How do you develop an effective fundraising and engagement programme when there is only one of you – and you’re in a part-time role? Jill Robinson reflects on her first year
Prioritise and plan
‘When I was appointed as director of development at Jordanhill School, a community comprehensive in Glasgow, I knew I would have to focus on the absolute ‘musts’ for driving things forward. Bringing my previous experience of fundraising, strategy development and management within the third sector into education has allowed me to hit the ground running. One of my initial tasks was to develop a strategy and case for support, with clearly defined priorities and goals. Having this strategy has enabled me to say no to tasks that are not a current priority and stay focused on the ones that are.
Jordanhill is an all-through primary and secondary community comprehensive school with 1,052 pupils. It is renowned not just for its academic excellence but for its thriving programmes is sport, outdoor education, music and art. We have aspirations to redevelop the school estate – and we recognised the need to invest in a new primary playground to improve the facilities there.
I work three days a week, so I plan my time very carefully. For example, I set aside one day a month to write content for our monthly communications and over the summer I have put together templates to support me in busier term times.
One of my priorities has been to create a culture of giving by developing support from alumni, as well as parents, friends and colleagues across the school, to enhance the opportunities for current and future pupils at Jordanhill. There is no established history of giving, so it has been important to grow understanding of what development and fundraising involves, and to get to know our community.
Spending time developing relationships is only valuable if you record the details. Therefore, a key focus has been on reviewing and cleaning the data we hold. I’ve moved it from spreadsheets into a single database, so that we can start to better understand our community, their connection with the school, and their interests and potential motivations to give in the future.
We have a number of projects that need funding. So in April, we launched a capital appeal for the new playground which aims to raise £250,000 by June 2024. The focus for our fundraising is current parents, and we are very much using this appeal as a catalyst to strengthen our relationships with them. To date, we have raised £45,000, and reassuringly, the whole school has got behind this campaign. From the PTA providing a £10,000 donation to pupils from the senior school designing and making medals for our fun run, it has been a real team effort. This autumn we launched Challenge24, encouraging each primary school pupil to raise £224 through sponsored events throughout the next academic year. We are also approaching grant givers and businesses to fund the shortfall.
It’s important to have an aspirational fundraising target but equally to be realistic. If we are truly going to create a culture of giving, we need our first fundraising appeal to be a success. For example, with Challenge24 we recognise not everyone can, or will, give and therefore our target is for 60% of parents to support the project. As we had no previous fundraising history, this figure was achieved by connecting with similar schools in the surrounding areas through the IDPE and looking at their average participation rates.
Equally, investing time in developing relationships to gain the trust and support of your senior leadership is important. I have a weekly meeting with the rector (head) to discuss progress, share ideas and, when necessary, challenges too. I believe it is important to be open and honest about sharing successes and also about discussing any issues we encounter and – as the fundraising expert – identifying potential solutions too.
Fundraising is a team effort
It is important to accept that when there is just one of you, you cannot do everything! I have recruited a parent who volunteers to support me with fundraising admin, such as cleaning and inputting data. This has allowed me to focus on areas where I can add the greatest value.
I am conscious that many of my colleagues have their own networks of individuals who could potentially support the school – and therefore spending time with them, sharing what we can achieve collectively, is important. For fundraising success at Jordanhill, it is important that everyone understands we need a team effort – and however big or small their contribution, they will all be integral to our success.’
- Jill Robinson is a member of the IDPE, which offers a free fundraising toolkit for state schools. Visit the IDPE online community at idpe.org.uk.