School partnerships: Working with business

If you want to gain support from companies local to your school, you need a plan of action, says Kevin Parker

It’s easy to imagine that in the current financial climate, hard-pressed businesses will not have the time or inclination to help schools. But in many cases, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The important thing to remember is that any kind of partnership between a business and a school is a win/win for both parties. Your school might get a new funding stream or one-off donation that enables a project to be delivered – and businesses have much to gain from supporting a school.

While you might get lucky simply firing off a few emails to local businesses, I find it helpful to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The following framework can help you develop your own strategy for success – it’s certainly worked for me!

Who to approach

The answer is anyone and everyone. I never rule anything out. Granted, national and global companies have major corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental, social and governance (ESG) programmes that are planned in advance, but you only need one person in the local office to be enthusiastic in order to make a difference to your school. Plus national chains often have grant schemes that you can apply for at a local level.

The FundEd grants database is really useful as you can search for available grants and filter by key stage, region and subject. It has everything from breakfast club grants, to funding for STEM and cultivating green spaces! Smaller and local companies are often keen to help out a neighbourhood school, particularly if the children of employees go there, or if the employees themselves are alumni. They might give donations of products and money, or provide sponsorship for a longer term project.

Whether local or national, online or high street, independent or chain, not for profit or profit, all organisations want to raise their profile and look good. This builds brand awareness and loyalty, particularly if people can see how their children are benefiting from the generosity of a business. It’s very easy too to offer some kind of direct benefit to the company, such as a sponsorship logo on the fence of your new building or on a dedicated area of your school website, or free advertising in your parent mailings.

How to approach businesses

Think of this as a way of building your school community network. Again, try a range of methods and recognise that things might take time. Always ask businesses if their CSR policy extends to education and supporting young people. If so, you can tap into something that is really positive for everyone.

Face to face contact always has more impact because you and your cause become more real to the people you are meeting. I know of an SBM who attended a coffee morning run by the local church and met a businessperson who had just moved to the area and wanted to support the community. This one meeting led to a £30,000 donation to the primary school! Similarly, when I was raising funds to pay for the conversion of an old bus into a library at my previous school, I simply walked round the local industrial estate and talked to people, asking if they could help. No one said no.

These contacts became part of my network on LinkedIn, which I used a lot to put out calls for help and assistance. The response was always incredibly positive. (LinkedIn is of course a great way to make new connections in itself.) Don’t forget to spread the word among parents too. As mentioned, they may be employed by a local business or even run one themselves. As such, they may be able to set up a match-funding initiative, whereby the business matches a fundraising total by the volunteer employee. Or they could provide help in kind by volunteering or providing resources of some kind.

What do you have to gain?

Everything – and you have nothing to lose! You might get a one-off donation or grant equivalent for a much-needed project. Or perhaps you might secure sponsorship for a capital project or a mental health initiative. Plus you might be able to build a relationship around educational enrichment and careers provision. Having real-life role models come into school is inspirational for pupils, particularly in areas of high deprivation. They can give talks, run workshops and organise visits and work experience.

Raising your school profile

All this kind of activity will raise the profile of your school in your community and beyond. Existing parents will see you are doing a great job and potential parents will think about sending their children to your school. You become known as a school that is making things happen, however difficult your circumstances are. That’s a great lesson for your pupils, as well as your partners.

Recent success stories

Two of the schools in our MAT are in areas of high deprivation so we applied for external funding via the Opening School Facilities Fund (OSF). We were awarded £10,000 a year for the next three years. The funded project will focus on cricket, enabling children across the community to be taught by qualified coaches with new equipment. The multi-week programme will run during the school holidays – and it won’t cost the parents or schools a penny.

We also applied for funding from Greggs to help support our breakfast club. This grant of £5,000 a year for the next three years will cover all food and drink, as well as allowing us to receive unlimited amounts of bread. This means every child can have a full stomach before they start school.

  • Kevin Parker is the head of business at Phoenix Learning Alliance in Gloucestershire

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