Over the years, I have conducted many workshops for district personnel on how to search for grant opportunities and write proposals. I’ve also talked to several people who have gone beyond simply looking for grants to fund new projects. They’ve decided to copy their counterparts in higher education and at private schools and have implemented other types of development activities to generate much-needed revenue to fund school technology and other new projects.
Here’s an overview of some of these other types of fund-raising activities that districts have undertaken, as well as a few comments about the challenges these strategies can involve.
Special events. You’re probably familiar with the golf tournaments, silent auctions, and special dinners that are all examples of special events. Special events can result in a significant amount of money raised; however, keep in mind that putting on a special event often takes a great deal of planning (usually several months to a year) and can involve a significant number of volunteers, depending on the type and size of the event. This might not be a viable option for small districts with a small volunteer base.
Annual fund. This type of development involves soliciting a donor base for at least one gift of money each year. For most schools that have implemented an annual giving program, donors are graduates or parents and grandparents of current students and graduates. Annual giving most often is done through the use of direct-mail appeal letters that are mailed (or eMailed) to potential donors on a regular basis. Phonathons, in which trained callers use a script to contact donors and ask them either to give at the same level as before or consider increasing the size of their last gift, also can play a role.
Developing an annual giving program will include the use of a database system to enter donor information and keep it up to date, acknowledging gifts in a timely manner, and keeping track of donor gifts. You will need someone who is skilled at crafting appeal letters that present a compelling “call to action” and result in donations being made. If you plan to conduct a phonathon, you will need a group of volunteers, and you’ll need to provide training and scripts in advance so callers know what to say and how to respond appropriately to various donor reactions. This cannot be left to chance!
Planned giving. A planned giving program is designed to allow donors to leave your district some type of cash or non-cash (i.e., property) gift through their will or estate. This is a complicated area, but one that often can result in large, significant gifts. If you want to start such a program, I would recommend that you hire someone who has expertise in this field as a staff member or to act as a consultant to an existing member of your staff. Planned giving also will require collaboration with a variety of legal and financial advisors who often work directly with donors when deciding on their planned gifts.
Capital campaigns. The purpose of capital campaigns is to raise money for “bricks and mortar” projects, so they tend to have lofty monetary goals and are spread out across an extended period of time (such as two to five years). Again, capital campaigns are major undertakings and probably will have a better chance of succeeding if the staff responsible for such a campaign have this type of specialized expertise–or if you hire a capital campaign consultant to work with your staff.
A new resource that you might find helpful is Big-Time Fundraising for Today’s Schools by Stanley Levinson. In this book, available from Corwin Press, the author discusses a variety of solutions for supporting school finances, borrowing fund-raising strategies used by many colleges and universities.