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How to Raise Big Time Funds

A sneak peek from <i>Big Time Fundraising for Today's Schools,</i> by Stanley Levenson.
A sneak peek from Big Time Fundraising for Today's Schools, by Stanley Levenson.

Almost every classroom needs more funding, but few educators have a handle on the best ways to bring in revenue. Stanley Levenson is a nationally known fundraiser and fundraising consultant, and in his new book, he shares his secrets.

Everyone knows public schools in America have financial difficulties. The cost of providing a world-class education for students has gone well beyond what is available from taxpayer dollars. Budgets strain paying teacher salaries and benefits; purchasing materials, books, and equipment; remodeling and maintaining buildings and grounds; keeping up with the latest innovations in school technology, and state and federal testing mandates.

Public schools are also impacted by declining enrollments and cuts in local, state, and federal funding. Worthwhile programs such as music, art, physical education, and foreign languages have been curtailed or eliminated, and neighborhood schools have been shut down. Most disturbing is that in many areas of the country, the ax is falling on core academic programs, and the trend is likely to continue.

There is hope, however. Corporations, foundations, and individual donors are becoming more interested in helping the public schools. The Foundation Center in New York City reported that in 2004, K–12 schools (including private schools) received more grant monies for education from corporations and foundations than colleges and universities. People like the late Walter Annenberg, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Eli Broad have poured millions of dollars into the public schools because they believe in the schools and because they have some of their own ideas on how to improve public education. The schools are beginning to listen.

The federal government continues to give significant funding to the schools in competitive and non-competitive grants. More than $40 billion was provided to public schools in 2004 by the U.S. Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Defense. Go to the web sites of these organizations to find out more about government grant opportunities. Also, go online to your state department of education’s web site.

According to the American Association of Fundraising Counsel, more than $248 billion was contributed to worthy causes across America in 2004. Of this amount, approximately $34 billion (13.6 percent) went to education, which was second only to religion in grants and gifts received. Most interesting is the fact that more than 80 percent ($197 billion) of all contributions, including bequests, come from individual donors, and more than $40 billion comes from corporations and foundations.

What does all this mean to public schools trying to bring in outside monies? It means that the schools need to learn how to pursue individual donors as never before. It also means that going after grants and gifts from corporations and foundations should be a part of the schools’ overall fundraising strategy.

Big-time fundraising concentrates on the needs of the students as the driving force in obtaining large and small grants and gifts from a variety of funding sources, including corporations, foundations, the government, and individual donors. Schools and school districts involved in a big-time fundraising effort understand that there are many avenues to obtaining big grants and gifts. They recognize that letter writing and phone solicitation are important, as is soliciting grants and gifts on the Internet. They are aware that special-events fundraising can be very rewarding. But most of all, they understand that soliciting individual donors is the most lucrative avenue to obtaining big grants and gifts.

To yield maximum results in implementing a big-time fundraising effort, utilize the following strategies and techniques:

1. Form a local education foundation on a districtwide or individual school basis, if you haven’t already done so. The foundation should be a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that is tax-exempt. Invite prominent members of the community to be members of the foundation board. Local education foundations broaden the school constituency, keep the community informed, and facilitate the acquisition of grants and gifts.

2. Devote the necessary resources to make your fundraising effort successful.

3. Employ full-time, qualified staff as needed, or start by hiring part-time consultants and volunteers.

4. Identify influential community leaders, including your town’s mayor, local congressional representatives, corporate sponsors, business leaders, wealthy people, alumni, friends, parents, and grandparents. Nurture these people and make them part of the total fundraising effort.

5. Become familiar with fundraising publications, including the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the NonProfit Times, and Planned Giving Today.

6. Access the web site of the Foundation Center, in New York City, and become familiar with its services.

7. Attend or host training classes and workshops on fundraising, including soliciting gifts from individuals; writing grants; and seeking corporate, foundation, and government grants.

8. Learn how to write a case statement that details your district’s needs and priorities. Use the case statement as a basis for obtaining grants and gifts.

9. Alert the local media about your fundraising efforts. They can reach a broad audience faster and more efficiently than you can.

10. Get together with other school foundations and other school districts in your state and area to share ideas, speakers, and information.

11. When writing a grant proposal, attempt to collaborate with colleges and universities in your area. Funding agencies look at this approach very favorably.

12. Encourage the superintendent of schools and other key staff to become involved in the fundraising effort just as the presidents of colleges and universities do.

Roles and Responsibilities in a Big-Time Fundraising Effort
Many people are involved in a big-time fundraising effort. Below, you will find a description of the roles and responsibilities of each of these people.

The Role of Superintendents

The superintendent of schools, with the blessings of the board of education, is the overall leader in a big-time fundraising effort. This responsibility includes, but is not limited to, the establishment of a districtwide development office, including the employment of competent, experienced development office staff. Working with the others, the superintendent can bring power, prestige, and creativity to the overall needs and vision of the school district. The superintendent of schools should learn how to ask for gifts from wealthy individuals and others within the school constituency. If the superintendent takes the time and makes the effort to meet with potential donors on a personal basis, good things will start to happen and monies will start pouring in. Remember, if you don’t ask, you won’t get!

