Districts have tight budgets, and administrators are looking for creative school fundraising ideas. While nickel-and-dime fundraising, such as bake sales, candy sales and car washes, may work for the PTO to bring in a little extra cash, many schools and districts are becoming more serious about raising outside money for bigger-scale initiatives, says Stanley Levenson, author of “The Essential Fundraising Guide for K-12 Schools.” Here are some school fundraising strategies to consider as you look for big-bucks:
The following article first appeared in The School Leader’s Guide to Planning for a Positive Learning Environment. Download the full guide here.
10 School Fundraising Strategies
- Think local. Schools often assume the big money is at the federal level, but that kind of money is actually in short supply. Instead, let people in your community know what you need and how they can help. “The big dollars are in your own backyard. You just have to find them,” says Joe Mizereck, a former teacher and founder of www.GrantAlert.com. “The closer you can get to your home base—individuals, corporations and foundations in your community who probably have kids going to your school—that’s where you need to focus your fundraising attention. They know who you are.”
- Consider establishing a foundation. Colleges and universities have long used this avenue for school fundraising, and increasingly K-12 schools of all sizes are also trying this approach with success, says Levenson. Create a foundation for your school. It takes some time and strategic planning in the beginning, but the long-term payoff is big.
- Attract donors by name. While some donors stay anonymous, there are many who like the idea of seeing their names in lights. “Naming rights are good for tapping into an individual, a corporation or a foundation for a quick infusion of cash to a school or district,” suggests Levenson, who cautions against giving naming rights forever. “Depending on how much money is offered, 10 to 15 years is sufficient, and then new negotiations take place.”
- Court those with connections. Every parent, grandparent or alumni is a potential major donor to a school or district. Levenson advises involving these people in the activities of your school, leadership opportunities, and asking for their input. “Remember, the small donor of today is often the big donor of tomorrow,” says Levenson.
- Team up with your community. Depending on what grant you are seeking, look to the community for partners in your application. Ask a nonprofit or the chamber of commerce to jointly commit to a project to leverage support. “More and more you are dealing with problems that are really complex and require complex solutions,” says Mizereck. “If you can show a collaborative effort, grantsmakers will more warmly welcome you. Grantmakers understand you can’t do it alone. They are looking for people who get it and are reaching out.”
- Get to know your local foundations. Businesses, organizations and individuals have formed hundreds of foundations across the country. They are set up to serve the needs of their local communities and some award mini-grants to teachers, notes Levenson. Before applying for a large grant, where the competition is stiff, consider ones under $5,000. “It’s helpful to start small and graduate to bigger grant opportunities as you gain experience and success,” says Levenson.
- Search for online grant opportunities. It is overwhelming to sort through all the grant opportunities and know where to put your limited energy. Check out www.GrantsAlert.com, which provides free information on grants, along with details about eligibility and deadlines. “Teachers are becoming savvy and smart about their search methods and their ability to put their finger on timely and accurate information,” says Mizereck. “There is an attitude of ‘Let’s roll our sleeves up and do what we can to keep things going strong.’”
- Crowd source. List a school fundraising project on Kickstarter or DonorsChoose and make your pitch for a particular project or item needed at your school. Encourage students and parents to promote the fundraising through social media. Ask them to share the request with friends and followers. Include photos and videos to promote the campaign.
- Do your homework. Before you start a new school fundraising initiative, collect basic information about your school such as the percentage of kids on free- or reduced lunch. “The biggest challenge for a lot of the opportunities that come is the time frame…you’ve got to be ready” says Mizereck, noting that the application period may be as short as 30 days. “Know your program, know your school, know your community and your numbers-data is so very important.”
- Look for the right match. “Don’t chase dollars,” advises Mizereck. “It’s about finding a program that matches what you need.” If you can develop a good relationship with a funder that shares a common interest, they may stick with you for several years and renew their commitment. Mizereck advocates quality over quantity. Administrators and teachers can build loyalty with a handful of donors that they listen to and who are really invested in the school’s mission. Also, it’s important to be genuine, focused and passionate in your school fundraising message, in order to find a partner that will be engaged and with whom you can work together to make a difference.