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How capital campaigns can help schools transform their buildings

“We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us,”

mused Winston Churchill in 1943 while considering the repair of the House of Commons.

While your school building project may not be as grand as the House of Commons, refurbishing your school building, sports hall or science lab can reap many benefits for the students, staff and the community. It can be transformative, inspiring and welcoming, all factors that have a positive impact on the wellbeing and performance of students, teachers and everyone who visits the school.

So can you raise funds to transform your building?

Capital campaigns are used to generate a capital sum rather than revenue. They are used to raise funds, for example, to develop or renovate a school building or department, or could be used to buy an expensive piece of equipment.

The prologue – feasibility study

Once you have decided to embark on a capital campaign to fund the refurbishment of your school building or department, you should follow Benjamin Franklin’s adage. ‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’. Before starting on the project, you will need to get buy-in from all those who have an interest in, attend or have a relationship with the school, ‘stakeholders’.

Engaging, consulting and communicating with all those who have a stake will have a positive impact on your fundraising, increasing capital raised, helping you successfully reach your fundraising target and completing the project.

One of the first steps is to determine the cost of the project and the feasibility of raising the needed funds. If the school does not have a fundraiser or fundraising expertise, then this is where a fundraising agency or fundraising consultant can help.

They will assist with the following:

- Conducting in-depth research into the school community and identifying which factors will help it achieve its fundraising target.

- Research into a diverse range of potential income streams and how much could be raised through each one - your fundraising strategy or if you prefer a plan of action.

- Developing a robust, compelling case for support. What you want, why, who it helps, when it’s needed, and how you will achieve this.

- Working with people connected to the school or college to determine if there are any contacts and opportunities with companies, major donors, trusts and foundations and how best to approach these.

- Advising about the importance of having a project lead, who will be the main contact within the school.

- Guidance on the cost of the campaign, i.e. the cost of working with a fundraising agency or consultant, along with materials needed and staff time.

Have a vision, but where do we start?

Having a vision for a new building, sports hall or indeed for the refurbishment of any part of your building is the first step. You know what needs to be done. You have consulted with architects, have had plans drawn up and have all the necessary approvals for the project, so what next? Once you have an estimate for the costs, how do you raise the funds and ensure that your dream becomes a reality?

Capital campaigns 101 – who, how and what

It’s likely that donations to your campaign will include gifts from fundraising events, alumni and the parents of students. The importance of individuals who have a link to your school should not be underestimated. But anyone who has ever supported a fundraising project will know the huge effort needed to get large sums from this source.

It is most often the case that 80% of appeal income will come from 20% of the donors. The opportunities to build with big financial blocks come from relationships with trusts and foundations, corporates and high net-worth individuals.

Below are some key elements to consider when developing a capital campaign. They are not exhaustive but are a guide.

Develop a campaign steering group and arrange consultations/meetings – Set up a steering group and organise consultation meetings with key stakeholders including teachers, parents, particularly the parent-teacher association, alumni, and local organisations if relevant. Explain your vision and provide all stakeholders with the opportunity to input. A questionnaire is a good way of starting to do this and a gentle introduction to the appeal.

Project lead – It is important to have a project lead who will manage the wider project. This person will be the main contact with the fundraising agency and will update the campaign steering group on the progress of fundraising and development of the project. If there isn’t sufficient capacity within the school to carry out this role, then consider appointing a temporary project manager. The project manager will be the point of contact between the school, developers and fundraising agency. The project manager should report to the headteacher or senior leadership team.

Budget –This should be detailed and cover all elements of the capital project. Consider including periods when the project might have to temporarily stop and build this into your budget. Also include a contingency, for example, 10% of the total budget.

The Case for Support – Developing a compelling, robust case support, which will form the crux of your campaign. This content will be used in applications, marketing materials and in all communications. Ensure that you have consulted widely and that you have researched and captured all the key elements of your ‘story’. Trusts, foundations and corporates (indeed all donors) will want to have information demonstrating the need for your project and the impact it will make. Include content on the impact for students, teachers, organisations and individuals outside the school who might use the building, and also the wider community.

Funders – conduct detailed research and develop a list of prospects for each key income stream with their likely level of contribution. These should include HNWI/ major gifts, trusts and foundations, statutory funding, for example, local councils and government grants, corporates, parental giving, alumni, parent-teacher association and events.

Develop a spreadsheet containing a list of all potential funders, including information on criteria, the deadline for applications and ongoing communication. Storing data on alumni, parents and other individuals must comply with GDPR regulations and you may wish to consider investing in a relationship management database, particularly if you are considering continuing fundraising after your capital campaign.

Discuss and agree on the funding matrix and likely income levels with the steering group. Developing relationships with new funders takes time and it is far easier to develop existing relationships and networks rather than build new ones.

Timeline – ‘The devil is in the detail’, and this is true for projects. Developing a timeline with key milestones, dates when specific activities or targets have to be completed, and which could impact on the development of the project. Also, consider whether the project needs to be completed for a particular event or by a deadline. A detailed timeline, which is revisited regularly, will ensure that your project is delivered on time and within budget.

Governance - The advent of GDPR and data protection regulations has provided clear guidance on communicating with individuals and the use of personal data. Your capital appeal may include a public campaign, and will definitely involve contacting parents, alumni and friends of the school. Ensure that all communication is compliant with GDPR and other relevant guidelines

Communication – how are we doing? Developing an internal and external communications plan will enable you to communicate key successes and milestones. Consider using images wherever possible as this enables people to visually see progress.

Long-Term benefits – Developing a capital campaign will introduce you to new funders and supporters, which could lead to long term partnerships and income streams for future projects.

Sam Watson, Founder of Orchard Fundraising was approached by Sir Thomas Rich’s Grammar School who were looking for ways to fund the modernisation of three science laboratories.

Sam talks about her approach and how she helped them achieve their aims:

“No one capital campaign is the same, each organisation will have different needs, priorities and opportunities. I worked closely with teachers and parents to identify the greatest and most compelling need. We focused on trusts and foundations which had an interest in STEM education and community outreach. A survey of the parents at the school found that the majority of parents were keen to donate and raise funds towards STEM projects in the school, so we encouraged interested parents to match trust and foundation funding pledges, ensuring this money was secured."
"We prepared an extensive case for support, wrote tailored proposals and submitted these to the relevant trusts and foundations. The Parents Teachers Association (PTA) also focussed their fundraising on the campaign and made a £10,000 contribution towards the refurbishment. In total, combining support from trusts, foundations, parents and the PTA, £120,000 was raised to modernise the science laboratories in six months.”

Orchard Fundraising is happy to meet with a school or college to discuss their specific need, without cost or obligation. Following conversations, we will develop a bespoke proposal that meets your requirements and helps you achieve your aim.

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