Nikki Burch shares her thoughts on parent engagement and income generation, and how the two can help each other.
Nikki’s life is education centred; for six years she has worked with Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) and in 2016 launched the FundEd magazine and website, which features a comprehensive range of income generation solutions available to schools – including an extensive grants database. Not only this, as part of her duties as a prior PTA committee member – she has two daughters at secondary school – Nikki organised a circus among other events. Essentially, she is passionate about supporting the education sector, and states her mission as “helping schools understand that worrying about funding and making uncomfortable decisions aren’t the only options.”
As some schools have already discovered, getting local stakeholders on board can be a much-needed boon to schools financially. As Nikki says, “income generation activity is too often undertaken in a closed room by one or two people. Yet, you never know where offers of help might come from – if only your local community knew what you needed.” She cites the example of a school that approached a local computer software company and received £1,000 in sponsorship towards new library books. As a result of some press coverage, a member of the public came forwarded and donated some of his personal books.
Schools are at the heart of a community and it is in everyone’s interests that their local school thrives, so promoting your ‘need’ isn’t a case of holding out a begging bowl. Many businesses want to work more closely with their local schools, but don’t know who to speak to, or even if their offer of help will be well received. The motivation for business leaders might be to meet Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) requirements, or they might be passionate about their industry and want to share that passion with the next generation, or they’ll want to work with your school simply because that’s where their future workforce might come from. A group of schools in Thornbury operate an award-winning business partnership scheme, with a host of work-related projects that have seen significant improvements in both student attainment and behaviour. Getting support from the local business community is definitely an untapped source of funding, but understandably schools often feel uncomfortable moving into ‘commercial’ realms. But many schools are setting up trading arms, or raising significant amounts through partnership schemes, so it is worth exploring. Indeed, the British Chambers of Commerce recognise the greatest achievements with an annual Education and Business Partnership Award.
Support from parents can also be extremely impactful – Nikki highlights the case where the PTA Chair at a school in Brighton signed up to FundEd and raised over £88,500 in just 12 months – but many parents currently face even tighter financial constraints than schools. In any case, Nikki maintains that the key is communicating, in detail, the needs of the school and any gaps that need filling to all stakeholders. “This might be as simple as a couple of hours’ cleaning after school, through to bid-writing skills. It is worth auditing your parents at the start of the new academic year, asking them what job they do, which company they work for, what other skills/interests they have, and whether they would be happy to help the school if called upon.” You will never know what talent you could draw upon if you don’t ask!
Ultimately, schools need maximum income for minimum effort, which is where a structured plan spanning a whole academic year (and beyond) is vital. Nikki would “always recommend employing a multi-faceted approach to income generation as this should help spread your risk, your workload and increase your chances of success.”
This means grants are likely to form part of the solution, but “such funds are increasingly over-subscribed, won’t help you achieve other goals such as engaging parents, often have long lead-times and not every project lends itself to grant funding. Also, if you put all your eggs in the grant basket and your application is unsuccessful, you get nothing. Even if successful, you will only ever receive the amount you request, no more. Whereas a crowdfunding campaign might require about the same amount of work, but it could raise more than your target, whilst helping to increase the profile of your school. And the work behind a crowdfunding campaign could be shared, for example, by getting teachers to run it as a cross-curricular learning opportunity with pupils creating videos, writing a compelling story, drawing up a promotional plan, etc. In summary, there is no right or wrong way to fundraise, but having a structured plan, reviewing successes and failures, and communicating your requirements to the widest possible network will improve your chances of success.” Starting small is best, giving schools an opportunity to build confidence, skills and a support base.
Nikki leaves us with the mantra that success breeds success, encouraging schools to “whip up excitement and bring your whole community with you on your fundraising journey.” This will make balancing on the funding tightrope a much easier feat.
Nikki will be speaking on Income Generation Solutions for Your School in the Business, Finance and Benchmarking Open Theatre at 3:10pm
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