The Role of School Board Members
Individual school board members are key players in the overall big-time fundraising effort for the school district. School board members should be strong supporters and advocates of a big-time fundraising effort in their school district. They should also understand that more than 80 percent of all grants and gifts to good causes come from individual donors. School board members should assist in identifying and soliciting others in the community who have interest in contributing to the schools. By setting a good example of contributing to the schools themselves, school board members will create a lot of excitement and interest in donating to the schools.

The Role of Principals

Principals are key players in the overall big-time fundraising effort. They can make or break a program by their attitude and their involvement. The more involved a principal gets in the individual giving program, the more money will flow in. I also recommend that principals be part of the visitation team that meets with program officers and CEOs of corporations and foundations interested in funding a specific school.

The Role of Classroom Teachers, Specialists, Coaches, and Band Directors
Classroom teachers, specialists, coaches, and band directors are at the heart of a big-time fundraising effort. These are the people on the firing line each and every day. They make the community proud of their involvement and commitment to kids. These people represent all the good that is going on in the schools. If individuals are going to give big money to the schools, they probably know one or more of these people through their kids or grandkids, have been influenced by their good work, and want to help out in any way they can.

The Role of Parents and Volunteers

Parents and volunteers are very important team members in the total big-time fundraising effort. If you involve them on your team, you will reap major rewards in time and money. Most parents want to help the schools that their children attend, and are tired of nickel-and-dime fundraising efforts and want to learn how the big boys and girls do it. Additionally, many parents and volunteers have very good contacts in the school community and know who the wealthy people are. Having these contacts, they should be invited to make personal visits. They should also be encouraged to make their own contributions.

The Role of People With Money

Wealthy people, especially those who are graduates of the public schools or have taught in the public schools, should take an active role in both giving to the schools and in helping to solicit grants and gifts from their friends and family. Many of these people with money have children and grandchildren in the schools and would be receptive to giving a large gift in their behalf. Invite these people into the schools and involve them in your cause. Ask them to assume leadership positions.

Some Other Important Issues

Here are a number of issues that you should be aware of as you begin thinking about implementing a big-time fundraising effort in your school or school district:

• Many taxpayers believe that it is the school district’s, as well as the state and federal governments’, responsibility to provide the money  needed for the public schools. They don’t believe that the public schools should be put in a position to have to raise significant amounts of money from outside sources, especially to restore core academic programs and/or to pay for teacher and staff salaries lost to budget cutbacks.

• The success of school fundraising tends to be directly proportionate to household income in a school’s attendance area. Some people are calling for a leveling of the playing field.

• Affluent parents in the richer schools and school districts are better able to keep programs alive than parents in poorer schools and school districts, thus not providing equal educational opportunities for all kids.

• Some policy experts and school officials say that private financing for public schools carries real risks, including loss of government funding for schools and donors playing a disproportionate role in shaping school policy. This, they say, is enabling to legislators and taxpayers who might shrug off their responsibility to support public education.

• Many teachers are spending their own monies to pay for books, materials, and equipment in the classroom, and are also feeling pressured to write grants to meet basic needs.

• Individual school, local education and districtwide foundations are being formed in many places around the country without proper coordination or cooperation with the total school community. In some instances, there are multiple foundations within a single school or district. This has resulted in duplication of effort, problems with one program being favored over another, friction among foundations, and waste of human resources.

• In some schools and school districts, local education foundations are in an adversarial position to the superintendent of schools, the teachers, and the school board. This is not in the best interest of the schools and the kids. The ultimate objective is the improvement of public education for all children.

Issues Are Legitimate
The issues being raised are legitimate and should be addressed by the total school community. At this time, there are large infusions of money going to poor urban schools and school districts. The federal government is aware of the negative impact that poverty has on learning, and through Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and other programs, it has provided significant amounts of federal dollars to schools in an effort to improve and equalize learning opportunities. Corporations, foundations, and individual donors are beginning to address them through their own giving programs.

A number of school and district foundations are developing strategies to equalize funding throughout the district so that the poorer schools won’t be at a disadvantage in soliciting grants and gifts from the community.

This includes putting all gifts into one pot and distributing the monies equally. It also includes minigrants for teachers based upon the submission of grant applications. After all is said and done, every advocate for public education in the United States should insist that the schools receive their fair share of tax dollars and not have to raise significant amounts of outside money to meet basic needs. It is the duty of every legislator and taxpayer in the country to make this a reality.

The public schools are in their infancy when it comes to big-time fundraising. Some schools and school districts are studying their options, others are just getting started. A number are making serious progress. At this time, one thing is for certain: Big-time fundraising at the K–12 level is here to stay.

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