A routemap for fundraising

It’s been a year of uncertainty, with the only constant being the need to adapt to rapid change. Justin Smith envisions the road ahead, while Jane Hughes looks at how we can learn from others

School business leaders

and fundraisers all over the country have undoubtedly had to grapple with new ways of thinking, working and communicating in recent months. Priorities shifted, first with the move to home-schooling and then with the return to a very different classroom environment.

It’s now clear that Covid-19 is more than just a bump in the road: its effects could be long term. In this new climate, schools need to revisit – and possibly rethink and reposition – their approach to fundraising. Every school will find its own way forward, of course, but there is always plenty to learn from the routes taken by others.

The journey so far

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, spending per pupil fell by two per cent in real terms between 2015-16 and 2019-20, and reversing these cuts would cost £3.3bn by 2022-23. With no signs of a reversal, schools must explore new ways to bridge the widening funding gap.

A survey by the NAHT found that schools in England are, on average, £25,000 down (lost income plus additional costs) after coping with the costs of the pandemic. In normal times, PTAs and Friends Associations each generate an average of £10,000 a year. Like many small charities, around half their income comes from live events, so the cancellation of these fundraisers was a massive blow.

Another loss was funding from grant providers, many of which paused their usual programmes to focus on emergency Covid-19 initiatives. In short, relying on grants and ad-hoc fundraising has left schools vulnerable.

The road ahead

Some schools have already changed gear and are taking a more strategic and wide-ranging approach to income generation. This often involves employing part-time fundraisers to drive things forward. Having a dedicated person to manage fundraising makes a huge impact. And if you can’t pay for a fundraiser, then consider recruiting a volunteer with the right skillset.

Every school is different, with significant variation between the resources and priorities of a small primary school and a large secondary school, and between schools in different areas. However, the following steps are important for all:

  • Establish a manageable number of fundraising priorities over the short and longer term
  • Work out your approach to delivering on this wish list
  • Implement your plans and communicate regular updates on fundraising progress
  • Measure your success

Don’t go down a one-way street

Moving forward, schools need to be open to developing a mix of fundraising approaches, from regular giving to crowdfunding, grants and virtual events. As the two fundraisers featured overleaf suggest, the importance of regular giving has increased as a sustainable and reliable income stream. Schools could also create broader links across their wider communities, developing new opportunities by working with businesses, local organisations and former pupils.

Getting away from previous norms will take time, commitment and belief. Even small incremental change, driven by a fundamental shift in how we think about income generation, can have a profound effect on your fundraising journey.

  • Justin Smith is MD of Chameleon Consultancy and Training Ltd, which provides marketing and fundraising support to schools. @jus_chameleon

The private school route

Private schools have a long history of income generation, though these days they are increasingly looking towards state school fundraising for inspiration. What they do excel at is securing private donations from alumni (collectively around £130m annually, according to the charity Future First). The key here is to develop an ‘emotive buy-in’ to convert former pupils into active donors. Private schools often delve deep into donor psychology and segmentation, adapting communications for different target audiences (sending personalised thank-you notes to major donors, for instance).

This may not be possible, or indeed suitable, for state schools, but it is worth at least developing an awareness of your donor profile.

Future First (which sets up alumni networks for the state sector) says state schools have much to gain from viewing their alumni as a valuable network. Around 30% of former pupils surveyed said they would donate to their old school if asked, yet only one per cent had been asked. Alumni can be motivated by many things: a sense of duty or nostalgia, an emotional connection with a personal story, a need for recognition or a genuinely altruistic desire to ‘give back’. And, of course, ‘giving’ does not simply mean hard cash – alumni can support your school and your students in many transformative ways. So approach former pupils with the intention of building long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships.

The charity route

Although charities suffered dramatic falls in income during the pandemic, it’s worth bearing in mind that around 60% of the population gave to charitable causes last year. So what can schools and PTAs take from this?

Just as with alumni, the ability to engage with people on an emotional level is crucial. Identifying the triggers that motivate others to give their time or hard-earned money sits at the heart of all successful campaigns. Good fundraisers are, first and foremost, good storytellers, and the ability to communicate a story to target audiences is very effective at eliciting a positive response. According to Gilly Green, head of grants at Comic Relief, ‘Funders want a cohesive story, including evidence of demand… and the outcomes it will create.’

