Devising an effective fundraising strategy

Written by: Brin Best | Published:
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A carefully thought-out fundraising strategy that links closely with your school improvement plan could be considered an essential for schools. Expert Brin Best discusses how to devise an effective fundraising strategy for your school

Some of those who work in schools are surprised to learn that every year there are billions of pounds in additional income available to schools.

I have spent the last 25 years working as part of school leadership teams, and in a consultancy or training role, helping thousands of schools throughout the country access external funds. Over this time I’ve learnt that secondary schools fall into two categories when it comes to their fundraising activities: they are either one of the “haves” or the “have nots”.

  • The “haves” manage to secure hundreds of thousands of pounds (or more) each year in external income, tapping into high-profile funding schemes and making a real difference to the young people in their schools through high-profile new facilities, resources or provision. They are often in the news, making headlines about their successful projects.
  • The “have nots”, by contrast, struggle to access meaningful sums of money, often confining their fundraising to low-level school-based events, or occasional links to businesses. As a result their educational offering rarely improves, and they are not featured in many positive news stories.

The need for a strategic approach

The last few decades have seen secondary schools become increasingly more businesses-like in all sorts of ways. One of the most significant shifts that has taken place – especially in those schools at the cutting edge – is that accessing external funds has become a high-profile, high-status function, led by a well-qualified person.

This person also has (at least some) dedicated time to carry out the role, and has some specialist skills in this area. Underpinning this is a carefully thought-out fundraising strategy which dovetails with the school improvement plan and other key planning documents, creating a much more professional approach to fundraising than existed in the past.

Through my books and my practical work supporting schools, I have been one of the people who, since the early 2000s, has tried to lead and encourage this professionalisation of fundraising in schools. I realised this was necessary because I found out that a tiny number of schools in the UK were accessing a disproportionate amount of the funding available, and this is clearly not fair.

The strategy framework which I developed, and which I outline below, has been validated by the successes of hundreds of schools that I’ve worked with who took on the challenge of transforming their fundraising through a more strategic approach.

Six steps to fundraising success

A fundraising strategy is a strategy that sets out the people, systems and actions that are required in order to maximise the effectiveness of your fundraising work. It can in essence be broken down into six key steps, which will be the subject of more detailed advice in articles due to publish in SecEd in the spring and summer terms.

1 Appoint your fundraising coordinator

Any school that is serious about its fundraising work will need to appoint an overall coordinator. This person needs the high-level support of the governors and headteacher, and their role needs to be seen to matter in your school.

My experience of working with school fundraising coordinators across the country is that the more time and development that is invested in their role, the more income they are able to raise. For many schools it will not be possible to appoint a full-time fundraising coordinator, and the role will often be taken on by an existing member of staff, as part of their overall duties.

However, it is surprising what somebody can achieve working in a focused way for just one day-a-week, especially when their work has the genuine support of other staff.

What is a school fundraising coordinator?

The school fundraising coordinator is the person who takes overall responsibility for the preparation, implementation and evaluation of the school’s fundraising strategy. Working in collaboration with a variety of staff, they devise a series of actions designed to raise the funds needed to successfully carry out planned educational improvement projects.

2 Audit your previous fundraising work

It makes sense to begin by carrying out a thorough audit of your previous fundraising work, perhaps over the last three to five years. This will help to establish what your school has managed to achieve in the past, and the main areas for development.

Make sure you gather information widely in your school, as some successful examples of fundraising can remain “hidden” in specialist areas, especially in larger institutions. Vitally, such an audit can also provide a valuable baseline against which to judge future progress. An audit should be carried out annually to enable patterns over time to be charted and new actions identified.

3 Devise and prioritise your projects

One of the important shifts in mindset that many schools will need to undergo as they grapple with fundraising is that it is ultimately not about the money – it is about the projects that this money will allow.

These projects will create new opportunities for your pupils, will enhance existing provision, will offer something to your community or will genuinely improve your school in other ways.

These projects can be about new capital schemes, additional equipment or resources, the input of new personnel or the organising of exciting learning activities. And they will have clear outcomes which can be measured.

Devising high-quality projects is, therefore, the most important part of any school fundraising campaign and must be given very close attention.

4 Prepare a fundraising development plan

In common with any other high-profile initiative in your school your fundraising strategy needs to incorporate a detailed plan which sets out, among other things, targets, actions and timescales.

It is also vital that this plan is integrated within other planning documents in your school, and is shared with key people such as governors and senior leaders. All staff should also be made aware of it and be invited to comment on it.

5 Access the funds

This is clearly going to take up a significant amount of your fundraising coordinator’s time, and depending on the sums of money you’re seeking for your various projects may need the support of additional people.

This step includes identifying suitable funding sources (I will write about some tools that can fast -track this process in future articles for SecEd) and of course preparing the applications/bids, or carrying out the measures that will allow you to access the funds.

There is a real art to completing funding bids to such bodies as the National Lottery and grant-making trusts, and there’s often a very steep learning curve for schools in this highly technical area.

6 Monitor/evaluate fundraising work

Many of the funding bodies supporting schools will require you to carefully monitor and evaluate how you spend “their” money. Why wouldn’t they?

They are often highly regulated and need to prove that the monies they’ve given to schools are spent in an appropriate way. Over and above this statutory need, it’s desirable for any school to monitor how all its funded projects are progressing, and to evaluate the impact on the intended beneficiaries.

Ethical considerations

To help guide your fundraising work your school should pause to consider some of the ethical considerations around fundraising before plans are too far advanced, because this can sometimes be a minefield.

In particular, you should have an open and frank conversation about such things as:

  • Whether some types of fundraising activities are inappropriate in your school? (e.g. gambling)
  • Are there businesses you would not want to accept money from?
  • Are you happy to encourage your pupils and their families to collect vouchers from supermarkets and all types of products?
  • Brin Best is an award-winning educational consultant with 25 years’ experience of fundraising in schools. He is the author of several books, including Cost-effective Fundraising for Schools (Optimus Education). Visit www.brinbest.com


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