Rural school districts need all the help they can get when it comes to fundraising. I’m not a big advocate of typical fundraising approaches used in school districts across the nation, such as bake sales and car washes. These tactics take up a lot of time and yield minimal results. Instead, I advocate fundraising approaches used in state colleges, universities, and private schools.
Rural districts need not be at a disadvantage when it comes to raising outside monies. In every community in America— large or small—there are people who can afford to give a major gift to your school or school district. You just have to find these people and involve them in your schools. Encourage them to become strong advocates and supporters of the schools. There is no better cause than public education.
There are a number of questions that you should consider as you think about updating and enhancing your K-12 fundraising program. Here they are:
Do you have a 501(c)(3) foundation?
Many districts are finding value in 501c3 foundations. These foundations offer tax write-offs for people who give to the schools and also facilitate the acquisition of grants and gifts from corporations and foundations. State colleges and universities have success with these types of foundations. The Michigan Association of School Boards offers help in this area: http://www.masb.org/school-foundations.aspx.
Who’s assigned to fundraising?
Most rural districts do not have a dedicated fundraising person or staff. But don’t think that this is impossible. I believe good full-time fundraisers will pay for their salaries and benefits in two years or less. To get started, I recommend that you use volunteer staff supplemented with some outside help. Your ultimate goal should be to have a full-time staff person in this important position.
Do you apply for grants?
A number of corporations and foundations are interested in funding for rural school districts, as is the federal government. Designate a staff person or volunteer to pinpoint where the money is. If you are able, hire a consultant to assist you in writing grants. Invite local corporate and foundation executives to visit your schools. Show them all the good that’s going on there. Involve them as volunteers and resource personnel.
Do you raise monies online?
Take advantage of your website by telling your story to the community and the world. Many donors prefer to give online. This is one of the easiest and best ways to raise monies. Using either PayPal or a credit card makes the process fast and easy. One of the latest trends is to establish a monthly giving program. This way, small monthly donors become major donors over time. Take a look at the websites of other districts and learn how they raise funds online.
Are you in touch with alumni and friends?
Alumni and friends of the district can be your biggest financial supporters. Keep in touch with these people through annual alumni events. Don’t forget to include the elementary schools as well. Many people who have gone to your schools or have taught or been administrators have fond memories of their experiences. Additionally, many parents, grandparents, and local residents remember the schools with love and admiration. Make certain to include all these people in your fundraising efforts. Go after them with gusto just like the colleges, universities, and private schools do.
Are you using DonorsChoose.org?
DonorsChoose is probably the easiest way for public school teachers to obtain mini-grants for their classrooms. Teachers post short classroom project requests on their website. Requests include pencils for a poetry-writing unit, violins for a school recital, and microscope slides for a biology class. Individuals can browse through the requests and give any amount online to the project that inspires them.
Once a project reaches its funding goal, DonorsChoose.org sends the materials to the school. All donors hear back from the classroom they supported with thank you notes and photos. At DonorsChoose.org, anyone can give as little as $1 and get the same level of choice, transparency, and feedback traditionally reserved for someone who gives millions of dollars. It’s called “citizen philanthropy.”
Do you conduct annual campaigns?
Annual campaigns are ongoing yearly appeals that provide general operating support for the schools. Gifts tend to be smaller than capital campaign gifts, which have loftier goals. New donors are solicited each year in an annual campaign and previous donors are asked to increase their contributions from the prior year. Gifts of cash are the most prevalent type given in an annual campaign.
Some of the fundraising approaches used in annual campaigns are online fundraising, direct mail solicitation, donor newsletters, phonathons, radio and TV solicitation, and special events. For an example of an annual campaign appeal, go to: http://www.urbanadamah.org/about-us/capital-campaign.
Do you conduct capital campaigns?
Capital campaigns have larger goals than annual campaigns and because of this, gift requests for the schools are set far higher. These campaigns are new to public schools, with some districts recognizing this tremendous potential resource for external fundraising. Timeframes in capital campaigns are generally long, such as three- or five-year campaigns to build new facilities. People are asked to give or pledge a certain amount of money over time.
Capital campaigns are exciting periods in a school community because the goals are tangible and the results are highly visible. These campaigns are usually organized for endowment purposes, as well as for buildings and equipment. For additional information about these types of campaigns, go to: http://www.grantsandgiftsforschools.com/TheBigGift.htm.
Have you considered planned giving?
Planned giving is the process of making a charitable gift of cash or noncash assets to one or more nonprofit organizations, including public schools. Charitable gifts are a tangible way for donors to contribute to the schools. The gift usually requires consideration and planning in light of the donor’s overall estate plan and tax situation. Legal documents to be completed should be made part of the donor’s overall estate plan and should be coordinated in cooperation with the donor’s financial advisors.
There are many tax advantages for giving cash and noncash assets to the schools, including appreciated assets. While gifts of cash are always welcome, noncash gifts can be made to the schools. Those include stocks, bonds, shares in mutual funds, a home or farm property, vacant land, vacation or rental property, commercial or income property, life insurance, and social security checks.
Because of the size and potential impact of such gifts on an estate, donors should be advised to consult with their professional advisors before completing the process. Additionally, the school board should consult with its legal advisors concerning implementation of a planned giving program—and develop policies to receive and administer such gifts, as well as policies for rejecting certain gifts. For more information, go to www.plannedgiving.com.
Have you thought about naming rights?
Named gifts have been around for a long time on private school campuses. A number of public school districts, including rural districts, are taking a closer look at this fundraising opportunity. Schools are great places for families to leave a lasting legacy by having a school building, a cafeteria, athletic fields, or a theater seat named after them.
In addition, districts are exploring ways of giving commercial vendors and corporations opportunities for naming rights, especially for gymnasiums, athletic fields, auditoriums, stadiums, signage, and track and field facilities. If you move in this direction, it is recommended that the naming rights be awarded for a specific period of time (five to 10 years, more or less), after which new negotiations take place or the contract is rescinded.
When it comes to fundraising, board members in rural districts can influence the schools and the community in positive ways. Studying and understanding the latest fundraising trends and techniques will reward your school district with more money than you might realize.
This piece originally appeared in American School Board Journal.
About the Author: Stan Levenson, Ph.D., has been involved in K-12 fundraising for more than 40 years. One of the foremost K-12 fundraising writers in America, his most recent book is The Essential Fundraising Guide for K-12 Schools. His website is http://grantsandgiftsforschools.com/index.html.
Reprinted with permission from American School Board Journal, August 2015. Copyright 2015 National School Boards Association. All rights reserved.