The approach below is followed by successful charities and could form the cornerstone of your school fundraising plan:

  • Communicate the need for funds through emotive storytelling with powerful evidence, including images or video
  • Demonstrate how donors can help and highlight the impact of this help
  • Facilitate donations by providing simple mechanisms to help people give
  • Acknowledge donor involvement through recognition and thanks
  • Celebrate and share success by recognising the efforts of all involved in order to encourage ongoing support

The online route

A website that is easy to navigate and allows quick and easy updating of content is an important platform for promoting and managing your fundraising campaigns. You can create links from your main school website to dedicated fundraising pages, or even to a parallel website.

Here is your opportunity to broadcast the story of what you are doing and why you are doing it. Remember, your aim is to encourage supporter engagement and buy-in by building a sense of shared purpose and community around your campaigns.

Post regular blogs and updates so that supporters can follow your fundraising progress, and coordinate these with any newsletters, X (formerly Twitter) and email communication. Not only could your website act as a focal point for fundraising communications, it could also double up as a platform for processing online donations to your school fund or PTA charity.

The John Madejski Academy in Berkshire (part of the White Horse Federation MAT) has an ‘Our School Community’ tab on its website, which effectively functions as a fundraising platform targeted towards volunteers and donors. It provides details of current campaigns, as well as direct appeals to supporters, including businesses, to come on board.

The section profiles a ‘volunteer of the month’ and provides ideas for independent fundraising. Online giving is extremely straightforward, with sign-up tabs enabling donors to make one-off or regular contributions. Supporters simply choose which project appeals to them and the technology does all the hard work for you.

Our routemap

Two school fundraisers share their recent journeys

‘Contributions supported those in need’

‘As a large secondary school, we can no longer solely rely on money received from the government. Our fundraising journey was in its infancy when Covid-19 struck, and was focused on providing additional resources, opportunities and support for our students.

We tended to avoid events-based fundraising due to the lack of time and budget. Instead, in 2019 we established the SGS (Steyning Grammar School) Changing the Future annual fund, having consulted with parents and carers and received only positive feedback. We asked for contributions on a voluntary basis and raised more than £7,000 in the first year.

Our school is at the heart of the community it serves, and during lockdown our fundraising focus shifted to the welfare of our students, their families and the wider community – our ‘SGS Family’. From March onwards, we collaborated with our local community hub to deliver food and essentials parcels to those in need. In April we reached out to parents and carers and asked for voluntary contributions to the annual fund so that we could provide a Covid-19 school response. We also approached our suppliers, as well as local businesses and charities.

The response to the appeal was phenomenal, whether financial, practical, or providing supplies for the parcels. For instance, we received donations of devices such as iPads from parents and carers, and these have been enormously helpful in facilitating home learning for some of our students.

Our fundraising goals will look different for the next academic year but the welfare of our students and families remains central. We feel confident that our lockdown fundraising efforts have put us in a strong position and we will continue to forge strong links with our wider community.’ Steph Coomber, development officer (15 hours a week), Steyning Grammar School, Steyning, West Sussex (2,250 pupils)

‘Regular giving is growing’

‘Schools have had to fundraise to cover the basics for some time, so having to cancel events because of Covid-19 was a huge blow. Our plans to completely refurbish the art rooms were put on hold, though the fact they were empty meant we could at least redecorate!

A lot of Covid grants related to outreach work, but our staffing was already stretched, making sure that all students received their lessons at home. There was IT funding available to support home-schooling, but it had to work within the capacity of the school network, which is not infinite. We were able to supply a few students with laptops but then faced further issues because some did not have access to WiFi.

Moving forward, I think fundraisers have to be creative and ready to adapt. We may be able to plan for summer events outside where it’s possible to limit numbers, but we’re likely to run more virtual activities, such as online quizzes, raffles and possibly auctions. 

Priory School has been developing a regular-giving income stream for some time. It was controversial at first because people rightly saw education as something that the state should provide as a right. Having come from the voluntary sector, which has a 99% success rate with appeals, I found it far more challenging to attract funds for a school! However, over time, this income stream has made a significant difference to our fundraising and is something we intend to grow further.

A letter from the headteacher goes out three times a year and donations are made to our Friends of Priory charity, which allocates funds as needed.’ Amanda Burgess, community liaison and income generating manager (22.5 hours a week), Priory School, Lewes, East Sussex (1,136 pupils)

  • Justin Smith is managing director of Chameleon Consultancy and Training Ltd, which provides specialist marketing and income generation support to schools. chameleon-training.co.uk

More from Justin Smith

Join FundEd to access our database featuring over £14m of grants for schools