Securing funds from businesses

Written by: Brin Best | Published:
Image: iStock

Continuing his recent series of fundraising advice articles, Brin Best looks at how schools should engage with business – both locally and further afield – in order to raise funds and attract other support

Although schools across the UK have become much more business-like in their operation over recent years, most have yet to harness the full potential of local, regional and national businesses to inject much-needed funds and additional expertise into their provision.

This article will provide practical advice, based on the work of successful schools, that will allow your school to carry out positive actions to secure a fairer share of the hundreds of millions of pounds on offer every year from businesses.

Diverse thinking

One of the things that holds schools back in their quest for business funding is the fact that their views on how businesses can provide support are often very narrow, and frequently out-of-date. Many schools are still focusing on asking businesses for raffle prizes or supporting them in other low-key ways that do not reflect the need to create the long-term partnerships that can bring benefits to both sides. Successful and sustainable fundraising from businesses occurs when schools give careful consideration to the many diverse ways in which support can be gained from the business community, including “in-kind” support and free materials. It is also vital to consider a range of geographical scales, targeting local, regional and national businesses as appropriate. Most schools tend to focus on the local, missing out on the more significant funding available from larger businesses operating beyond their immediate areas.

Key personnel

Your fundraising coordinator should take the lead in working with businesses to secure income for your school, but other people need to play their role too. In particular your headteacher and a representative from your governors should be available for key meetings, and to provide input to important paperwork outlining partnerships with businesses.

It can also be very useful to bring on board a member of staff who themselves has experience of working in business, perhaps from a previous job. The language that business people speak can be quite different from that used in education, and having someone on the team that can talk, understand and interpret that language is invaluable.

Your school will be much more successful in gaining funds from businesses if your fundraising coordinator can spend time out and about in your community, talking to business owners and explaining the various ways in which businesses can help your school.

Do not expect businesses to come looking for you; it is vital that you seek them out and provide a “menu of opportunity” showing the various ways in which they can engage with you. This point also underlines the need for your fundraising coordinator to have quality time, away from other responsibilities, to focus purely on fundraising activities.

It is deluded to think that a school can access meaningful sums of money by somebody working on fundraising in the scraps of time left over at the end of a busy week. Yet I still come across schools that are trying to do exactly that.

Ethical considerations

Engaging with businesses in your community will bring you into contact with all manner of companies offering different goods and services, but would you want your school’s name to be associated with all of them? This is a question that needs to be asked to ensure that your school is sending out the right messages, consistent with its values.

For example, it would not be credible for a school to accept money from a company marketing tobacco or alcohol, but what about a fast-food company or a crisp/confectionery manufacturer? Or a law company specialising in family breakdown cases? And how would your community react if you took money from a political party?

There are many ethical considerations to think through, and some schools have received much negative publicity for accepting money from sources that their community felt were inappropriate. It therefore pays to think these things through in advance, and agree some ethical parameters for your business fundraising.

Case study: Business database

One school was able to create a very useful database of their parents’ and guardians’ professions during a student review evening, that led on to a series of lucrative contacts with local businesses.

A stall was set-up during the evening, manned by the school’s fundraising coordinator, with the banner “Can you help us transform our school?”. Parents/guardians were invited to add their names, contact details and job titles/areas of work to the database. The school found that they were very willing to add their names to the database, and this resulted in several new contacts being made that would not have been possible otherwise.
This included a partnership with a company that made wind turbines, managed by a parent, which enabled the school to install its own turbine, thereby reducing electricity costs.

Case study: In-kind support

A school secured £10,000 of in-kind support from an IT design company based in their region as part of a programme of works to improve ICT at the school. The school identified the need for two new ICT suites to be built, but needed help in how to maximise the hardware and software used.
Several exploratory meetings were held with firms based in the region, and one company decided to offer free consultancy to the school, up to the value of £10,000. The school was delighted to save money and secure the services of a recognised expert in the field. In return, the company was able to gain valuable experience in a specific school context, which it could use in future marketing pitches.

Case study: Financial support

A highly enterprising school was able to gain £100,000 in additional income thanks to an innovative partnership with a national mobile phone company, which saw students provide input to the next generation of smartphones. A chance meeting at an education conference between a teacher and a high-level representative from the phone company resulted in a series of development meetings between the school and the company, where the benefits for both sides were explored. Three months later a major deal was signed, bringing the six figure sum to the school and allowing the company to benefit from the creative minds of young mobile phone users.

Twelve ideas for your school

  • Get local businesses to sponsor your school newsletter, magazine or website through mini-adverts.
  • Ask businesses to provide in-kind support for your projects. Their expertise could be as valuable as their pounds.
  • Ask local shops and pubs to have a collecting box on the counter for loose change. This can quickly add up to a meaningful amount.
  • Ask former students who now run local businesses to sponsor a series of achievement awards for students.
  • Find a company to provide a one-off donation in return for having a new room or facility named after them.
  • Find local kit sponsors for your school football, hockey strips etc.
  • Approach companies who can supply essential materials such as stationery, ICT consumables etc. Any donations that save you from spending money allow you to use those funds elsewhere.
  • Request support in organising your next fundraising event from somebody within a local business with project management expertise. It is surprising what a professional project manager can show you about organising an event efficiently.
  • Ask a well-known entrepreneur to speak in your school and sell tickets for the event. People could bring in cakes to make the event more enticing.
  • Invite your biggest local football, rugby, hockey or cricket team to lead a coaching day in your school.
  • Ask your local Chamber of Trade to organise a meeting at which you will speak about funding partnership opportunities at your school.
  • Invite specialist speakers from businesses to provide enrichment to lessons (e.g. an engineer to provide wider perspectives in STEM).

Concluding thoughts

The most helpful change that you can make, when considering how to increase funding from businesses, is to focus more energy on considering what the business can gain from your school, rather than dwelling on what you can get from them. All the most successful examples of business-school collaborations are mutually beneficial partnerships, where both parties are focused on what can be achieved together. For example, many businesses struggle to find cost-effective training venues that are large enough to accommodate all their employees, yet schools often have a hall (or other large spaces) that would be ideal and which are not always continually in use during the school day.

Thinking creatively – and in a spirit of cooperation with local businesses – will ensure that the opportunities of working with business are fully realised by your school, thereby bringing significant benefit to your students and the wider community.

  • 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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