2020 has certainly been a year of unprecedented challenges. With school closures, multiple lockdowns and a recession on the horizon, you could be forgiven for thinking that fundraising at such a time of uncertainty would be near impossible. 

Yet with any crisis comes both an urgent need and opportunity. At IDPE, the Institute of Development Professionals in Education, we have seen schools embracing this opportunity to do away with the old, and to explore new ways of working, to continue to make a difference within their school community.

What does history tell us?

The Charitable Aid Foundation (CAF) researches long-term trends in charitable giving and in 2009 reported on the impact of the global financial crisis of 2008. Despite total donations dipping by 11 per cent, their research showed that donor motivation remained constant - giving is seen as a social act as opposed to being purely defined by economic factors. One of the most cited reasons for stopping giving was that donors “no longer felt connected to the organization”.

In a recently released guide from the Chartered Institute of Fundraising, Fundraising in the Time of Covid-19, we see again that a global pandemic and subsequent recession does not automatically equal no further donations: “supporters are responding in unprecedented ways… we’re hearing about record appeals and exceptional generosity, and supporters are going to extraordinary lengths to fundraise… The pandemic has heightened people’s desire to do good.”

In fact, in the very early days of the pandemic when many independent schools offered a discount on fees as a result of moving teaching online, many parents gifted the “discount” back to the school. There is therefore, an opportunity for all schools to harness this rise in altruism.

So are schools still fundraising?

Arguably the need for fundraising in schools has never been greater. We know from the last decade of IDPE’s benchmarking of schools’ fundraising, that all schools can fundraise and that fundraising is possible, even during an uncertain economic climate - but how does this translate into practice? Are schools fundraising?  And if they are, are they having any success?

The answer is unfortunately not a simple yes or no.  From our conversations with members, we know it very much depends on where the school is at, on its development journey. Every school is different, and therefore every school’s approach to fundraising will be different – pandemic or no pandemic.  Some schools have embraced fundraising, setting up hardship funds whilst others have continued to fundraise for existing bursary programmes; some schools have furloughed staff forcing a temporary pause on fundraising, whilst other schools have focused on increasing their engagement activity in the short-term. There is not a one size fits all approach, a school must be mindful of its community and their potential to give, but what is clear, is that fundraising is possible in spite of the pandemic, and in some cases has led to increased success.  

What fundraising successes have schools had?

In June this year, we carried out survey of members with consultants Marts & Lundy UK to check in with development professionals. Whilst the pandemic has not surprisingly had an impact on fundraising success - for example over 50 per cent of the schools who responded reported a decrease in solicitations - there were also some promising responses:

49 per cent of schools had launched hardship funds

45 per cent of schools had seen no noticeable change in income as a result of Covid

52 per cent of schools reported no noticeable change in pledged income as a result of Covid

In some instances, we have seen examples of how the pandemic has in some cases accelerated the fundraising potential of a school.

For example:

“We launched a hardship appeal to current parents and have recruited 100 new givers, with feedback from parents that this is the first time they've realised/understood the needs of bursary parents. The hardship appeal has also given us a practical way to engage (and therefore steward) prospects we've been trying to warm up for some time, so it has been a helpful route into a bursary giving discussion.”

“I have picked up a number of regular donors to our bursary fund on the back of the pandemic, also a couple of legacy prospects.”

“The crisis has allowed our network to connect in a very special way and we saw many alumni that never gave before making donations. Also, our 'crisis' appeals were very successful, and everyone offered help, not only financially but in many other ways.”

Case study – St Albans School

St Albans School is a selective day school (boys 11-16 with a co-educational Sixth Form) in Hertfordshire. As a school which benefited from the Direct Grant Scheme in the past, social diversity is a central part of St Albans School’s historic mission, and last year 40 pupils were in receipt of bursary provision, with nine of these on full bursaries.

Shortly after all schools went into lockdown, St Albans took the decision to launch a Hardship Fund to support parents who found themselves struggling financially during this unprecedented time.  

“The Hardship Fund was launched in March 2020, and over the past eight months, we have raised or had pledged almost £180,000” said Kate Gray, development director at St Albans School. “We have been overwhelmed by the positive response received from our community, including current and former parents, alumni, and current and former staff. To date, the school has been able to support a significant number of families experiencing financial difficulty caused by the coronavirus pandemic and expects to continue to do so in 2021.”

“Following the success of our £8.5 million capital campaign to develop new, state of the art teaching spaces, our focus now is to continue to grow fundraising for bursaries, and the Hardship Fund has provided us with a platform to support more families to access transformational educational opportunities.”

Now is the time to press play on development

So despite the global pandemic and economic downturn, schools continue to raise significant funds for example to support families through hardship and bursary provision. This success is due to the strength of the relationships development teams have been able to foster and demonstrates the need for continued investment in schools’ development.  Now is the time to press play on development, to actively deepen relationships that could lead to financial dividends both in the short term, and in the future.