Independent schools benefit from sweet charity

Professional fundraising nets 24 institutions more than #163;1m each

Irena Barker

Independent schools are enjoying a fundraising boom, with the number raising more than #163;1 million in a year reaching an all-time high, a study has revealed.

Experts say schools are ploughing efforts into fundraising as they come under pressure to limit fee increases during the economic downturn, provide more bursaries to poorer children and keep up in the facilities "arms race". Schools are increasingly adopting US-style fundraising techniques, where dedicated officers build relationships with parents and alumni to ensure a steady stream of income on top of fees.

The latest study from accountancy firm Crowe Clark Whitehill showed that the 522 participating independent schools raised #163;92.9 million in donations in 2011, up from #163;77 million in 2009 and #163;89.3 million in 2010. Of the top fundraisers in 2010-11, Eton College raised #163;5.2 million and Harrow School more than #163;7 million. In total, the number of schools raising more than #163;1 million each rose to a record 24 last year, recovering from a low of just 12 in 2009, at the height of the banking crisis. A further 69 schools raised more than #163;200,000 each in 2011.

The findings come after the Independent Schools Council announced last month that pupil numbers in its schools had risen for the first time since the credit crunch in 2008.

Tim Baines, author of the study, said schools had done well to boost fundraising levels. "It is down to an increasing professionalism in their approach and the employment of dedicated staff," he said. "Gone are the days when you would just get a teacher to go and raise the old boys' network."

Ian McLean, director of development at Millfield School in Somerset and a former chair of the Institute for Development Professionals in Education, which supports school fundraisers, said membership of the organisation had grown from just 10 to about 300 in a decade.

"There's now a plethora of development officers, with schools much more aware of building closer relationships with the school community, with parents and former students," said Mr McLean. "As well as wanting to increase their ability to fund more scholarships and bursaries, schools are constantly looking to improve their facilities even in tough economic times."

Dr Martin Stephen, director of education at the Gems chain of private schools, oversaw huge fundraising operations when he was high master at Manchester Grammar and St Paul's School in London. "The US pattern of fundraising is coming across the Atlantic fast," he said. "People are understanding you have to spend money to make money."

Janet Walker, the bursar at Eton, said fundraising was vital as the school's running costs were only just covered by fees.

"We do not feel it is equitable to ask current fee-paying parents to subsidise those who cannot afford full fees," she added. "We therefore rely mainly on donations and income from our endowment funds to provide scholarships and bursaries."

However, the report highlighted a strong contrast between the fundraising success of boarding and day schools. While only a small handful of boarding schools that employed fundraising staff failed to make a profit, 30 per cent of day schools failed to make money in 2010-2011. Some of this could just be due to "start-up issues," the report suggested.

Hilary Moriarty, national director of the Boarding Schools' Association, said the ethos of "giving something back" was already deeply embedded in many schools. "The conviction that fundraising should be a serious and legitimate element in financing a school's operation has been imported from the States," she said. "This kind of reliance on fundraising would be unlikely in the UK, but the trend of expecting a return for a school from those it has helped to well-salaried occupations is definitely growing."

The Donations

24 schools raised more than #163;1 million each in 2011

69 private schools raised more than #163;200,000 each in 2011

#163;92.9m - Total donations to 522 independent schools in 2011

40% - Total of fundraising income spent on bursaries

Source: 2012 National Independent Schools' Benchmarking Survey.

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Irena Barker

Irena Barker is a freelance journalist.

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