Plan ahead for MAT income generation

The government wants all schools to be in ‘strong’ multi-academy trusts by 2030. So what are the implications for fundraising?

Joining or being part of a MAT that plans significant expansion as the result of the new academies bill presents a range of challenges for school business leaders. Certainly, those currently in maintained schools or single academy trusts should view the process of joining or expanding a MAT very much in terms of getting the right fit. All schools should carry out a due diligence process, not least in the area of income generation.

Before the pandemic, self-generated income was becoming a significant slice of school budgets, with funds generated from facilities and services, donations and catering accounting for around 4% of average total income. It may be some time before things return to this level, but I believe SBLs should aim to increase self-generated income as it is propping up those bits of the budget where existing funding isn’t quite enough.

Government funding is not growing at the rate we need, so schools have to be inventive. Lettings income, such as sports field hire, offers the most bang per buck: schools can direct it wherever the need is greatest, unlike grants which have a strict set of conditions of use.

Start by identifying what expertise and guidance you can offer – and what you need help with. If you are a business manager in a school without a tradition of maximising lettings income, then a MAT that has a track record in this area could be a good fit, as long as other key aspects, notably the values and vision, feel right. If your school is already successful at income generation then you will have plenty to offer a prospective MAT. Consider how you can best work with other MAT schools to share your expertise, and improve by learning from their perspectives.

Joining a MAT could also give you access to a dedicated role for fundraising and income generation. It’s difficult for single academies and maintained schools to devote the time necessary to this area, but once you join forces with a medium to large scale MAT it’s likely you’ll benefit from the resources of a full or part-time member of staff.

It’s also useful to find out how income generation and fundraising is set up across the MAT. Is it at an individual academy level, with schools keeping what they make, or is it done centrally and then split between schools? The joint approach has many benefits: you can reach more parents, for example, and it promotes the building of a stronger community among the MAT schools.

While 2030 may seem a long way off, it makes sense to plan ahead. So do your research, ask questions and look to align with a trust that has well developed approaches to income generation.

  • Helen Dowsett is a former MAT financial controller and now a budget management expert for School Business Services, which provides financial planning and forecasting software for more than 2,200 UK schools.

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