“Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.



How schools are getting ever more inventive when it comes to fundraising

Parents’ noses were put out of joint recently when a head texted them about the late payment of school dinner money. Wales Online reported: “Parents branded the headteacher ‘rude’ and said that they did not expect such a message from someone in his position.”

I’m not interested in the rights and wrongs of the matter. I’m more intrigued by yet more evidence that schools continue to struggle to balance the books.

Desperate times make us do desperate things. I’m not sure schools have ever been awash with funds, but cash flow is a concern for many heads.


Time to get creative!

The squeeze on resources means teachers are taking on bigger classes, along with the work of lunchtime supervisors and cleaning staff.

Heads and their bursars are also keeping a close eye on heating, with some schools waiting until November before firing up those boilers.

The sea change for many is that parents are being asked for money for the essentials, such as textbooks, stationery, and lab equipment.

Some schools are adopting a four-and-a-half-day week, with a parental surcharge for Friday afternoon supervision. Labour MP Jess Phillips tweeted a picture of a letter from her son’s school: “School ends at 1pm on Fridays from now on.”

Contributions to teachers’ salaries are not unknown, with one state school asking parents to give £1,200 per child each year, according to a Times investigation.

And how about this from the Telegraph, last October:

“A school has been ridiculed for asking pupils to raise money for staff room ‘biscuits and treats’ to boost teachers’ wellbeing.”

To be fair to teachers, I’d add that I’ve long heard of them dipping into their own pockets for stationery and the like, and on an increasingly regular basis. Even school suppliers are being asked to donate. The funding problem isn’t going anywhere soon.


Tech can help

EdTech saves money on photocopying and other avoidable costs. With the speed and reach of the internet, schools are increasingly turning to crowdfunding. Many have set up Amazon “wish lists” so that “parents can buy such luxuries as pencils, glue sticks, rulers etc”, as one school in the east of England wryly put it.

Social media oils the wheels of communication, making it easier to enlist the support of local businesses, celebrities, and the great and good. YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram are all excellent in terms of targeting and reach. Furthermore, the internet offers myriad fundraising suggestions, from the tried and traditional, to the brilliant and a little barmy.

There are bake offs, dance offs, staff shaving hair off, fun runs and walks and bike rides, cake sales, sponsored silences…

Aah, as a Maths teacher, I used to love those: “Right turn to page x and do exercise y,” followed not by groans but… silence!

Perennially popular are quizzes, raffles, auctions, talent and fashion shows, guess the name of the teddy, and collection buckets at the door for everything and anything.

Children will always love non-uniform days. One secondary school in North Yorkshire has six – yes, six – a year, at the end of each half-term, adding £3,000 to the pot.

Fundraising doesn’t have to be complicated, but then again, some schools like to raise the stakes or ramp it up.


Canny combinations and variations on a theme

And we all know that novelty sticks. Cast your minds back to when we all fell under the spell of the ice bucket challenge back in the summer of 2014. It went viral on social media, with the most famous people on the planet getting in on the act, or being pressured to act. Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg – I challenge you to find someone famous who didn’t get involved.

A lot of these ideas are canny combinations, or variations, on an existing theme.

You’ve heard of tug-of-wars, but what about plane pulls?

You’ve heard of raffles. What about balloon pops?

Fill balloons with tickets, use them to fill a room, then sell needles for a chance to “pop for prizes”.

And then there’s silent discos, ugly sweater parties, animal yoga, and more besides.


Tough times call for tough kids

It seems to me the best fundraising events involve – or better still – are initiated and organised by the students themselves. Students, more often than not, are happy to get out sponges to clean cars, or throw them at teachers in the stocks.

Tough times call for tough kids. Necessity is the mother of invention. Adversity is often the best teacher. Fundraising empowers young people. We all want to feel like we bring something to the party.


Final thoughts

Pupils want to get involved, and they’re good at it. And what better preparation for the world beyond the school gates, a world that calls for grit, ingenuity and invention? The entrepreneurial spirit has never been more in demand. With rapidly shifting sands, one thing’s for sure, certainty is thin on the ground. So, whether it’s bake offs or take offs, fundraisers serve up a heady educational mix of meaningful work and shared endeavour. A great fundraising event raises money, the profile of the school, and the morale of staff and pupils.

Mike Dowling and the team at Milk


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“Thrift is poetic because it is creative; waste is unpoetic because it is waste.”

G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World

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