School fundraising strategy: Successful fundraising and income-generation

What are the secrets of successful fundraising in a cost of living crisis? School income-generation consultant Justin Smith has some answers

Worrying about shrinking budgets, alongside growing energy and supply costs, is giving many school leaders a headache. While core costs might just about be covered, the idea of ring-fencing funds for enrichment activities or infrastructure improvements is an increasing challenge. Moving forward, it’s more important than ever for schools to adopt a strategic approach to income generation: if you’re able to express the needs of your school coherently and mobilise the support of your communities then you’ll be in a much stronger position.

Plan your approach

A benefit of having an outline plan for income generation is that it focuses attention on what is really needed, the urgency of such a project and, most importantly, its impact. Quantifying and articulating these elements is crucial – and will help you prioritise your wishlist.

A report about fundraising in a time of crisis, written by Henrietta Hopkins and published on behalf of the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), highlights the importance of ‘personal approaches’ and ‘tailored messages’ as tools for making potential supporters feel part of the solution. Ultimately, this mindset underpins everything when it comes to attracting offers of help and donations.

Think carefully about who could be approached for help and why your campaign might be of interest. Grant funders often have very specific aims and outcomes, but what about donations from parents or local business sponsorship?

Welcome all forms of help

Naturally, the ambition when a school launches a campaign is to raise hard cash to pay for the project. But other forms of support may also provide benefits. Reaching out to skilled local people with a passion for helping a neighbourhood school can bring positive, and perhaps unexpected, outcomes.

While many trusts will expect some contribution from the school towards a funding application, this need not necessarily refer to cash. Some grant bodies actually put a value on the volunteers involved – and this can be used to help offset any cash contribution you may have to make. For example, the National Lottery Heritage Fund uses a standard rate to calculate the value of volunteer time, from £10 an hour for a regular volunteer to £20 an hour for a skilled volunteer and £50 an hour for a professional volunteer (such as accountancy). Room and equipment hire can also be included in a proposal.

In her NLHF report, Henrietta Hopkins talks of ‘staying flexible, thinking laterally and remaining open to all possibilities’. Communicating your aims and needs as broadly as possible is incredibly important. Consider those who hire your school facilities, for example. They are ‘customers’ accessing your site and may welcome an opportunity to support the school. A football team, netball club or community group will consist of a wide cross-section of your community, with many people in positions of influence or working for local businesses. So be imaginative and create opportunities!

Nurture long-term support

While 62% of us donated to charity last year, only around 3% of donations found their way to schools and colleges. Clearly, it’s overly simplistic to compare the charity sector with state-funded education. However, there are things to take away and learn from. For instance, how to engage emotionally with potential supporters, developing a sense of empathy and encouraging people to give.

Things to consider:

  • Clarify areas of interest – what will motivate an individual or organisation to give?
  • Offer recognition – what can they expect in return?
  • Provide options – levels of sponsorship to suit all budgets
  • Make it simple – online donations via your website or crowdfunding page.

Research shows that more than 70% of donors who repeatedly provide support do so because they can explicitly see the impact of their donation. Be crystal clear about this; communicate throughout the campaign so supporters are kept informed of progress. For instance, if you invited selected suppliers or local businesses to join your school’s Business Directory, make sure you write to each one at the end of the annual sponsorship period to inform them how their sponsorship has helped. You can then invite them to renew their support for the following year.

Repurpose your time

Schools vary enormously in their capacity and ability to fundraise. As such, every school’s approach will be unique and will consider a wide range of factors, not least available resources and time. Lack of time is the most frequent issue mentioned by stretched staff and fundraisers, but you can repurpose time. Be realistic with targets and expectations. Consider phasing your project by breaking it into manageable chunks. A large-scale playground project could be more achievable if it’s considered as three distinct segments, each with its own funding plan. Delivery of phase one could help phase two, as you will have a successful track record and story to tell.

Further income-generation inspiration

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