Philippa White looks at how a support assistant became initiated into the art of fundraising through a new course
A tombola stall, Christmas and Easter fairs, the odd bag-packing day at the supermarket - Sue Harston is quick to admit that her past fundraising efforts have been "low key".
But the support assistant at Beaumont Hill special school in Darlington has just taken a new online course in school fundraising and is a changed woman.
"My enthusiasm for fundraising has gone up 100 per cent!" she says.
Since finishing the course in September she has put in a bid to Children in Need for the school to buy a pound;28,000 minibus, as well as raising money for the community football team and the local air ambulance.
The minibus grant, which would allow pupils to participate in outdoor education, is a trial, Mrs Harston says. If it goes well, the staff at the school can put their imaginations into overdrive.
"I had no idea how many (grant-making) trusts existed before I went on the course," she says. "We've got a lot of ideas in school, but not the money to carry them out. This will give us the opportunity to do them."
The source of Mrs Harston's new expertise is the certificate in school fundraising course, run by tutor Louise Germaney who last year set up Fundraising Skills Ltd, a specialist training company based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Ms Germaney, a member of the Institute of Fundraising, has spent 10 years in the business, including a year for the National Lottery as a grant assessor specialising in school projects.
She then worked for East Sussex education authority running classroom-based fundraising training courses for heads, governors, and parent-teacher associations from 200 schools.
Last year she set up an online course, accredited by the Open College Network, to make her expertise more widely available.
The certificate costs pound;350, takes six weeks, and runs four times a year with a maximum of 15 schools. Participants commit to working two to three hours a week and have to produce three items of assessed work. They can chat to each other via an online message board.
The course can be studied on a school or home computer, and scheduled around a teacher's or other staff member's existing commitments.
Parents contribute more than pound;200 million a year towards basic school needs such as books and teachers' salaries, so fundraising is not going to go away says Ms Germaney.
"Heads shouldn't be looking for a professional fundraiser - they should be training someone who they directly manage. This course is going to give someone the skills to support the head and the governing body for years."
Ms Germaney, who still assesses grants for a local community foundation, says schools make several common mistakes when bidding for cash. Their bids lack evidence of need, and of partnership. They are riddled with educational jargon. And the accompanying budgets are unrealistic.
The first five weeks of the course tackle these problems with three assessments involving writing a letter to a charitable fund, assessing a lottery bid, and examining a budget in detail. Week six looks at how to manage a successful project: what to do when the cheque arrives.
Sharon Sugar, a teaching assistant in Brunswick Park primary in Southgate, north London, took the course in November. She has used her new skills to negotiate company donations in the form of large discounts on a playground traversing wall, an internal mural, and a drama company visit.
"It boosted my confidence," she says. "I learned to use a much more positive approach, to keep it simple, and to be upfront about the money we had to spend."
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, agrees the course would be useful for schools wanting to start serious fundraising, but regrets the complexity of funding options.
"The Government ought to be able to present this information to schools free of charge," he says. "It's a sad commentary that what should be available to heads and governors is simply not there in any sensible or central location."