How are independent schools using fundraising to make a difference?

Keri Beckingham asks headteachers to share fundraising tips and tricks from their schools and the charitable causes that they support

From asking an independent school’s core community of parents, alumni, staff, governors and local stakeholders to support the construction of a new building, to pupils baking cakes in aid of charity, fundraising provides a way to support the future provision of the school and also offers a way to give back to the local community.

But why does fundraising provide such a vital lifeline for independent schools and how are schools making a difference to worthy causes?

Why is fundraising important for independent schools?

Many independent schools were created with a philanthropic vision, and by subsidising school fees, today’s schools can support students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Laura Osei is headteacher of The Eden School, a co-educational independent faith school in West London. Commenting on the importance of providing financial support to students, she says: “It remains part of the mechanism through which schools are run and continue to contribute to the lifeline of education. It ensures that provisions are available and that students have every opportunity for success.”

At Lady Eleanor Holles School, an independent day school for girls in London, creating a sense of community has always been a core goal, especially in regards to fundraising and development.

The school has been running its Development Programme since 2016, and discussing the impact their fundraising has had, Heather Hanbury, headmistress, says: “To date we have been particularly successful in raising money for our bursary fund, and we currently support 56 students, with 41 on 100% means-tested bursaries.”

I want our students to feel connected to our chosen charities, be generous and, as a result, feel more fulfilled

Fundraising also provides independent schools with a way of improving their facilities. At Edge Grove School, a day and boarding school for boys and girls aged three–13-years-old in Hertfordshire, they are halfway through a £3.6m project to build a new Lower School building.

Speaking of how fundraising can support construction projects, headmaster Ben Evans says: “The only way that schools can raise revenue is through their fees, however they also need to be careful to maintain the affordability of their fees as year-on-year fee increases risk pricing parents out. To take your school forward and do something different from your competitors, headteachers need to fundraise.”

Implementing effective fundraising strategies

To help independent schools meet their aspirations for philanthropy, growth and development, having a strong fundraising plan is essential, but what are the best ways for them to implement this?

Jane Prescott is headmistress of Portsmouth High School for girls in Hampshire. She believes that it’s important to emotionally engage potential donors in order to maximise the funds that are raised, and says: “Philanthropy is all about building and nurturing relationships which will strengthen links within the school and external community.”

The need to engage stakeholders and secure their interest in a fundraising campaign is also something that Laura Osei thinks is key to success. She adds: “Support from the entire school body is important as staff, parents and students alike need to buy into any strategy being proposed.”

Edge Grove School established a Development Office in 2017, and it has a 10-year development plan for its fundraising. 

My advice to other independent schools is do not think of fundraising as a short-term gain, instead think of it as a journey that is sustainable in the long term 

For Ben Evans, a successful fundraising strategy involves building relationships with potential donors and making them feel valued, as well as thinking about longevity, rather than short-term gains.

He says: “If someone wants to donate to your school, they need to feel like you really want their donation, whether it’s £10 or £1m. It’s about taking the time to show them round the school, meeting the headteacher, showing them your plans and making them feel valued.

“For us it’s a long-term strategy, and we’re now engaging with people who may not donate for 20 years. My advice to other independent schools is do not think of fundraising as a short-term gain, instead think of it as a journey that is sustainable in the long-term.”

Fundraising success

When it comes to creating a fundraising strategy, what types of activities have the most success?

Jane Prescott thinks that Portsmouth High School’s fundraising campaign for a climbing wall was successful because it was short, clear and engaging.

Commenting further, she said: “We tied in the fundraising with our 135th birthday, so each girl was encouraged to raise £13.50 and parents and alumni any variable of £1, £3 and £5. There was a clear ending and a clear purpose to the campaign which was extremely successful.”

In Heather Hanbury’s experience, donors should also be able to clearly see the difference their donation has made. She said: “For our new Gateway Path, our community were invited to sponsor bricks, trees and benches, and we raised over £50k. The campaign was very successful because we invited our community to quite literally become part of LEH’s history.”

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Ben Evans also agrees that it’s important to ensure that donations are as tangible as possible.

Discussing his experience of fundraising for Edge Grove School’s new Lower School building, he said: “For a new building, people want to be part of it and want to be able to make a difference without giving millions. With our campaign we gave people the chance to pay for a particular element of the building, for example the interactive teaching walls for each classroom at £7,000 each, or classroom bag storage units at £1,000 each.

“In my experience, what doesn’t work is simply saying we want to build this and we are looking for donations, it’s very short sighted.”

Giving back to external causes

All of our heads agree that involving students in charitable fundraising activities is key to their success, and for Jane Prescott, it’s also about listening to student’s suggestions. She says: “If the girls have chosen who or what they want to support, there is usually an emotional connection with that choice. The girls then pass on that passion and the activity gains momentum.”

Laura Osei thinks it’s important for students to understand the important life skills that they can learn from taking part, and added: “It teaches responsibility and helps build character.”

Kate Reynolds is head of Leweston School in Dorset, a day and boarding school for pupils from three months to 18 years. Fundraising at the school is led by pupils, with each house choosing one charity to support per term.

Commenting on the school’s process for deciding which charities to support, she says: “The head of house prefect makes a case for support and puts together a proposal which is submitted to the staff charities team. The houses then plan and implement whatever activities they want to do which range from sponsored events, cake sales and sports matches.”

At Lady Eleanor Holles, the girls are involved in choosing the charities that are supported through their Charity Committee. Heather Hanbury believes that this provides an effective way of engaging pupils in the school’s charitable giving, and says: “I want our students to feel connected to our chosen charities, be generous and as a result, feel more fulfilled.”

Examples of fundraising activities

At Edge Grove School, Ben Evans wants to ensure that pupils understand the reasons for supporting a charity and the cause at hand. Commenting on their external fundraising activities, he says: “Internationally we support the Rainbow Centre in Sri Lanka, which provides a daycare centre for disadvantaged children. 

Our children recently visited the centre and four of our teachers also gave three weeks of their time last summer, which means we have really strong links with the cause. 

“The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is our national charity, and we also support the Hertfordshire Community Foundation on a local basis. I am running the London Marathon this year in aid of them, and have been keeping the children up to date with my training so that they can understand the efforts that go into raising money for charity.”

At Edge Grove School they are halfway through a £3.6m project to build a new Lower School building


At Lady Eleanor Holles School, they alternate between supporting an international charity one year and a national one the next.

Heather Hanbury says: “In September 2018 the LEH Hampton Boat Club raised over £65k for CHASE Shooting Star charity, and in 2017/18 over £10,000 was raised for the international charity Lumos, which is dedicated to improving the lives of institutionalised children throughout the world.”

The Sixth Form at Leweston School organise and run a 24-hour ‘triathlon’ every spring term, consisting of 10 hours of dancing, eight hours of cycling and six hours of running. Commenting on the fundraising that they have done, Kate Reynolds says: “Our head girl organised Leweston’s second 24-hour triathlon in memory of a friend. The entire school took part from Reception to Year 13, as well as staff, and raised £1,500 for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.”

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