3 Ways to Generate Thousands for Your School with Justin Smith.


Talkin’ ‘bout my Income Generation – with Justin Smith


Have you missed the school fetes and shows, exhibitions and sales? A while ago, when ‘social distancing’ meant avoiding the geography teacher at the end-of-term party, we all loved being on the tombola, didn’t we? Or selling the products of peripatetic Mr Potter’s post-school pottery class? Maybe not but, pre-pandemic, school activities and events did a great job in bringing in much needed income.

Whether or not you look forward to post-Covid reconvening, there is a lot that can and should be done to boost the school bank account. At Blue Apple Education we’re not much good at the egg-and-spoon race, or karaoke (strike that – we’re very good at karaoke and await invitations), our specialisms being all things marketing and communications. We know, however, that recovering from the curtailment of fundraising activities is important to many schools. We recently spoke to Justin Smith from Chameleon Training and Consultancy, to get some ideas about income generation for schools.

Many schools are uncertain about where to start with getting income for all the extras – sometimes known as essentials; library refurbishment, trips or developing outdoor play, for example. The pandemic added to the job-list for already overburdened staff – and parents – and students – some of whom had never had much to do with income generation beyond putting up the rickety gazebo in the rain or baking flapjacks. Yet, having to exist online and through digital means has provided possibilities that could add to a school’s opportunities. Justin works with schools to create a ‘road map’. Every school is different but creating a strategy for income generation will always start with reviewing the school’s resources:

  • Context in which the school operates
  • Capacity to give time and energy to raise funds
  • In-house capabilities

It’s then necessary to turn the school wish list into a workable document looking at what they want to achieve in terms of projects, improved provision or unrestricted income (a fancy term for slush fund). Considering the school’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (a SWOT analysis) will help match things on the wish list with potential ways to fund them:

  • Grants
  • Donations and appeals (including Gift Aid)
  • Community events
  • Sponsorship
  • Trading (e.g. lettings)

Many schools simply don’t realise what they are capable of doing. It’s a good idea to look at what you’ve already got: your staff, parents and students will have skills, contacts and knowledge you don’t yet know about! Perhaps your maths teacher gives organ recitals (admittedly, a niche audience!); maybe your receptionist comes complete with skills and experience as a local charity volunteer; Jack – the lad who refuses to come to English Lit because he’s read enough books? – his mum has a recording studio…

One excellent way to work is get together a Fundraising Group – a bunch of committed people with an interest in the school who can schedule a series of community fundraising activities with a target amount to raise in a month, or year. It’s surprising how much can be raised once people get their confidence up. An important element of capturing interest is to help people understand what it is your school is doing. It is usually stories that drive motivation so consider what you can say about the challenge you are facing (a library in disrepair, a broken gazebo) and the difference it will make if resolved (children reading books, somewhere from which to sell flapjacks). The most engaging stories talk about impact, how things have changed (or will change) for those who have benefited.

Making use of your marketing and communications tools will ensure your invitations reach your audience and your school’s name is out there, enticing business and community people.

The cost of Covid and the lockdowns for schools unable to fundraise is inestimable but could run into many thousands for some schools. How do schools recover? Events are beginning to resume and although it will take a lot of school shows and plant sales to catch up, making some effort can work well for when you start applying for grants. It’s never been good to rely on one source of income and grant funders like to see you are making an effort elsewhere, but several agencies, such as the National Lottery Community Fund, have set up grants specifically around recovery from Covid – some even covering the costs of making your school Covid-compliant (masks, screens, etc.). Schools are not always eligible to apply – though often are – so it is worth getting support with identifying the right funders to approach.

When you have multi-sourced income, you are more resilient to external influences such as the pandemic, but we can also learn something from those weeks we spent at home. Teachers and administrators will have become familiar with processes for educating remotely; it’s a short step to increase the digitalisation of your fundraising activities. Make your website work for you; it is likely to be your primary platform to promote the projects that you’re developing in school. If people can’t physically come to you they can certainly click on a keyboard, find out more – or they can donate. The ability of schools to maximize their digital relationship with people on the outside is significant, assisted by a website that’s agile – able to respond quickly to new and changing circumstances. Then there are an array of online tools specifically developed for non-profit organisations: Google Ads, crowdfunding sites, integrated giving schemes, etc.

Digital engagement is also an effective method for seeking the participation and ideas of your audience; grant funders value projects that value people. Online channels, including social media, offer opportunities to consult and collaborate, demonstrating to funding bodies that a) you are getting those who benefit from projects involved in their design and delivery; and b) you are not solely dependent on grant income.

Initially schools and trusts may need heavy input from experts to assist with both fundraising and with marketing – but in both respects, schools can increase their knowhow and capability in-house, which will ultimately increase sustainability. Before you know it, you’ll be making your own expert grant applications or flapjacks – using online channels for the greatest success.

A range of support services to get you started are available here from Blue Apple Education and, for fundraising, from Justin at Chameleon.