How to plan a fundraising strategy

Taking the time to plan and develop your income generation strategy will pay off sooner than you think, says fundraising expert Sharon Noble

Sometimes taking a step back can be the first step to moving forward. This is particularly true when you are developing a fundraising strategy to assist you in adding income and value to a stretched school budget. A strategy gives you an overview, an opportunity to look at the bigger picture of where you are and where you want to go. It sets out the resources, systems and actions that are required to fundraise successfully. It also forms a valuable tool – a working document – to help you measure income generated against targets and effort put in. By monitoring fundraising success against a strategy, you can focus on the most efficient methods of increasing income.

Every school is different in terms of its demographic, the engagement of parents and its needs. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ fundraising solution. What is always essential, however, is to ensure that sufficient planning, research, and development goes into implementing a strategy that will build on existing initiatives and tap into new income streams.

Step 1: Planning

There are competing priorities and needs within every school. You need to ensure that every avenue is covered and that all staff feel they are likely to benefit. It’s important to:

  • Determine needs according to senior leadership, governors and heads of department
  • Survey teachers and support staff – what do they see as priorities?
  • Consider the agreed priorities in the School Improvement Plan
  • Budget ahead – where are the major gaps you can foresee?
  • Look at what has been done before to raise income. How successful was it?
  • Identify if there any organisations that can offer support
  • Identify the resources you can dedicate to fundraising – budget, staffing, accommodation
  • If you have a PTA, consider how a fundraising strategy can complement its work
  • Research the demographic of the school community

Any school that is serious about fundraising will need to appoint a fundraising lead. This could be a new role, or additional dedicated time for an existing member of staff. Crucially, this person needs the support of the governors and headteacher, and their role needs to be seen to matter in your school. The more time and development that is invested in the role, the more income they will be able to raise. In reality, this role is often part-time to keep costs down, so the more planning and preparation that is done in advance, the faster the new lead can get on with the job.

Step 2: Development

With the aims and objectives for fundraising agreed, the next step is to look into possible streams of income. Look at several options, rather than relying on one. Monitor the effort versus-income of each stream so that time is used wisely. Plan timescales to avoid bombardment of information and last-minute grant applications. Income streams can include:

  • Individual giving – parents, grandparents, staff. This could be donations to the school fund or a specific appeal
  • PTA – how can you support it?
  • Schemes – for example, school lottery, Bags2School, Cash4Coins, supermarket initiatives
  • Grants from trusts and foundations – identify trusts and eligibility, deadlines and outcome dates, and then match your school needs to specific trusts (sometimes full cost recovery in trust applications can provide some budget relief)
  • DfE and public funding – as with trusts and foundations
  • Corporate – this may be local businesses or connections you can make through staff, governors or parents. It may involve identifying specific sponsorship, or networking locally to create your own opportunities
  • Income generation – facility hire, advertising and community events
  • Alumni – how to approach, engage and ask former pupils for help

Step 3: Implement

The fundraising strategy should now be taking shape, with school needs matched to possible income streams. The steps required to gain the funds are clear, with targets, timescales and indicators of success agreed. Be aware that in some cases (with alumni, for instance) you may need to invest a considerable amount of time before a financial gain is seen. In order for the strategy to work, the whole school community needs to be on board. Communication and outreach are vital to ensure results are visible. Remember, this is not about the money; it’s about the projects, resources and opportunities that the money will allow. Use the following checklist:

  • Fundraising lead in place, with line management and targets agreed
  • Fundraising strategy written and prioritised (forming the agreed targets)
  • Platforms for celebration agreed (newsletters, webpages, noticeboards, social media)
  • Budget agreed for resources (signing up to alerts, surveys, membership organisations)
  • Staff and senior leadership open to meetings and reviewing ideas, applications and materials
  • Agreement in place for ‘signing off’ ideas, plans, trust applications
  • Good line management and support of the fundraising lead
  • A whole school culture backing the fundraising efforts

Step 4: Measure

One of the most common pitfalls of any fundraising is when success is measured just in pound signs. Many of the elements of fundraising provide positive change, engagement and opportunities that cannot be measured in financial terms. The fundraising strategy should include targets and measures that reflect the impact on the school, students and community, as well as the amount of money received. Successful applications to trusts and foundations will also require monitoring so that impact measurements can be gauged. To evaluate success:

  • Budget agreed for resources (signing up to alerts, surveys, membership organisations)
  • Incorporate feedback and ideas as the work progresses into the strategy
  • Use the measures of success to prioritise ongoing work (was the income generated worth the effort? Is it worth doing again?)
  • Keep the strategy up to date with outcomes and achievements
  • Celebrate wherever you can

When your tightest budget is time....

If you work part-time, then planning and prioritising your hours is essential. Fundraising involves being reactive, anticipating deadlines and dealing with many different avenues all at once. It is both confidence building for you and beneficial to the school to establish some ‘quick wins’. Cultivating other sources of funding and planning larger applications will take much longer to show effect. For a school with an established culture of generous parent-giving, a school fund appeal may be the quickest way to raise income. For a school with a mixed demographic and low parent giving, the answer may be more small funding applications.

Plan around the best possible chance of success: Dedicate time to understanding the exact needs of the school, and gathering statistics, information and data to back this up, so that you can be reactive when opportunities arise.Identify where you might get the best ‘quick fix’. Dedicate time to working on this (it could be a grant application or a crowdfunding page).

Make yourself known: celebrate every success, make sure you have a slot on the website, in newsletters and on notice boards. The quicker the school community understand what you are trying to achieve, the more support you will have!

  • Sharon Noble is development manager at Chestnut Grove Academy, part of the Wandle Learning Trust in south London.


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