Secrets to success for fundraising in your school community

Written by: Tom Donohoe | Published:
On target: Pupils playing at Anton Junior School – fundraising efforts have led to a new adventure play area, complete with zip wire, and an all-weather pitch at the school (Photo: MA Education)

In recent times, Anton Junior School has successfully raised funds for three major projects. Headteacher Tom Donohoe explains the key tenets of the school’s approach to fundraising

In the 12 years I have been headteacher here at Anton Junior School we have embarked on, and subsequently completed, three major fundraising projects. The first was for an all-weather pitch which we have had for more than a decade now. The second project was for an adventure play area with double zip wire. The third was for a dance and drama studio which opened three years ago.

We are currently part-way through the process of fundraising for our biggest and most ambitious project to date – an indoor swimming pool. While this is going to take a lot of time as we have to raise a very significant amount of money – in excess of £500,000 – we are confident that we will achieve our aim.

As we have a good record of fundraising and are often visited by other schools who want to discuss this with us, it was suggested to me by a fellow headteacher that an article about what has worked for us and what has not been so successful, might be of interest to other heads.

The first thing to say is that the approach you will take will very much depend on what it is you are trying to raise funds for and how much money you therefore need to raise.

In the case of the two larger projects outlined above (the all-weather pitch and the dance studio), a good proportion of the funding was obtained from grants and trusts. However, in the case of the adventure play area, almost all of the funding came from events that we organised here at the school. This article is going to focus on the general principles mainly to do with organising events rather than grant finding.

Getting people on board

At the start of each of our fundraising drives we discussed the idea with staff and governors to ensure that they were fully on board. Then, at each of our four year group parents’ meetings, which we hold at the start of the academic year, we spoke about the initiative and distributed forms asking parents to suggest any potential sources of income that they could think of. We also asked for their thoughts on what we were trying to achieve and any contacts that they thought would be useful for us to have.

We used some staff meeting time to discuss the initiative further with teachers; once to brainstorm possible events and the second time to put these events into a more structured calendar and to decide which staff would take a lead on each event. We predicted possible income totals for each individual event so we have an idea of when the total we needed could be achieved by. This means that everybody is clear about what we are trying to achieve and therefore feel a part of the process and are happier to roll up their sleeves and get involved.

Use your contacts

You will be amazed how many of the people linked to your school know other people who can help you in a fundraising campaign. It might be that some of these people have direct access to funding that you can apply for, or more likely they can get you free access to goods and services that you can use at events, which would normally cost money.

That is why we have a questionnaire that goes out to all stakeholders, as it gives them the opportunity to get involved – on one occasion a parent merely provided a name and a contact telephone number that ended up with us applying for and obtaining £10,000. This took a fair amount of work, but without that initial contact we would have not had that “foot in the door” and would have been unable to apply for that funding.

On a smaller scale, but also important, we have tapped in to our caretaker’s long list of family and friends who live locally, so that whenever we have a big outdoor event (our fireworks night is a good example) he has a list of 20 adults to act as stewards, marshals and security for us.

Always have a bar and raffle

In 10 years we have never had an event without either a bar or a raffle. While our parents are not all massive drinkers, we have found that by having a cheap bar we increase profits. I tend to operate a system of 100 per cent profit – if a bottle of wine costs us £3.50 to buy we sell it at £7. This works well for us and parents always comment on how reasonable our prices are.

As an aside, we do the same with food at events, which means our burgers and hot dogs are always cheaper than at other similar events, but we are still doubling our money. I like to think that by giving people good value for their money they will come, spend a little more, and will come back and support future events.

We also very quickly discovered that our parents like a raffle, so raffles have become a feature of all of our events. We cajole local businesses and shops to donate prizes for our bigger events, but often staff find things at home to recycle as prizes too! At a recent Dads and Kids Night, our raffle raised more than £350 and the prizes cost us nothing – they were all donated by teachers. I have in the past done a quick raid on Poundland on the day of an event – a tenner spent there makes the raffle table look a bit healthier!

Keep your costs to a minimum

I know this sounds obvious, but in organising fundraising events, try to keep your expenditure to an absolute minimum – I have grown particularly fond of events that are cost-neutral and therefore every single penny is profit.

Evidently, the more stuff you can get for free the better. I referred to the Dads and Kids Night above – this is an event that costs us very little to put on but always makes a tidy profit. We are a two-form entry junior school with eight classes, so each teacher organises an activity to take place in their classroom on the evening.

Dads (or grandads, step-dads, big brothers, etc) come along with the pupils and basically go to each of the classrooms and have fun – playing board games, doing jigsaws, taking on a “Cube Challenge”, playing on a games console on the interactive whiteboard, having a go on the dance mats, etc. They pay £3 for their ticket and this entitles them to two-hours of non-stop fun.

We also have a few outdoor events, such as penalty shooting against a teacher, which we charge a little extra for. It goes without saying that we sell beer, soft drinks, crisps and sweets as well as hot dogs and burgers and these go down a storm as it counts as dinner on the night! Obviously, we have a raffle with a range of prizes – some that appeal to the dads and some to the kids. It is always a really good night, raises around £1,500 in profit (and it is great to see the kids playing and having fun with their dads).

Deploy people power strategically

In a year when we are organising a large number of events we have found that it is important to deploy staff sensibly. We encourage all staff to attend the events where we could make the most money and where people power is in the highest demand, for example the firework extravaganza. For smaller events, where there isn’t such a need for so many staff, we have a skeleton staff, which tends to be the leadership team plus a couple of loyal volunteers who genuinely want to come.

We also ended up doing a Youth Club Night every month, when children from the school come back in the evening to play pool, table football, table tennis, etc in the hall. For us, the Youth Club Nights are a real winner. My deputy and I staff these on our own and in 12 months they raised a total in excess of £2,000. They were easy to staff and actually quite enjoyable.

Consider sponsored events carefully

I often think that schools do too many sponsored events and therefore dilute the potential fundraising capacity of one focused event. Every four years we do one big whole-school sponsored event that raises around £10,000. We have 250 pupils and our attached infant school has 180, so with a total pupil population of 430, there is undoubtedly huge potential.

We always organise an event that children have to take part in, for example a fun run that takes place during the school day. We try to link it a sporting occasion like the 2012 Olympics or a football or other World Cup and we set goals for each year group of children so that there is an element of physical challenge.

We work on the notion of each child raising a (very achievable) £20 – if you multiply that by 430 you have already raised £8,600. Obviously some children may not raise the £20, but far more will way exceed that figure and lots will raise more than £100.

We have a system where there is a prize for the child in each class that raises the highest total. Staff and parents will often get involved in gaining sponsors and taking part in the physical challenge. We are a year into our swimming pool fundraising campaign and only now am I planning our big sponsored event. Parents know what we are trying to do, they have got behind the project and I am hopeful they will give their full support to our sponsored swim event.

A final word

While I said this article is not about grants and applying for sums of money from trusts, one thing that I have definitely learnt over the years is that in order to be fully successful in fundraising you do really need to employ this two-pronged approach.

When you apply for grants, it is essential that you are able to demonstrate what you have proactively done yourself to raise money for your project; they will want to know that you are not just sitting back waiting for charitable donations. So, the sponsored events and the other fundraising nights will help you to demonstrate your resolute intent to make your project happen.

  • Tom Donohoe is headteacher of Anton Junior School in Andover.

Fundraising advice

In the next edition of Headteacher Update, Tom will give an overview of each of the fundraising events that his team has organised. If you have any queries or questions about anything in this first article, email Tom at 2004tjd@hants.gov.uk


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