School fundraising programs are becoming increasingly important as government investment in education continues to fall short of the needs of our educational establishments. As schools realize that sponsored walks and no-uniform days only bring in a trickle of cash, fundraising programs are becoming more sophisticated and more ambitious. So how do you go about raising enough funds for a new library, sports hall or school bus?
Firstly, you need to throw out all your old ideas about school fundraising and start approaching your proposal as a business project. Be realistic: to raise significant amounts of money you will have to make some initial investment. Organize a school fundraising committee and make sure members are clear that they will need to invest some time and effort in order to have any return. Allocate tasks to members and set up regular dates for meetings. Register the committee as a charity. This offers an independently recognized platform from which to work and more importantly, allows you to benefit from gift aid (to reclaim tax on donations) and minimize your tax liability.
Your first task should be to produce a feasibility study and business plan with a detailed budget. This will be the basis for all your applications and give direction to your appeal. Research what funds you could possibly access from the central government, the lottery, or in Europe , from the EU, and find out if your school is in an area ear-marked for any kind of special funding. Although these national funds may look promising, you will need to meet very specific criteria, wade through a sea of bureaucracy, and be extremely patient. These bodies are inundated with applications and to have any hope of success you will have to make a particularly strong case for funding and try to make your project stand out from the rest.
In general you will be much better off sticking with more immediate contacts. Professional fundraisers work on the premise that 80% of funding for major projects comes from close corporate or local contacts. National businesses or multinational corporations will receive countless applications for funds. Your local branch is a better bet and will have a vested interest in your project. Send out a form to all parents asking them to identify their corporate contacts and connections to any well-known local political, business or media figures. Ruthlessly exploit connections to anyone in a position to donate money.
Make sure you tailor any pitch you make to the interests of the person or business involved. If you are hoping to raise funds for a new sports hall, look for connections with well-known sports personalities, clothing manufacturers or coaches and managers. Always illustrate the benefits of investing in your project. What will they gain in return? Could they place their logo on the floor or have banner ads on the seating? Make sure you sell the proposition as something that will be mutually beneficial.
Try to set up a corporate partnership as this will be of much more benefit in the long term. The company may like to sponsor the building or vehicle or may be willing to make donations-in-kind such as staff secondment. One of your greatest problems will be finding time to do all the work involved in fundraising for a major project. Having an extra pair of hands available for one day a week, or having an accountant to keep on top of book-keeping would be an enormous help. Corporate partners may also be willing to set up a system of payroll donation, where employees donate a small sum from their gross income each month tax free. Initiatives like this can increase staff motivation and are a very tax efficient way of giving to charity. You may also be able to persuade the company to match the employee donations. Alternatively think up novel ideas like asking employees to buy a brick for any building projects. Again be sure to spell out the benefits for donors.
Don't sit back once you've found one corporate partner: try to get several on board. The first is the most difficult to find. Once you have convinced one donor to get involved this will make others more confident in investing and may enable you to apply for match-funding from charitable funds or government bodies. If your school's parents and teachers don't have time to commit to the project you may also want to consider using a professional fundraiser. They will be able to identify funding sources quickly and will have a good knowledge of what funds are available. Look for independent advice when choosing a fundraiser and always check their references.
Once money starts coming in, make sure you keep accounts of everything you spend or receive. You'll need these for feedback to donors and for the Inland Revenue.