Seven good sources for school fundraising

Written by: Brin Best | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

With school budgets under huge pressure and little respite on the horizon, fundraising has never been more important. Brin Best gives us an overview of some external funding sources available to schools

Every year billions of pounds in external funds are available to primary schools in the UK to enhance and extend educational opportunities. In this article I will provide a whistle-stop tour of these funding sources, highlighting those that are proving especially helpful to schools during this period of challenging financial times. My aim in this overview is to:

  • Help you recognise the wide range of external funding sources that are available to your school, despite the challenging economic climate.
  • Enable you to learn about some of the funding sources that other primary schools are currently benefiting from, which you may not yet have considered approaching.
  • Provide some starting points to connect you with specific funders who can help your school.

Strength in diversity

The good news for school fundraising coordinators is that there is a great diversity of external funding sources available to UK primary schools, with no less than seven distinctive categories of funds and literally thousands of individual funders within these. Indeed, books have been written on this complex topic, and therefore in this article it is only possible to provide a snapshot of the huge number of potential funding sources for your school. In selecting the funders to list below I have focused on those that have the best track record in funding work in primary schools.

1, The National Lottery

Since its inception in 1994 the National Lottery has been a generous funder of enrichment work in UK schools, through several discrete funding streams. The National Lottery funds work which is additional to your statutory duties as a primary school, providing funds that allow you to do something new. Thousands of schools have been successful in gaining funds from the following Lottery-funded schemes over the last two decades:

  • The Awards for All: Up to £10,000 available via a simple application process for projects that improve your community.
  • The Arts Councils.
  • The Heritage Lottery Fund.
  • The Sports Councils.

All the major National Lottery funders have well-maintained websites which include up-to-date information on the latest schemes and priority areas for funding.


One school received a £3,000 Awards for All grant to run a series of after-school fitness classes for children and their families, linked to a healthier school project.

2, Grant-making trusts

Grant-making trusts are organisations (often charities) which have been set up by wealthy individuals or companies in order to give funds for work which is deemed to be for the public good. There are thousands across the UK, some very small and some huge, giving away hundreds of millions of pounds every year.

An important factor to bear in mind about such trusts is that they tend to work in specific ways – both in terms of what they fund and which location(s) within the UK they will give money to (and this can change each year, with the shifting priorities of the charity). For this reason it is essential to do your research into potential funders before making any applications.

There will be an organisation working locally to you supporting the work of charities and those seeking grant-funding (e.g. the one in Yorkshire is called Voluntary Action Leeds). They can give you free access to, and practical support navigating your way through, a comprehensive online database of UK grant-making trusts.
Look out also for the paper edition of The Directory of Grant Making Trusts (published by the Directory of Social Change), which is available in many larger libraries.


A school received a grant of £9,000 to build a multi-sensory room for children with special needs from a major grant-making trust with a strong track record of supporting inclusive education projects.

3, European funding

Despite the Brexit vote, UK schools will be able to access many of the European funding streams after Britain leaves the EU, much as numerous non-EU countries do today. This is because many of the most significant European funding streams are linked to a country’s geographical position in Europe, not its membership of the EU. Thousands of UK schools have been able to access significant European grants for twinning projects and curriculum development work with partner schools within the continent. These have resulted in some pioneering and highly regarded educational projects, which have brought many benefits for children and wider communities. There is a new focus on eTwinning as a route to funded projects.


A school received £4,000 in funding to enable it to participate in a project that brought together a network of schools from across Europe, to study learning around water and its various influences on people. Among other things this grant allowed staff to attend overseas contact meetings with teachers from many other European countries.

4, Raising funds from businesses

As primary schools have become more business-like in how they conduct their affairs, so the opportunities to connect with businesses and benefit from their support have also increased. Although most schools have at least basic links with businesses, others have shown what is possible when much more significant partnerships are created.

An important point to bear in mind about businesses is that their support can come in the form of cash donations and donations “in kind”. These are donations – in the form of goods or services – that schools would otherwise have to purchase. They also include gifts that can be used as part of raffles.

Many schools have expanded their business links by first carrying out a questionnaire of parents/guardians to determine which businesses they work for, or even run. A further vital reference source is your local Chamber of Trade (they normally have their own website), a membership association which helps to bring business together for the benefit of all.


A school received £12,000 from an IT company to help create a state-of-the-art ICT for learning suite, which was named after the company. The company was owned by a former pupil of the school, and the support was linked to additional free training for staff, worth another £3,000.

5, Donations from individuals

Until a decade or so ago donations from individuals was largely the preserve of independent schools, whose giving campaigns traditionally target former students, who often prove to be a lucrative source of income. However, such campaigns are now becoming increasingly more common in state schools too, even extending (somewhat controversially) to blanket appeals to all parents/guardians for a fixed amount of money. In kind donations from individuals should not be overlooked either.

Given the complexities and potential pitfalls around donations from individuals, it makes sense, before beginning major work in this area, to team up with a school that has achieved success and to learn from their experience.


A school was offered a free poetry evening featuring a well known British poet, which raised more than £2,000 (mainly through ticket sales) towards the refurbishment of the library.

6, Awards and competitions

Awards and competitions are a neglected area of fundraising for many primary schools, despite the fact that numerous schools have shown what a valuable source of additional funds they can be – not to mention the prestige and excellent publicity that comes through winning such prizes. Awards and competitions are, therefore, a great way of bringing additional income to your school while also raising the self-esteem of the children who are involved.

You will need to monitor a wide range of print and online media to find out about competitions and awards aimed at schools. Many schools appoint volunteers (usually parents) who monitor information sources on behalf of schools, feeding back to the fundraising coordinator when new opportunities are spotted.


A school won a £2,500 prize in a competition, run by disability charity, to create an outdoor performance space that was fully accessible to all members of the community.

7, Income-generation activities

Perhaps the most significant area of development for primary schools is the growth of income that has been secured through income-generation activities. Chief among these has been the use of school buildings and grounds to boost income through lettings, special events and all sorts of other imaginative uses.

In the “Resources” section of my website (see below) I have included a tool containing 50 suggested income-generation activities for schools. You can also download this by clicking the button at the top of this article.


A school receives around £3,500 annually by letting its hall and kitchens for Asian wedding celebrations.


Once you have identified the potential funding sources for your projects, attention must turn to the preparation of the all-important funding applications. In my next article, I will discuss the critical topic of writing applications in the hope of unlocking the secrets of successful bids. As I will explain in that article, writing high-quality applications is an art as well as a science, and requires creativity and determination in equal measure.

  • Brin Best is an award-winning educational consultant with 25 years’ experience of fundraising in schools. He is the author of several books, including Cost-effective Fundraising for Schools. Visit

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