Until recently, fundraising was seen as an ‘add-on’ to the role of school business manager (SBM). But SBMs have a myriad of other responsibilities, and many schools are recognising the necessity of focusing more on income generation. The Harris Academy Trust of 47 secondary and primary schools recently appointed a fundraiser charged with raising £500,000 a year. Most schools do not operate on anything like that scale, yet even appointing someone for a few hours a week could have a significant impact.
‘Teachers desperately want better resources – and that is where a fundraiser can make a real difference,’ says Sharon Noble, fundraiser at Chestnut Grove Academy . ‘In time, the role has the potential to more than pay for itself by bringing in new income streams, facilities or equipment. I work for a secondary school, but, as the PTA chair at my children’s primary school, I know there is enormous potential for primary schools to benefit from community goodwill towards young children.’
Essentially, the fundraiser’s job is to explore all options that could bring in extra income – whether that be grants, business partnerships, events, crowdfunding, online donation platforms or PTA-led initiatives. The starting point, says former FundEd editor Nikki Burch, is to identify the school’s fundraising objectives, and develop a strategy on how best to meet them.
‘Different schools will have different priorities,’ says Nikki Burch, who recently took on the role of fundraiser at Imberhorne School – a comprehensive of 1,650 pupils in West Sussex. ‘That means the role can grow to deliver what is needed, and even to identify exciting opportunities that the school hasn’t previously considered. At Imberhorne, one of my first objectives is to secure grant funding for trips and courses to support pupil premium and other vulnerable students. I’m also looking at how to develop crowdfunding potential and make better use of passive income streams, such as online shopping donation platforms.’
While income from grants can be an important source of funding for specific projects, some grant providers only target schools in deprived areas and others only support registered charities. The majority of schools have charity exempt status, but if you need to quote a charity number then you could always ask your PTA to apply on your behalf, or set up a separate charitable arm registered with the Charity Commission (in England and Wales). ‘Fundraisers need to identify what grants are available and build a strong case for getting them,’ says Sharon Noble. ‘Timing is crucial – it’s all about forward planning.’
Howard Rose is director of funding and publicity at Balsall Common Primary School. He says developing relationships with both local and larger scale businesses (with CSR schemes) has brought huge rewards. ‘You have to get out there and talk to people to build your supporter base. It’s about far more than asking for money. If you tap into the “feelgood factor” of what can be achieved, you create a genuine emotional attachment to the school.’ Nikki Burch agrees, adding that strategic and streamlined communication with parents is vital. ‘Schools often ask for donations at the start of the school year, when parents are already paying out for uniform and books. This year, we put out an appeal request on Valentine’s Day and raised £850!’
‘Schools might feel that they should advertise to get the best professional fundraiser, but that’s not necessarily the case,’ says Howard Rose. ‘Primary schools, in particular, might struggle to pay upwards of £20,000 a year at the outset. But appointing someone for just a few hours a week to help address the needs of the school could bring huge benefits.’
Schools potentially have many individuals to draw on – from school governors to parents or existing members of staff. A parent on the PTA could be ideal, particularly as a key part of the role is usually to manage links between the school and PTA. Parents with transferable skills (such as planning, networking and public speaking) could find part-time hours that allow them to organise work around their children very appealing. ‘Prior experience is far less important than having a passion for the school,’ says Howard. ‘This is not a nine-to-five job, but it is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.’
Hours: Full or part-time basis. Some flexibility with working hours is required, such as maintaining email contact with key funders outside of term time
Reports to: headteacher, school business manager
Main purpose of role:
Skills and experience required:
Sharon Noble, development manager at Chestnut Grove Academy, Wandsworth (1,100 pupils)
Hours: part-time (equivalent to three days a week in term time, plus two weeks over the holidays).
Background: After taking a degree in marine biology, I worked for an environmental education charity in Dorset, and taught children about wildlife on board a ‘floating classroom’ on the Regent’s Canal. I built a track record in community fundraising as manager of Sutton Ecology Centre, and then as the director of Vauxhall City Farm. During a ‘break’ to have children, I worked as a voluntary fundraiser for the PANDAS post-natal depression charity, and my children’s pre-school.
The appeal of school fundraising: The job at Chestnut Grove was advertised in Third Sector magazine. It was a natural fit with my background and my passion for education – and the hours offered a good work/life balance. Since I started three years ago, the role has expanded. For example, I now run workshops on fundraising and persuasive bid-writing for the local authority. This brings additional income back to the school.
Major achievements: Over three years, I have worked with a range of stakeholders to secure around £400,000 of additional income. This includes a £120,000 grant from the London Marathon Charitable Trust for a new sports pitch, following a three-stage application process, together with consultation with Sport England, the local authority, the schools’ sports teachers and community gyms. Collaboration with the PTA is crucial, and they have raised £25,000 to turf the central area of the new school grounds. Additionally, I’ve secured a £39,000 grant from the Wolfson Educational Foundation for DT equipment, and we’ve just received £28,000 from the mayor’s Greener City fund. Last year, I was awarded Development Newcomer of the Year by the Institute of Development Professionals in Education.
Lessons learnt and advice: Working in a school presents a unique set of challenges. I started in January and by the time I had identified specific grants to discuss with teachers, everyone was in exam mode. I quickly realised that I had to be flexible and not impose on teacher workloads. The best time to approach teachers is September. Having a 15-minute meeting to get the specific information you need is far more productive than corresponding by email.
You need to be ready to bid for grants as they come up. You also need to juggle between initiating new projects and managing ongoing ones. One week I might be discussing lawn turf, the next I might be at home putting together a big bid.
I have copies of sign-off signatures from key postholders so that I can send applications straight off as soon as I get email agreement. I also have a folder of available grants on my system. Fundraising takes time and it’s important to manage expectations, but now that staff can see what is being achieved, they are coming on board with exciting ideas.
Howard Rose, director of funding and publicity, Balsall Common Primary, Solihull (742 pupils)
Hours: 25 hours flexi-time a week, including breakfast meetings and evening networking events.
Background: I worked in financial services for 20 years before setting up on my own as a mortgage broker and property developer.
The appeal of school fundraising: My first contact with the school was in 2012 when I filled in for a few weeks of sickness cover. Although I hated school as a child, I got tremendous job satisfaction from working in one. The children made me laugh every day and, as I began to do more to help out around the school, the head mentioned the role of part-time fundraiser. Making a difference to the lives of children at the school is something I feel passionately about.
Major achievements: My first project was to deliver £27,000 financing for a new nursery garden. I secured an £8,000 donation from a local estate agent and the rest of the money came from PTA fundraisers and further sponsorship. I’ve since had CIF funding of £242,000 to replace 152 windows and £167,000 to repair the school roof. Most recently, I got a grant of £9,420 from Awards for All to create a multicultural community kitchen garden. Gro-Organic, a social enterprise based in Birmingham, came on board as project manager.
Through networking and developing relationships across the community, I’ve been able to contribute to the school’s real-life learning weeks and inspiration days. Recently, England World Cup rugby player Paul Sackey and Olympian Phil Brown joined our school cookathon. I’ve also organised free trips to Silverstone and Monarch Airlines, while local hotels and restaurants have provided amazing food for our multicultural events.
Lessons learnt and advice: On my first day in the role I was given a phone, a laptop and a simple brief: ‘Get us some money!’ I had no fundraising experience, but what I could offer were transferable skills: the ability to think strategically and to nurture relationships with different individuals and organisations. I’ve learnt to make sure that whatever projects I initiate are in sync with the curriculum to ensure teacher buy-in.