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  • Melanie Notaras

How to Fundraise Without Selling Anything

Is your school community 'sales-tired'? Your volunteers burnt-out? Your profits down because families are bored or feeling pressured to buy things they don't want? Or are you looking to fund "big ticket" items that your current fundraisers won't cover?

How about simply selling an idea? If you want to earn more money for less effort per volunteer hour, you can try these fundraising methods. They require lots of planning, don't always work, and need a longer time scale. But they can be done by individuals or tiny teams - and speaking from personal experience - can have enormous results!

1. Grants

Grants are monetary amounts offered by local, state or federal government, large business (usually banks or insurance companies) or philanthropic organisations to be spent on a specific purpose. They can either be allocated by entitlement (eg Councils may offer small grants to any school in their area for a water tank or vegetable garden) or by competition. Use keyword searches or go directly to online grant directories such as Grants Online (UK), The Grants Hub or Grant Connect (AUS), or Foundation Directory Online (USA) but don't forget to also check newspapers, organisation websites and even bank windows in your local area. Also:

  • Investigate grants and take note of application closing dates and what types of projects they're looking to sponsor. They are often posted 6 months to a year in advance of the closing date and must be scheduled into your calendar so you don't forget.

  • Check your school community connections for grant opportunities. Some large corporations only offer grants to groups associated with their employees (actually this can make it easier to win them).

  • Allocate 1 or 2 persons to prepare documentation for each grant, allowing at least 2 - 3 months to get the documentation ready and approved by your school Principal for submission.

  • Make sure you stick to the grant's guidelines and clearly identify your project outcomes! If you don't answer every question or your project is outside their scope you'll have zero chance of succeeding. Proof read for spelling, grammar and punctuation as well as message fluency.

  • Where possible meet the judges in person to discuss how your project fits the grant guidelines and the impact the success of winning the grant will have for your school. Invite them on a tour of your school to see where the project will fit in. Be polite and helpful, don't push for commitment.

It's hit and miss, but don't be daunted. I've won a few grants for my children's school. The first was a one-off local newspaper competition ($2000) with a clearly defined goal of purchasing new home readers for K-2. The second was a $50,000 grant to help install a huge water tank and subsurface irrigation for our playing field. I'd actually asked for (and expected to receive) $65,000, so when we didn't get what we needed, I went directly to my local government Mayor and asked for the remainder. I told them it would be the cheapest $15,000 they'd spend for such a big environmental and social/health impact. I wasn't applying under their grants program (which was typically around $2000), I just asked for it and by luck found out they had discretion to allocate it. And after only a couple of meetings, I got the money! You can too.

2. Setting up Deductible Gift Recipient status for your school or school-parent group (P&C, P&F etc), so parents WANT to donate.

If a parent is making a tax deductible donation in the normal course of their finances, why not offer them the option of making it to their child's school? They're already deeply connected to the school and if they're going to make a donation for "tax purposes" anyway, why not also have it benefit their kids?

In Australia, Deductible Gift Recipient ("DGR") is a special tax status that allows your school or school-parent group to collect donations and give tax-deductible receipts in return, like you might experience with other charities. It's not difficult to set up or administer. For schools, money donated in this way must be allocated to either a 'Library Fund' or a 'Building Fund', which restricts what the money can be spent on, based on each fund's Constitution.

The Library Fund is particularly useful as it can be set up to purchase books, sets of class equipment or computers - items schools commonly want to raise funds for - that can be loaned to classrooms from the library. Before your school applies to be a DGR, check your school community's interest with an anonymous survey of whether and how much parents would intend to donate. You will maximise your chances of receiving donations by having DGR status in place at least a couple of months' before the end of the financial year, so you are best to start creating interest and applying for it ASAP.

3. Identify philanthropic donors and start building relationships with them.

You can also seek individuals or organisations to donate money, equipment or services to your school (it's handy to get DGR status/charitable endorsement first). It might be a one-off amount or a long term program. Don't ask for money up front, first get to know the potential donor, find out what is important to them and where possible, build a relationship. You might find donors by:

  • Searching funding directories, which make it easy to find philanthropic organisations but require a paid subscription to access: The Directory of Funders (Australia) or Foundation Directory Online (USA & world).

  • Researching wealthy individuals based on newspaper articles which indicate they might have an interest or are seeking to become a philanthropist.

  • Asking private investment firms if they have any clients interested in philanthropy and if so, ask for a meeting to let them know of your needs. Individuals love helping small groups where they can see their money has made an impact. You might be a good match!

  • Asking your parent body if they know a good match within their networks.

  • Approaching former students, grandparents of existing students, or older local people with deep connections to your area.

Grants, donations and philanthropic investment aren't the full solution to school fundraising. They require a large investment of time by one or two individuals - but only one or two individuals (not huge committees or the entire base of school volunteers) - and they can pay enormous dividends more than justifying (on an hourly basis) all the hard work undertaken to achieve it.

You might even find new volunteers! Because applications can be prepared outside office/school hours, it can suit a working parent who'd love to help your school but can't get away from the office to attend regular events.


My School Adventure customises gamebook adventure novel

The Art Show That Came To Life At [Your School Name Here] to schools including 4 real teachers as characters and 22 different endings, as a unique and exciting reading fundraiser. Stay tuned for our second novel, The Science Fair That Went Berserk At [Your School Name Here]. For more information on how we can assist your school please visit

Interested in buying The Art Show That Came To Life At Bundock Primary School? Australian readers please click here; rest of the world, click here.

You can also connect with My School Adventure on Facebook and Pinterest, or with author Melanie Notaras on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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