As school budgets tighten, many school leaders are turning to fundraising and bid-writing to raise extra money to provide special educational and training opportunities for their pupils and staff.
For those getting to grips with fundraising for the very first time, as well as seasoned fundraisers embarking on new projects, school fundraising can be a daunting task. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be. With a considered and organised approach, anyone can turn their efforts into a successful fundraising campaign.
What do you want to achieve?
In order to be a successful fundraiser, you need to know what you want to achieve. A fundraising vision helps with this because it looks to the future and shapes the direction your school will take.
It should communicate a brighter future and fully engage the support of your school community. It should also be something that you can realistically achieve in the next three to five years.
For example, if you have a particular interest in the arts, enterprise, healthy living, sport or music, then this may provide you with that vision.
You may wish to provide new opportunities or experiences for the school community which they would otherwise not have access to, or to develop skills and raise pupil attainment through special projects under that vision.
Knowing exactly what you want to achieve and why you are doing it will help you to explain its importance to others and garner their support. This will give your fundraising efforts momentum.
Have a fundraising strategy
It is important to have a fundraising strategy in place to direct your activities and ensure you achieve what you set out to do. Accordingly, many schools find that having a fundraising strategy considerably improves their fundraising success. It helps them to understand more clearly what is unique about their funding needs and how they can go about making a difference.
A fundraising strategy, then, should set out your fundraising goals, identify strategic relationships, specify your key strengths, define your priorities according to need, and assign the roles and responsibilities of your fundraising team.
This will help you take a considered, organised and professional approach to fundraising, and ensure that your efforts are consistent, focused and, ultimately, generate results every time.
Don’t think you’re alone
You do not have to fundraise alone – in fact, fundraising as part of a team is an enjoying and exciting experience and the process benefits from the sharing of creative ideas and expertise.
Given that fundraising encompasses such a broad range of tasks, from organising fundraising events to filling in grant applications, it lends itself to the delegation of tasks, matching them to the people that best fit the skill sets that you require.
For those of you who do not have a fundraising team to hand, there are plenty of opportunities to participate in online communities with like-minded fundraisers. Have a look at the forums available at UK Fundraising and the Institute of Fundraising websites for two examples of how joining in discussions can boost your fundraising know-how (see further information for the links).
Do your research
From the arts and music, to school buildings and the outdoors, there are hundreds of funding opportunities out there that can make a real difference to your school community. You just need to find them and ensure that you are requesting help from the right funder – to save you, and the funder, time and effort.
Most funders have a website which includes details of their charitable objectives, eligibility criteria for funding, and application guidance notes. This information is publicly available, so make sure that you investigate it thoroughly because it will help you identify funders that share your fundraising vision and have experience in the areas you have prioritised for support.
It is always a good idea to pick up the telephone and speak directly to a funder, if the opportunity is made available to you. By doing this, you can gain initial feedback on your project ideas and insider knowledge on current funding priorities.
Making contact helps you to introduce your project to the funder and identify common ground. Just make sure that you are prepared to answer any questions they may have.
Consult your local community
It is crucial that you allocate time to understanding your own situation. Knowing about your school community and the needs of pupils, teaching staff, families and local community members will help you design, develop and implement a fundraising campaign which is meaningful to all those involved.
The research that you undertake will also prove invaluable when it comes to bid-writing. Making a case for funding based on how your project will make a real difference to the people who will benefit from it, rather than rehearsing general commentary on issues within the education sector, will undoubtedly increase your chances of fundraising success.
You will be able to show how your work has been shaped by what people have told you and you have their input and support to ensure the project is a success.
Capitalise on your strengths
Being able to draw on a track record of success is important for any fundraising campaign, especially if you are engaging in bid-writing and requesting financial support from funders for the first time.
You may wish to draw on current educational initiatives in school, awards that you have won, findings from pilot studies or research that you have undertaken, key relationships you have developed with other schools or organisations, or past projects that have already been successfully funded – anything that demonstrates a commitment to excellence.
For example, your school may have a track record in providing sporting opportunities for the local community during after-school clubs and special sports open days. This can provide you with a strong evidence base that demonstrates community uptake and support for your work, which you can build on when writing a funding bid. By doing this, you will present your organisation as credible, competent and capable of making your project a real success, and therefore worthy of the financial support of a funder.
Consider working together
Many school leaders are finding that working together in a cluster of schools is making a significant contribution to their fundraising success. Given that it is not possible for every school to have the luxury of a dedicated fundraiser in-house, the opportunity to share knowledge, resources and bid-writing expertise that clustering offers is a great way to begin to address this.
In turn, it is the case that some schools are working on collaborative projects and submitting bids on behalf of the cluster. This is particularly appealing to funders because the benefits of the project or activity go beyond one individual school, by having the potential to spread across geographical areas and reach different groups of beneficiaries.
Don’t be too negative
You should try to avoid doom and gloom when describing your situation. A situation so hopeless is unlikely to receive the support of a funder. This is because it will be deemed too risky for support.
For the fundraiser, then, it is a matter of striking a balance; you need to prove that there is need for your project while maintaining an optimistic outlook for the future of your school.
Funders need to be reassured that you represent a fully competent and experienced organisation capable of making your project a success. One way of ensuring this is to reflect on what makes your school a success in its own right.
Don’t rush a funding bid
Applying for funding can sometimes be a balancing act of deadlines; your bid-writing must fit the timetable of your funder and coincide with a time that your school is ready to implement the funding.
You also need to take into consideration how long it is going to take you to write a funding bid. It is crucial that you allocate sufficient time to plan your project, draft your application, review it and made edits.
This is likely to take longer than you first anticipate. Missing a deadline or submitting a half-baked application can damage your relationship with a funder. Late applications are also most likely to be rejected.
Don’t be afraid to ask
It is as simple as this: if you do not make a request, then you cannot expect to receive any support. Try asking local businesses and shops, community members, and alumni to contribute towards your fundraising campaign.
This could be in the form of a cash grant or in-kind support, such as the donation of equipment, resources or professional services – a little can go a long way to achieving your fundraising vision.
Rachel Gordon is senior fundraising consultant for School Fund Finder at Pebble. She also writes for SecEd’s sister title Fundraising for Schools.
Fundraising for SchoolsSecEd’s sister title Fundraising for Schools is a monthly magazine offering detailed information on the range of financial grants and awards that schools can access. It includes best practice on applying for grants as well as advice and ideas for school fundraising. Visit www.fundraisingschools.co.uk