Book review: The School Fundraising Handbook

Its title is a bit of a misnomer – but this book still offers an abundance of tips and ideas, writes Hilary Goldsmith

Book review: The School Fundraising Handbook by Lindsey Marsh

The School Fundraising Handbook

Author: Lindsey Marsh
Publisher: Crown House Publishing
Details: 224pp; £16.99
ISBN: 978-1785834264

The past five years have been pretty hellish for school funding – there can’t be many schools that haven’t felt the effects of decreasing income and rising overheads

There are really only two options open to schools needing to cope with a fall in per-pupil funding: decrease expenditure or increase income. Or both.

Many schools have had to undertake painful and damaging staffing restructures to make ends meet. They have reduced or cancelled external services, cut essential pastoral and administrative staff hours and stripped back vital support services beyond the bare minimum.

Few have been able to generate any significant additional income, primarily because of a perceived lack of external funding sources, the sheer number of schools chasing relatively small income streams and the complex and labour-intensive form-filling process required to access even the smallest of grants. 

What better time for a book to support schools in their own income generation? 

School funding pressures

Enter Lindsey Marsh with The School Fundraising Handbook, which tackles the tricky process of applying for grants and fundraising for specific projects and then summarises the advice given in the final section, which also contains a number of useful nuggets of information on fundraising in schools.

If you are expecting a masterclass on the intricacies of professional corporate fundraising, donor acquisition, the management of an alumnae body or a customer-relationship management database, or marketing for income generation, this isn’t it. 

There is little here for the experienced fundraising professional. In that respect, the book is something of a misnomer. 

There is also surprisingly little mention of the benefits of maximising a school or trust’s charitable status, which would have been a useful addition for many school business managers. Gift Aid, creating volunteering opportunities, advice on matching marketing plans to income streams and crowd-funding are also, surprisingly, omitted. 

So I must admit to being somewhat disappointed by a book that promises to be the handbook for fundraising in schools. 

Maybe my definition of fundraising is a little different from Crown House’s. But that’s OK and it doesn’t take away from the value of Marsh’s work. 

Fundraising ideas

Title aside, the book itself holds a wealth of information and advice for school business managers, senior school staff and headteachers

There is an abundance of ideas and tips on how to plan and manage projects efficiently and effectively, saving time and effort by getting straight to the heart of the project’s desired outcome: savings on expenditure.

So, while not technically devoted to fundraising additional income, the School Fundraising Handbook will certainly support schools in the effective use of resources, with the benefit of also signposting a number of potential grants and alternative methods of operating. Essential stuff indeed.

Marsh provides a number of project ideas, and walks through the planning and implementation process of each, from conception to completion. And she offers useful thinking points and questioning to steer the reader through a financially driven project plan. 

Sections on planning for school trips and holding department-specific fundraising events will be invaluable for the new head of department. And they will provide a complete and virtually foolproof template, which can be applied to many other school projects. 

Doing more for less

For those with no financial experience, there are many straightforward and practical tips on how to do more for less. 

In the later sections of the book, Marsh moves on to more general cost savings by exploring gardening, eco and recycling schemes, community projects and support and sponsorship from local businesses. 

These insights, which are most useful for primary schools, give useful ideas to those new to school management on how to engage with supporters and build beneficial relationships with the local community without a hard sell. Schools need to be careful of overfishing the pond when it comes to parental donations, so widening the support network is sensible advice.

Perhaps most useful is the guidance on completing grant applications. Marsh provides considered and shrewd advice on the value of research, in terms of bid criteria, supporting documentation and preparing accurate costings, but also in terms of sourcing the most appropriate body for a project to maximise success potential.

In all, despite the slightly misleading title, The School Fundraising Handbook is a useful tool for aspiring and new school business managers, headteachers and anyone who is seeking an insight into the world of self-generated school income. 

It’s packed with useful advice and tips and its “grab-and-go” sections are well designed to allow for dipping in and out, as the hectic school schedule allows.

Hilary Goldsmith is a school business leader at a Kent secondary school. She tweets at @sbl365


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