Fundraising 101

Census data indicates state funding for schools dropped sharply following the 2008 recession (CBPP, 2017), and while most states have made gradual improvements since 2015 many schools still rely on fundraising to close the gap. However, bake sales and spirit wear aren’t going to have a significant impact.

Many schools have turned to methods like an auction to bring in more substantial sums, and while this had proven to be a viable option for wealthier districts, it still relies in large part on the current school community to provide support on top of the enrollment and basic supplies they already contribute.

Tapping into current families at bake sales and silent auctions aren’t the only methods to raise money. By developing an intentional strategy that identifies the available resources, how the money will be spent and who is likely to support that effort, schools can significantly increase their revenues.

Evaluate Funding Needs and Options

Every fundraising effort should begin with a needs assessment. What needs do you have that require funding? How much money do you need? Who may be willing to  contribute and how much are they likely to provide? And perhaps most importantly, what is the right strategy to acquire those funds?

If you need money for new library books perhaps a bake sale is the answer. Maybe you need new equipment for the computer lab? An auction might be the way to go. Or perhaps you have a big ticket item like a new playground. In that case, you might want to combine several activities to meet your fundraising goal or create a campaign dedicated to financing that particular need.

Regardless of the amount needed or how the proceeds will be used, schools should look beyond the parent community for prospective contributors. As part of the community, local businesses and professionals are sources of funding who should be approached to  support the school, albeit strategically.

For example, the local bakery is probably a better sponsor than the local attorney for contributions toward an after-school cooking class. This same  local bakery probably doesn’t want to be approached for the cooking class, the bake sale, the walk-a-thon and the school auction, so keep a donor database to reference who gave what, when, and what to avoid donor fatigue.

Remember, not all funding is in the form of a cash contribution from your community. Your school may be eligible for one of the many grant programs available to K-12 institutions. Successful grant programs include funding for teachers, wellness programs, curriculum and school reform initiatives to name a few.

Finding the appropriate grant to apply for can take some legwork, which is why many parent organizations include a ‘Grant Writing Committee.’ This is one of our favorite list of available grants if you want to explore this option.

Identifying your fundraising needs and methods gives you a big-picture view that can help you create an action plan to achieve your desired results. Once that plan is established, you can begin to garner support from your target audience.

Make a Case for Support

According to Snavely Associates, an organization focused on communication for philanthropies, “Donors don’t give to a catchy campaign theme, or a big, shiny, spendy case statement…they give when their personal passion intersects with their belief and trust in your mission.” In other words, if you can articulate not just what you’re raising money for, but why, your request is more likely to resonate with prospective donors.

Consider two different fundraising statements; ABC School is raising money to replace outdated equipment in the computer lab, versus, ABC School recognizes that technology is ever-evolving, therefore we are seeking funds to ensure our tools and resources keep pace with this evolution to help students make a seamless transition from school to the workplace.

Both of these statements make the same request, but one is more likely to align with the personal passion of the school, its neighbors and the professional community. However, emotions  are not the only way to connect with potential donors. For example, a mission to ‘help students make a seamless transition from school to the workplace’ will be supported by many, but for different reasons.

Parents want to know that their student has the knowledge to succeed in a future career. Local business leaders want to know that future employees are familiar with current technologies and business practices. When developing your case statement, be sure to include not just why you are raising money, but how that can have a positive impact on potential donors.

Lead By Example

Perhaps the best way to garner support from others is to provide support yourself. For example, the school might offer its computer lab for the local electronics store to teach some classes, and in return, that store might be inspired to offer pricing discounts for an equipment upgrade.

Support doesn’t have to be quid pro quo, but when a school builds a culture of support among its local community, that culture has a way of becoming the norm. Show the community how committed you are to them by participating in their activities and supporting their businesses. Those actions are likely to be reciprocated, which inspires pride in the local community and the school that brings everyone together.

Join the Conversation

An intentional fundraising strategy enables a school to connect all the dots for their donor community, which helps them visualize where  they can have an impact, and how that impact will benefit them. How intentional is your school’s fundraising program? Do donors fully understand where and how their contributions will have an impact?


From ideas to products, tips to trends, there are a wide variety of resources available to help you build the fundraising program that fits your needs. Here are some of our favorites to help you get started.

The Fundraising Authority


Colorado Nonprofit Association

Donor Box

Inbox Marketer – digital fundraising


Figueroa/Leachman/Masterson, 2017 – Center on budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). A Punishing Decade for School Funding