Fundraising: Using your school site

Written by: Brin Best | Published:
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Raising income by using your buildings and grounds can be one way of boosting your school’s finances. Brin Best advises

My studies of successful schools have shown that those which secure the largest amounts of additional funds exploit the full range of different opportunities open to them. Mindful of this fact, I am still surprised by how many schools rely on a much narrower range of income sources, often leaving funding avenues which could potentially yield much income largely under-exploited.

In this article I will be focusing on one such under-exploited funding source, which is quite literally staring school leaders in the face as they patrol around their premises: the use of buildings and grounds to generate income.

Funds raised through the use of buildings and grounds are particularly useful to schools because they are unrestricted – meaning they are not bound by the spending rules of such sources as grant-making trusts and the National Lottery. This can be incredibly useful in situations where you need to find the funds for a new member of staff, or simply buy on-going resources. Such funds are also invaluable because they can often be accessed on a planned and predictable basis, allowing schools to address priorities in a strategic way.

Auditing practice

It makes sense to begin your work in this area by carrying out an audit of all the income you have raised through the use of your school buildings and grounds over the last year. This includes lettings of major spaces such as your school hall, classrooms and outdoor areas.

If you are struggling to add much to this list you may be encouraged (and hopefully not too intimidated) to hear that the most enterprising and creative-thinking schools are able to secure tens of thousands of pounds each year through the use of their buildings and grounds by businesses, community groups and other individuals. For example, the following income-generation activities have all been successfully implemented by schools in the UK:

  • Letting sports facilities.
  • Car boot sales.
  • Business conferences and meetings.
  • School reunion parties.
  • Weddings.
  • Letting ICT suites for company training.
  • Film location.
  • Parking for a nearby high-profile event.
  • Sporting events for local clubs.
  • A venue for special annual events.
An audit of existing work allows you to identify strengths to build on, but it also enables you to spot gaps and areas for development.


Finding new opportunities

The best way to spot new opportunities to use your buildings and grounds to generate income is to take a walk around your school premises (inside and out) with another member of staff, making a note of spaces that look promising, and individuals/groups that may be interested in them. Some schools have also involved students in this process – their highly creative minds often spotting opportunities which adults can miss.

Make sure you give due attention to all the outdoor spaces belonging to your school: playground areas, fields, nature areas etc. Many schools have found that – in terms of lettings – their outdoor spaces are as lucrative as those indoors, which are traditionally seen as the mainstay of school lettings.

A change of mindset

Being successful in raising funds from school buildings and grounds requires a change of mindset for many schools, especially the need to embrace an entrepreneurial spirit and a flexible approach. For example, you may need to open up more to the opportunities for your buildings and grounds to be let when your students are not on the premises.

Although this may require a more flexible approach from site staff, it can quickly reap tangible financial benefits. Preparing staff for the changes that will be needed, and supporting them through the process, will be vital to success as you increase the income you gain from the letting of your buildings and grounds.
You may also have to have conversations with groups and individuals that currently do not pay for their access to your school. Times change in education and most people will understand that you cannot always continue to offer facilities free-of-charge. In fact, I have worked with several schools who found that users were happy to start paying for facilities that were free in the past, as their contribution to the running and success of the school.

Advertising your offering

In order to maximise the earning potential of your buildings and grounds it will, of course, be necessary to advertise them as widely as possible. There are, however, many ways of doing this that will not cost you a penny and could lead on to some lucrative long-term relationships.

Your local Chamber of Trade is an excellent first place to start. This membership organisation is likely to have the majority of local businesses signed up, and they usually have well-maintained websites and newsletters where your school is likely to be treated sympathetically. You could even arrange to speak at one of their meetings, outlining the facilities your school has to offer and the associated fees.

A “menu of opportunity” often proves especially useful in this respect. This would also be an excellent place to start talking about wider school-business partnerships, and the benefits for both parties (I have previously written about business fundraising – see link at the end of this article).

Many parents/guardians are involved in businesses, and as soon as your offering has been formalised you should issue a letter to all students (copied to your website/social media of course), making sure the next point of contact is clear, as well as the benefits to your school.

Do not assume that potential users of your school’s facilities know what is on offer and how your facilities could relate to their activities. For example, it is a good idea to write to all local sports clubs explaining the benefit they could derive from your facilities. While you may not be able to provide a full-size, state-of-the-art football pitch, your gym equipment and space could prove really useful to a local team that cannot afford its own specialist equipment.

Case study

One school raised £3,200 by hosting a high-profile archery competition, which attracted more than 500 competitors and their supporters from across the region. Among the services offered by the school to the archers were the field for the archery events, hard-standing for caravans and camper vans/tents, access to water, washing and changing facilities, and communal indoor areas for competitors, marshals and administrators.

The field for the archery events was also used for a judges’ marquee, and had room for paying spectators. The school caretaker was on call throughout the weekend, and members of the school PTA ran a refreshment stall, which raised additional income. The school provided an ideal venue for the event, and excellent feedback was received from the competition organisers, enabling it to become an annual event in the school’s calendar, bringing with it a predictable and helpful income boost.

Fundraising – conclusions

This is the last in my series of practical articles designed to help you secure vital funds for your school. A link to all the pieces is available at the end of this article. Throughout the series I have tried to keep the key messages simple and consistent. In particular I think it is vital to recognise that:

  • Every school is capable of securing significant additional income from the hundreds of millions of pounds available nationally each year, but this will only happen through a strategic, targeted approach to fundraising.
  • The more time and focused attention your school places on fundraising, the more funds will be secured. But you will have to create the time for this important activity in your school.
  • Learning the strategies that successful schools have employed can fast-track you to the funds you need, and this series has focused in detail on such strategies.

We are living in tough times in education, with many schools struggling to make ends meet and with so many other financial and wider frustrations affecting their ability to offer the life-changing curriculum they want for children and young people. My experiences of working in school fundraising – and my parallel efforts to lead the debate about where we go next – are explored in detail in my books on fundraising and school improvement.

These experiences have taught me that schools really do have a choice about whether they are one of the haves or the have-nots. The inspirational work of so many schools has convinced me that every school can dramatically change its financial outlook with a business-like attitude to fundraising, and this will bring far-reaching benefits for students and the wider community.

Fundraising for schools is not easy, just as working as a teacher or a leader in a school is not easy. But of course none of us choose a career in schools because it is easy; we choose that route because we want to transform lives, and make a difference. Securing additional funds to offer the best possible education and opportunities for your students is just another way in which you can make that difference.

  • 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. Visit www.brinbest.com. To read Brin’s previous fundraising articles for SecEd, go to http://bit.ly/2CI3ZMU


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