Getting organised for effective fundraising

In this issue, Lindsey Lester explores what systems and resources a school should have in place for effective fundraising

I am not going to profess to being a successful fundraiser but as I am in the process of completing a 200k lottery bid I thought I would write about the complications of fundraising (I have not found it easy!), how fundraising is happening in my own school, what grants are available and where to look for them. This article will be in two parts and for those SBMs who, like me, have the responsibility of fundraising, I hope it will be of some use to you (when you get the time).

On the subject of time, one of the most significant problems that I encounter with fundraising is ‘Where do you get the time?' I find it difficult to get staff and governors to understand that fundraising is not as easy as it appears and that it can take a considerable amount of time not only in completing bid applications, but the coordination beforehand, especially as I still have the rest of my job to get on with, such as finance, improvement planning, restructuring (we are going through this at the moment), HR, health and safety, premises and facilities, exams, school visits, etc.

Grants are highly competitive and you do need to ensure that you give enough time to the planning and preparation of your proposal. Make sure that it is concise, persuasive and meets the grant maker's goals and objectives. More importantly, ensure that your writing is in ‘layman's terms'. Do not take it for granted that the decision makers will be knowledgeable of your project content. I gave my first proposal to my husband to read and he didn't understand it, which meant that the grant maker wouldn't necessarily understand it either.

At the moment my fundraising is very ad hoc and I do wonder if it would be better if the school were able to appoint a full- or part-time person to focus on fundraising and coordinate projects. This coordinator would then have the time to be looking to the future and not missing the opportunities that are out there. However, on a selfish note, I do enjoy this type of work, as I enjoy the challenge, so I would be loath to hand over this responsibility, but in reality I know that it makes sense to employ someone who can dedicate their time to searching and applying for grants. With the economic climate as it is, I know that school budgets are going to be tight, but a school could consider the possibility of employing a fundraising coordinator on a commission basis, which can be very lucrative not only for the school, but also for the fundraiser. If a school does decide to take this option, then the coordinator should go through the usual recruitment procedures and have a clearly defined job description, which would include the commission percentage and expectations of the fundraiser. It would be particularly helpful if the coordinator were a member of the SLT, but if not then they should at least have a nominated member of the SLT who has regular contact with them, and if possible also have access to the headteacher, governors and school business manager.

The next stage, and this is only my opinion (any experienced fundraisers out there are welcome to offer advice here), would be to determine what fundraising activities the school actually wants. Of course there are the normal events such as fetes, non uniform days, mini marathons, raffles, etc, and your school might prefer to leave it at that, but even with the current economic climate as it is, there are still large numbers of grants up for grabs, though not as much as there used to be, and the competition is extremely high.

Funding ideas will come through new initiatives and ideas that have arisen from staff and students. It would be wise to establish a fundraising committee to assist the school in being clear of their fundraising priorities, and we are currently in the process of establishing such a committee. The membership of this committee could consist of the SBM, the fundraising coordinator (if you have one, and they would probably lead the meeting), communities officer (in our school this person is in regular contact with local community groups, stakeholders, extended services, etc), a member of the teaching staff, a governor, a student and a member of the parent, teacher and friends association. In our school the PTFA are particularly important, as they have charity status, which can be a bonus when applying for grants. The reasoning behind instigating this committee was that on a couple of occasions I have applied for large grants, only to be told we were not eligible as we had recently applied and were successful in a small grant application. In future, all school funding requests will be handled by myself and then the fundraising committee, and more often than not will be for specific projects that have been identified within the school development plan. This will then stop the ‘crossover' of funding applications to the same organisation. Fundraising actually reinforces the importance of linking the budget with the school development plan, as it highlights areas where fundraising can support the school.

We are all aware of the words ‘strategy' and ‘planning' when we are planning for the future and school improvement, but they are also vital to the success of any fundraising that you are undertaking. Just as you have a school development plan, the school should have a fundraising development plan, particularly as it pertains not only to your fundraising but also your budget. The plan should be as diversified as possible and should be determined by the objectives, costs, resources, priorities, responsibilities and timelines originating from your long-term strategic plan. I consider mine to be a ‘living' document that will be evaluated, monitored and changed according to what is happening within the school's priorities. The plan should also include the school's values, purposes, hopes and dreams, as you never know what grants will arise that could be relevant to your goals.

If, like me, you have been nominated the person responsible for fundraising and are a total novice, then I suggest that you go on a course. There are numerous ones out there. I have attended a couple of courses and found them to be very informative, but the best one so far was when I was invited to attend a course connected to my own lottery bid on ‘planning and preparing your local food application' with the National Lottery. (I'm about to send off my completed bid application.) It gave me a better understanding of what constitutes a fundable application and I became aware of how to avoid common pitfalls and reasons why bids are rejected, such as:

  • weak community consultation
  • core costs and/or existing activities included in the budget
  • poor financial planning with a weak budget
  • didn't meet the overall aims of the grant
  • ‘weak and woolly' - project delivery vague
  • weak sustainability
  • project does not address disadvantage
  • lack of identified need
  • poor value for money
  • not innovative.

I did find it useful to have to hand copies of our old applications that the school had completed, even though there weren't many, and those that we did have were mainly small bids. They did come in handy as they gave me some idea on how to present a bid application. I don't think there's any magical secret to writing bids from what I can see, just that you have to customise each application to suit the specific criteria. Always get a copy of your grant guidelines, well in advance - I have always found them to be readily available from the beginning of any of my enquiries, in fact.

On one occasion I got too carried away with the excitement of finding a grant that was ideal for a project, that I just completed the application form and only then found that because I hadn't read the guidelines, the project didn't really fit after all. I had basically wasted a lot of time and it was a learning experience that I won't forget.

Fundraising, though, doesn't just happen and the whole school should be proactive in alerting the fundraiser to any specific funding opportunities. This isn't happening in my school and as I want to cultivate a whole-school ethos on fundraising I aim to give a presentation at the next whole-staff meeting.

In my next article I will explore writing and completion of an application bid, budget and research.