Finding Money

Finding Money

PHOTO © FALARA/SHUTTERSTOCK

With a slow economic recovery, the Great Recession seems to be the nightmare that won’t go away. Its effects are likely to be felt for a few more years, especially in hard-hit states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. The numbers bear it out: “In FY 11 LEAs [Local Education Agencies] received $74.9 billion from the federal government for public elementary and secondary education, which represents a decrease of 2.4 percent from 76.8 billion received in FY 10, after adjusting for inflation,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics’ report Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts: School Year 2010-11 (Fiscal Year 2011).

While fundraising is not a new concept to schools across the country, many administrators are seeking balance through fundraising, which can take many forms. This article explores some fundraising options, as well as how to create a marketing strategy to ensure success.

FUNDRAISING VIA GRANTS

There are many types of grants, and most administrators are familiar with the federal government’s and their states’ websites listing available grants. “Remember, too, that not all education grants come through education agencies,” advises Fritz Edelstein, a principal at Washington-based Public Private Action, which helps their clients create opportunities to expand and improve their businesses. “For example, the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency and Health and Human Services provide grants related to education.” Check out their websites.

For additional grant opportunities, visit i.dell.com. This is the Education Grants Calendar, sponsored by Dell and Intel, and it highlights a variety of corporate educator grants available for schools.

Beyond the above-mentioned sources, grants come in all shapes and sizes. “There are foundation grants, corporate grants, competitive grants and grantee-initiated requests,” says Edelstein. “Sometimes a solicitor is interested in doing something, and it might be a good fit for what a district is already doing or may want to do. It may be BETA testing or field testing with financial remuneration to the district for participating. Admittedly, these are less common, but it points to the fact that grants are widely varied.”

Edelstein also reminds administrators that grant money is always designated to a specific program or function, such as lunch or science. “It’s not willy-nilly funds to replace general funds,” he says. “There is no open-ended funding like that anywhere of which I am familiar.”

NON-GRANT FUNDRAISING

Many school districts have foundations that work toward fundraising goals. Consider Kettering City Schools in Kettering, Ohio. The district receives support from the Kettering Education Foundation, which seeks contributions to fund grants that support curriculum-based programs and innovative teaching.

If your district doesn’t have assistance from a foundation, there are still plenty of sources available for funds; they just may take perseverance to locate because, unfortunately, there’s no one clearinghouse website for grants and other funding sources. This is unfortunate, because such a site would provide school administrators great efficiency.

There’s a lot to be said for efficiency, as hunting and applying for funds can be quite time consuming, and time is something of which busy administrators have little. “When applying for funds, you have to weigh the benefits, the amount of time you have available, what the investment is to get to the finish line, and what your success rate may be,” Edelstein advises. “These are important considerations depending on the resources you have available for making the applications.”

To get you started, here are some sites that may prove useful in the hunt for funds.

  • DonorsChoose.org connects teachers with community members looking to fund worthy classroom projects.
  • DigitalWish.org empowers teachers to solve technology shortfalls in the classroom by connecting with the community at large.
  • GrantWrangler.com is a free grant listing and monthly newsletter service making it easier for parents and educators to find school funding.
  • FundForTeachers.org supports fellowships designed to help teachers develop skills, knowledge and confidence that enhance student achievement.
  • GetEdFunding.com provides current information on grants and other funding opportunities available for educational institutions.
  • Schoolastitch.com is an online consignment store for brand name kids clothes; participating schools receive 40 percent of the purchases.

CREATING A MARKETING STRATEGY

When applying for funds, it isn’t enough to define yourself — even though it may be accurate — generally. For instance, saying “We are a mid-sized suburban school district focused on excellence and high graduation rates,” may be accurate, but it won’t cut it in the fundraising arena. You have to reach your target audience with solid messaging just as a public or private corporation does.

“It comes down to the heart of what the school or district is about — what makes it different from others — and delivering that in a solid message that resonates with the audience,” says Andrea Trapani, a partner with Identity Public Relations in Bingham Farms, Mich.

Creating a solid message is a process, Trapani continues. “You can’t take a blank canvas, launch a fundraising strategy tomorrow and expect it to deliver results. You have to view yourself as a marketer. Once you do that, you will see that fundraising is much more productive and delivers more powerful results.”

THE MARKETING STRATEGY PROCESS

Here’s what the process of creating a marketing strategy looks like. The first step, as already touched upon, is awareness that a marketing strategy is needed. “Here,” says Trapani, “administrators are savvy in understanding that their role has evolved and that they need to show results.”

Second, the process can be facilitated internally, via an open and honest discussion that includes answering such questions as: Who are we? What do we stand for? What makes us different? All administrators involved in creating the marketing strategy must consider themselves ambassadors of the brand that’s being created. “Without that message being received and acknowledged internally, there’s no way philanthropists or target audiences will receive it, either,” says Trapani.

Third, it is the head administrator’s role to take the intelligence received from the team meeting and create a clearly defined mission and message. “This can be a tough process,” Trapani acknowledges. “If we’re saying we’re this, does it mean we’re not that? Rather than second guessing, focus on your target audience and the message you want it to receive.”

That mission and message is what you use when fundraising. It is the key differentiators no one else in the market can tout. It results, quite simply, in fundraising success.

Regardless your district size, regardless how much time and assistance you have in seeking funds, they can be successfully found. Edelstein offers a final caution before you begin: “Never, ever use grants to fill holes in budgets. That’s foolhardy because, if it’s a competitive process and you don’t win, then what are you going to do? You wouldn’t run your personal budget that way, so don’t run your district’s budget that way.”

Managing Your Assets

Why should you manage the assets accrued as as a result of your fundraising success?

For three reasons, notes Daniel Dean, product marketing manager for Plano, Texas-based Wasp Technologies, which manufactures barcode software and solutions.

First, an asset management program allows you to establish accountability, in that equipment purchased with grant money must be used for the program or project awarded the funds. “If the state auditor pays you a visit,” Dean says, “you are prepared to show him or her where the assets, such as laptops, are without having to search for them.”

Second, it allows you to create and maintain property records, including a description of and serial number for the property, the source, who holds title, the acquisition date, the cost, percentage of federal participation in the cost, the location, use and condition of the property. “Knowing what you have and where it is prevents over buying or buying items you don’t need,” says Dean.

Third, it provides control to ensure adequate safeguards to prevent loss, damage or theft. “If a student returns a checked-out item, such as a library e-reader, you can log in the item’s condition and even charge the student if it’s returned damaged,” Dean indicates.

With limited funds, managing your assets only makes sense. It takes the guess work out of knowing what you have, where it is, what and when it needs maintained, and when it needs to be replaced.

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of School Planning & Management.

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