Do not rely on getting pennies from heaven

18th February 2000 at 00:00
Schools have long relied on their local community for cash to fund special projects, but now it's no longer a matter of sponsored swims or silences, reports Stephen Hoare.

WHEN St Joseph's RC high school, Horwich, near Bolton, decided to become a specialist sports college in 1998, it had just four months and four days to raise pound;100,000 in cash and pledges if it was to earn matched funding from the Department for Education and Employment.

Barry Lord, PE teacher and development director, looks back on that time with a mixture of pride and anxiety. "The money had to be in place by June 4 to make sure that all the hard work that went into the written bid wasn't wasted."

Headteacher Leo Conley won the backing of the local education authority and there was widespread support from feeder junior schools. St Joseph's, an 11 to 16 secondary with 803 pupils, decided to go all out to raise money. In the end, it slightly exceeded the target, money coming in through company sponsorship, individual donations, pledges and deeds of covenant.

More than 25 per cent of the money came from parents.

As they were raising so much money from the private sector, the school went to great lengths to avoid sleaze in the form of donations in return for

construction contracts or building materials. Mr Lord says: "We ran an ethical campaign. It was all clean money. There were no promises of sales or services - no ties with suppliers."

He stopped teaching to spearhead the campaign. The school had no qualms in hiring a supply teacher to cover his classes for the four months it took to steer the talks through. And it hired Sue Marsden of the Professional Fundraisers Conultancy to guide the fundraisers, giving practical hands-on assistance.

Reflecting on a successful, if at times heart-stopping, campaign, Mr Lord says:

"We were very lucky. At the end of the day, you can do everything right but you can still fail to meet the target."

The Professional Fundraising Consultancy, established 12 years ago, has seen a recent sharp increase in school

fundraising activities. Over the past three years, it has run courses in more than 500 schools, a series of masterclasses and has worked with more than 60 schools.

Last autumn, the consultancy ran its second one-day fundraising conference at the University of Manchester, attracting 75

delegates from all over the

country.

"This was not an isolated

discussion group at an education conference - it was a real

in-depth focus on the issues. We are bringing schools together to share their experiences of fundraising. They learn from each other," said Ms Marsden.

Among the topics explored were lottery funding bids, applying for specialist college status, and developing business links. There were even demonstrations of specialist database software which some schools are now using to track parents, alumni and local business donors.

But according to Ms Marsden, the concerns boiled down to a

single issue: lack of information. "Information just isn't freely available. Specialist colleges are a case in point. Every school that has raised the money keeps its cards close to its chst," she said.

PFC advises on any fundraising project costing a few

thousand pounds right up to a million. Ms Marsden adds: "That was my biggest schools project - it was a sports centre for Claremont Fancourt school in Esher."

There is no magic formula for raising money. How much a school can raise depends less on how deep parents' pockets are, than on the nature of the appeal and its ability to win support. "It's nothing to do with what sector the school belongs to," Ms Marsden says. "Some private schools are hopeless at fundraising and some state schools are very successful. But they need to understand what will work for them, whether it is raising money from parents, former pupils, local charitable trusts, company donations, events, sponsorship, or deeds of covenant."

Her approach is to advise schools when and how to launch fundraising and how to co-ordinate all the activities. No-nos include approaching local businesses with a begging bowl and not offering them anything in return. A long-term relationship with sponsors is crucial and will involve links at every level from the headteacher and managing director down. Most companies need to feel they are genuinely involved in the school and the community - an approach which could also involve some sort of discreet sponsorship - a company logo on school prospectuses, for example.

But schools can also get it wrong by saturating parents with demands for money. Ms Marsden advises: never launch a deed of covenant at the same time as a sponsored event as

people will either give to one or the other, but rarely both.

A good administrator to run the appeal is vital. If a school can afford it, this should be a temporary appointment. Experience of running a charity is not necessarily an advantage.

Christine Hemstock,

marketing and development director for Stockport grammar school, will shortly take on the mantle of fundraiser. She believes the two roles are

complementary.

"Good relations are essential. We're aiming to be part of the local community and involve our neighbours as much as possible." Allowing community groups access to school facilities, such

as a swimming pool, costs the school very little but is part of promoting active community and business links which could benefit the school.

Professional Fundraising

Consultancy. Tel: 01204 669265

HOW TO PLAN YOUR FUNDRAISING

Decide on a suitable project. Raising money for something like a computer suite or a sports hall that will benefit all pupils will widen

support for your appeal.

Draw up detailed plans - and detailed costs. You cannot say: "We're planning to build a sports hall, it will probably cost half a

million."

Don't operate on a shoestring. Raising money the professional way will cost you. The PFC consultancy reckons schools should be looking at investing 5 per cent of what they are hoping to raise in paying a full-time fundraiser or arranging supply cover.

Make it happen! The project you are raising money for has to be in the near future.

Set a completion date for the project as close as possible to the appeal - - within a year if possible.


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