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7 things state school Heads need to know about fundraising….

by Susie Hills | Jun 26, 2018 | Fundraising

If you are Head of a state school you won’t have much time to read this so here are the 7 things you need to know about fundraising….

1. If Independent schools can do it, so can you They often focus fundraising on capital projects and scholarships and bursaries. They make the case that funds are needed to go above and beyond what fee income can provide –for amazing new facilities or to enable kids whose families can’t afford the fees to benefit from the education they offer. On average they raise £667k per year, 25 schools raise £1m+ a year.

So why can’t state schools similarly make such a case and make it with more urgency? We all know our state schools are chronically underfunded and are cutting the very things that are urgently needed – like special needs provision and pastoral care. We know that capital funding for new science labs etc. is harder to come by. We know that good state schools are vital to our communities and the economy. We also surely know, whether we like it or not, that state funding is not going to increase substantially any time soon. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicted an eight percent real-terms cut in school budgets by 2020. Some state schools are developing their fundraising, particularly state grammar schools who are raising on average £212k per year.

2. You will never sell enough cakes Whilst having a PTA or ‘Friends Of’ group who organise cake sales and quizzes may be great way to reach out to parents, encourage involvement and build bridges with the local community, this kind of fundraising won’t deliver transformational changes to the school. At best it will provide lots of things that you would love but can’t afford – bits of kit and help with school trips. I don’t mean to downplay the significant role that PTA fundraising plays in the life of a school; some raise thousands and create a buzzing atmosphere of family involvement. But with budgets as tight as they are for state schools this type of fundraising isn’t going to get the tough stuff done…

3. It’s not all about parents Independent schools raise significant sums from their alumni. Their pupils also benefit from their alumni in other ways – careers advice, work placements, mentoring, inspiration…. You will have alumni who have gone on to do fascinating things, have impact and make money. By building an alumni network you can not only raise funds but also boost your school’s results across the board and unleash an army of powerful, supportive advocates – we all need that in these challenging times. Check out Future First. Their mission is to “see every state school and college in the UK supported by a thriving and engaged alumni community.”

And beyond your alumni community there will be local individuals, trusts and companies who will want to see their local school thrive and who will be willing, and able, to provide funds.

4. It requires professionalism Most independent secondary schools have paid fundraisers working to raise money from parents and alumni, and there is an emerging trend in state schools to do likewise. Most Universities also went through this journey 20 years ago, and much of their experience is relevant to the situation schools find themselves in.

Like anything else in your school, professionalism pays and without dedicated staff it’s hard to move beyond the realms of PTA fundraising. Whether you hire a fundraiser or outsource it to a fundraising consultancy – both routes have their pros and cons – the reality is you need to invest to get good returns.

You will also have to be clear about who is fundraising and how you claim gift aid – you might wish to direct donations through a charity/foundation which is connected to the school or through the PTA which is a registered charity. Good governance, professional handling of gifts and appropriate stewardship all require a professional approach. There’s lots of good advice out there on how to do this the right way – see ‘State schools look to fundraisers and donors to fill budget gaps’ in the Financial Times April 14 2017. Don’t be put off though, it’s not that hard to get it right and you probably have someone in your school team who has the skills to put the right processes in place.

5. It takes time To build a strong fundraising programme takes time. You won’t see the returns on your balance sheets in the first year, and maybe not until year 3 or 4. But all the research shows that there is a clear correlation between the age of a ‘Development office’ and increased philanthropic income.

In reality with budgets under such tight pressure this might be the hardest aspect of all. How can a state school find funds to invest in fundraising when headteachers have almost no headroom to invest in anything new? This is where I would suggest that you make the case to your governing body and consider how you could creatively address this. Indeed, you might find a supporter willing to help you set up fundraising or persuade the PTA to focus their energies on raising money to invest in a fundraising office. The key is developing a clear plan for fundraising with the RoI mapped out over a 3-5 year period. If you never get started it will never happen.

This time horizon might be longer than you see yourself being the head of your school for, but don’t let that stop you. Imagine the satisfaction of knowing you created a lasting legacy for your school (indeed it might lead to the school receiving legacy gifts!). I got immense delight to see that an organisation I worked with nearly 5 years ago has just received a transformational £10m gift from a relationship that I helped to build 10 years ago. The journey has to start somewhere.

6. ‘Everyone’ won’t give £1 or £10 (and it damages relationships if you ask in that way) “If every family gave £x a month we’d raise £y”. We hear this approach often from those who haven’t undertaken fundraising on a large scale. The fact is every family won’t give. Some simply can’t afford to, and even if they can some will feel, perhaps on principle, that they don’t want to. And that’s ok – giving is a voluntary act. Indeed, in my opinion it can be damaging to the sense of community to expect everyone to give or suggest that everyone should. It puts people in a position where they feel they have to say no – or want to say no but feel guilty. Guilt is never a good way to get people giving in a sustainable and satisfying way.

A realistic target in terms of % of families who will give might be lower than you imagine. Whilst 61% of people in the UK give to charity in some way each year, most of this is ad hoc cash donations in response to things like Children in Need or a friend running a marathon. Far fewer people give monthly donations in a focused way to causes they have proactively chosen – 25% report giving in this way.

But the good news is that amongst those who give there will be some who are able and will want to give larger sums – after all everyone’s circumstances are different. One size doesn’t fit all and the key is to develop a gift table like this one used by a school whose aim was to raise £50,000 a year from parents.

7. It will need you As the leader of the school, you will need to give time to fundraising. You will need to ‘sell’ your vision, talk about your plans, and be comfortable talking about money. Successful fundraising schools report that their heads give 10% or more of their time to fundraising. If you are going to do it then you will have to make time. This is hard, really hard. You might also need coaching and support from experienced fundraisers, who can give you confidence. What I can promise is that winning support for your school and the kids in it can be one of the most rewarding things a head can do.

That’s it for starters….there’s more…of course. Halpin Partnership is here to help and there is support available through The Institute for Development Professionals in Education and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Follow Susie Hills and Halpin Partnership on LinkedIn for more.


[4]IDPESchools’ Alumni Relations and Fundraising Benchmarking Survey 2016