Increasing your school's income

Possibly you walk past the new cricket nets and smile at the memory of having wet sponges thrown at you that day last summer – when it rained anyway – to raise the funds. Maybe your desk is adorned with a picture of the 387 fairy cakes you made because you worried there wouldn’t be enough at the sale – no doubt they all sold and the school samba band has you to thank for their new drums.

There’s nothing wrong with these tried and tested methods of raising funds – they have certain big advantages – yet there are several other less familiar methods that schools can use to supplement their income. Here we look at two methods with several more covered in Part 2 of this article. (coming soon)

Kids – all grown up now

Research[1] suggests 30% of ex-pupils would be willing to donate to their old state school. If your school is independent you probably already harness the goodness of your alumni – UK private schools take in £130 million annually from donations – but it’s still worth thinking what more you could do. If the idea is a new or unfamiliar one a good place to start is by identifying your potential contributors – ex-pupils now working as plumbers, accountants, shop assistants, directors, actors, painters, gardeners, doctors, Members of Parliament – they didn’t all go to Eton (if you are reading this from Eton then well done on your 19 Prime Ministers and we’re glad to be of further help). It isn’t true that schools in poorer areas will find it hard to win support[2] – many young people are pleased to see their school doing well and only too glad to help it get better.

30% of ex-pupils would be willing to donate to their old state school.

Getting a comprehensive database together may be the hardest start – especially if you have to dust off your own Mr. Chips and raid his memory of 40 years at the school. Most schools, however, will have some records, possibly assisted by an alumni magazine. If you have details of professions then you can be discerning in your targeting – donations for sports equipment from your professional football player or money for re-wiring the school from a local electrician. (Don’t forget that asking celebrities for money will require a specific approach not covered here).

Having identified your target donors you need to engage them through letters, appeals or associations (online is often best if you’re going for recent alumni). If an ex-pupils’ association doesn’t already exist (you may be surprised – check Facebook) then now may be the time to set one up – ask around younger siblings, parents still on the PTA or teachers who had children at the school. If you can get an ex-student to take on the job it will serve you well in appearing more genuine and in saving you a job!

girl wearing a hat, smiling while holding a sandwich

Once you have a database of contacts there are many different roles you can invite people to take on that may well enhance your donor scheme. Having engaged students in the process you can launch your appeal for funds. This should always be done in a friendly but straightforward way that doesn’t state conditions or put on pressure. Appeals like this do take time and effort and should not be embarked on without careful planning. Remember, for example, students will want to be thanked and to stay in touch. Using the online facilities mentioned above or getting external support can make a big difference.

Whatever the status of your school your pupils are almost certainly involved in raising money for charities – state schools raise over £35million a year. That’s an indicator of the strength and willingness of schools – governors, staff, children and parents – to get behind a good cause. You might consider events and activities that split proceeds between your school and another good cause. Projects of this kind work best if there is a natural alliance, either ongoing or for the purposes of the event. For example, you might join with a local disability art group to put on an exhibition of paintings and drawings using the school hall, providing refreshments.

You might consider events and activities that split proceeds between your school and another good cause.

You would attract both friends and families involved in the school and the local group – charge them all £5 to come in (plus collection boxes) and split the proceeds. An added advantage of this kind of activity is building relationships between the school and external organisations, giving students an opportunity to meet, mix with and support people with specific needs as well as experience of planning & curating an exhibition, handling money or publicity.

boy eating fruit on a stick with young girl behind hime smiling

Engaging with ex-pupils or friends and the public through promotional materials – leaflets, posters, advertising, etc. – might also be something in which pupils can get involved. If your design company has helped get your prospectus, website or other promotional materials to a high standard it is worth building an ongoing relationship with them and considering opportunities they could support such as design work in the school curriculum or in extra-curricular activities related to fundraising.

Targeting alumni will be especially effective for particular projects or under specific schemes but for broader requests you can appeal to anyone likely to want to donate – residents, parents of feeder schools, retired teachers and other staff, people working in fields related to education, grandparents or the proverbial man on the street (he’s probably one of the above, anyway). Commercial companies invest a great deal in advertising their products and some of the bigger charities are following suit. You will not want to throw money at non-educational purposes but neither should you consider all investments a waste.

lady or teacher sitting with students under a makeshift tent

Particularly rewarding are regular giving schemes – any version of a ‘Friends of Brookfield’ or ‘West Park Supporters’ means both a regular, reliable income and a list of possible helpers. Planned and budgeted promotions that achieve the right effect can result in very good returns that make it all worthwhile and could possibly save you from having wet sponges thrown at you again next summer.

Before drawing a line under your living alumni you might remember the dead ones – or give them an opportunity to remember you. It doesn’t take an awful lot of work to orchestrate a scheme encouraging people to leave something to their old school in a will. Unless you target the over 90s this may (we hope!) take some time to come to fruition but you’ll be doing the budget of school-yet-to-come a big favour.

Good Foundations

Despite their status as charities or the support of a separate charity (such as the PTA), most schools will be unfamiliar with the ongoing battle of grant applications that characterises much of the back-room work of the rest of the voluntary sector. Preparing to apply for funds from some of the thousands of grant-giving trusts or foundations operating in Britain means looking not at what’s available but at your school or college (see ‘Building a School to Show Off’). Filling out a funding application requires a detailed knowledge and understanding of voluntary sector language such as Vision, Mission, Charitable Objects, Evidence of Need, Outcomes (that’s a big one!), Monitoring and Evaluation, Consultation & Participation, Partnerships, Outcomes Measurement. [3]

close up of a young girl writing in a book sitting outside among flowers



[3] Further information from: Funding Basics: a guide for voluntary sector organisations by John Hartshorn and Salli Ward (in association with Voluntary Youth Manchester and Greater Manchester Police).

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