Helping schools find a way through the next fundraising challenge

Chris Goldie reflects on the issues that lie ahead for schools and explains why it's so important too fundraise effectively

Chris Goldie, Gifted’s London-based Director, reflects on the issues that lie ahead for schools and explains why it is so important to fundraise effectively, no matter what sector you’re in.

Difficult times for schools

Schools are facing unprecedented financial challenges. And, our experience shows this applies to both state and independent sectors. School leaders are wrestling with operational costs that have risen dramatically. Meanwhile, plans for much needed capital improvements are being delayed by significantly higher material costs and escalating interest rates. School budgets are also under extreme pressure. In real terms, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, per pupil funding for state schools is lower now than it was in 2010. Equally, the independent sector is increasingly nervous about threats to schools’ charitable status and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on parents. In a nutshell, there is great uncertainty across the education sector. Uncertainty leads to caution and caution more often than not results in a lack of fundraising activity.

And yet, it has never been more important for schools to be able to fundraise successfully. Whatever a school’s ambitions, it’s increasingly unlikely that future projects are going to be funded through regular income alone. School leaders are therefore faced with a stark choice: do nothing and hope that things will improve or take a more positive approach and recognise that realistic ambitions can be achieved by adopting a sensible, proactive fundraising strategy.

Suspending your fundraising comes with serious risks

The 2022 IDPE Benchmarking Report proved beyond doubt that schools who paused or significantly reduced all fundraising during the Covid crisis were less able to resume fundraising effectively once the pandemic was over. Whilst it’s encouraging to see that the sector as a whole reported an increase in philanthropic income from 2018/19 to 2020/21, it’s also worth noting that those schools who took the most proactive approach, both in terms of development activity and investment, delivered the greatest philanthropic results. Rather than stop completely, these schools found creative ways to deliver a successful fundraising strategy. They also refocussed and adapted, in some cases engaging consultants to help them. As a result, they were more easily able to secure the philanthropic income needed to support their schools’ ambitions once a semblance of normality returned.

Whilst the challenges facing schools now are very different, the principle remains the same; suspending your fundraising activities will make it harder to raise money when your school really needs to. To be blunt, reducing the Development Office’s budget is, more often than not, a false economy.

The all-important culture of fundraising

Schools that enjoy the greatest fundraising success have developed and maintained a culture of fundraising within their community of parents, alumni and staff. Fundraising is not seen as something that’s nice to do or only undertaken when it’s absolutely necessary. Instead, they regard it as an everyday essential. Having a culture of fundraising embedded in a school means that when leaders are ready to present a compelling case for support and decide to raise funds in an organised, focused way, the school community is more likely to respond positively.

So, whilst economic circumstances might delay the commissioning of a major capital project or the recruitment of additional fundraising staff to an existing team, a school shouldn’t ignore the impact that an effective development strategy can and will have on its ambitions. If, for whatever reason, your school doesn’t feel that the time is right to launch a major capital campaign, it should still be proactive in its fundraising activities.

How Gifted can help

In the past seven years we’ve been delighted to partner with 29 schools, helping them to develop realistic and flexible fundraising strategies. In some cases, these have focused on a specific ambition – such as a new facility or the establishment of a bursary fund. In others, our support has enabled schools to build their fundraising strategies from scratch, or strengthened the operations of a Development Office that might be under-performing. Whatever the challenge, Gifted’s experience and knowledge of the sector can help you create a strategy that ensures the best possible chance of success. It will focus on where support will come from, clarify what’s most likely to motivate your potential donors and provide you with the resources needed to launch a successful fundraising programme.