For all fundraising events, the publicity materials are hugely important. As SBM you should be experienced in developing high-quality marketing materials at low cost. There are two major dangers with publicity. The first is the profits of the events can easily be wasted by spending too much on the materials. The opposite problem is if the materials are of a poor design it can reflect badly on the school’s own marketing strategy. The SBM needs, then, to take on a quality control role as well as overseeing the efficient use of funds.
Parents will have a variety of motivations for taking part in the initiatives of the parents’ association – as part of networking and socialising; as a way of playing an active part in their children’s school life; as a convenient way of using professional skills in workable hours; as project experience for their CV thereby facilitating their return to work. Your professional advice could be just what is needed to take a worthy and energetic group of people one step further in their attempts to raise significant money for the school. Time is money and if parents have time to give then additional funding for your school is the much appreciated result.
Paul Ainsworth is the deputy head at Belvoir High School and Josephine Smith is the deputy head at Longfield High school