When St Lawrence Church of England Primary in Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex, was given a Department for Education grant to construct the two classrooms that had been on the drawing board for some time, I agreed to chair an appeal committee to raise the 15 per cent contribution governing bodies of voluntary-aided schools are required to make to building projects. This is about how we raised Pounds 35,000 in just eight months.
Each member of our committee contributed skills relevant to the project. Publicity advertised our campaign but also promoted our various fundraising activities. For this we secured the services of a parent with his own printing business. Similarly, a parentbanker joined us to maximise the tax efficient ways by which contributions could be made.
The anticipated involvement of village traders and commercial interests demanded committee members who were respected by local businesses. Liaison skills were vital for us to be able to work in harmony with community groups, charities and the parent-teacher association, thereby avoiding duplication of events. We recognised the importance of attention to detail, especially writing thank you letters. But identifying and employing the skills to produce an effective committee was fundamental to the success of our campaign.
Our strategy was simple: we could only find the money through community fundraising and capital donations. Of the two, community support took priority in the early stages - our approach to educational trusts and corporate donors would lack credibility until we could demonstrate firm local commitment to our appeal.
The fundraising programme was carefully designed to attract a wide and varied cross-section of the community. We used the usual old favourites, including an auction of promises, raffles, quiz nights, sponsored events and so on with dances and concerts to provide cash and evidence of community involvement.
Being a Church of England school, we relied heavily on the support of the Church and were grateful to the Parochial Church Council for its generosity in sharing the profits from its charity shop with us throughout the appeal period.
On reflection, I now realise that the daunting prospect of finding Pounds 35,000 from nowhere was made easier by the overwhelming encouragement of the village, parish council, parents, church, Diocesan schools office and director of education. However, throughout the campaign we were extremely conscious of the dangers of putting excessive pressure on these groups, especially parents, thereby jeopardising the goodwill that was so vital if we were to succeed.
It was not until the programme was firmly established that we embarked on the direct approach to trusts and corporate donors. Only then did I realise that I had completely underestimated the number of requests these organisations receive. Worse, I had failed to recognise that grant applications are often submitted two, or even three, years in advance. I consulted the guides to major trusts and companies and wrote innumerable letters. I cannot over-emphasise the importance of submitting clear, concise and factual letters of application.
When we did attract assistance from an educational trust, our application was considered thoroughly by very knowledgeable trustees. We gave them a presentation at the school with an accurate assessment of progress to date and a direct request for a specific sum based on our research into the trust itself.
Both parties had done their homework and the negotiations were the more productive as a result.
We approached companies with community affairs departments. We unashamedly used contacts introduced by parents and friends of the school, and cultivated the local newspapers and radio to gain maximum publicity for our corporate sponsors. But we never took our benefactors for granted and deliberately made them feel important and an integral part of an exciting campaign.
We succeeded because we were an enthusiastic committee with appropriate skills, we approached our task in a professional manner, we sought funds from the entire local community and we used that support to justify our application to trusts and industry.
Attention to detail and keeping strict control over the management of the campaign were vital to our success. But above all, we were prepared for the hard work that was involved - and had a lot of fun in the process.
David Campion is a farmer and agricultural consultant and has set up a series of workshops on fundraising with the Charities Information Service, Sussex (CISS). Tel: 01273 387381