Many settings face a real need to stretch their finances in order to remain sustainable. Kirstine Beeley reveals her tried and tested ways to raise funds…
My years as an early years teacher, preschool manager and chairperson of a committee-led preschool charity taught me that when it comes to raising money, you need to be creative. Here, I’ll look at a few ways you can approach the task; often the key is to take a step back and look at things slightly differently!
The first thing you need to work out is the reason for your fundraising. Are you looking to purchase something specific, for example, is it to fund a project, deliver a marketing campaign or just to cover operational costs? Each reason can lead to its own unique approach to funding…
If you’re looking to raise money to purchase something expensive, for example, a computer or a large piece of outdoor equipment, then focus your endeavours clearly on it. Have a visible totaliser (very Blue Peter, I know!) so parents can see where you are in the process. For an outdoor project why not try a ‘buy a brick’ or ‘buy a flower’ on a large-scale mural: parents pay to have their children’s names written on the flower or brick, and can decorate it themselves. Make sure you have enough spaces to get near your target amount, e.g. for a £200 piece of equipment, try 100 flowers at £2 each. This way lots of people can feel a part of the process without it costing them a fortune.
If it’s a big project you’re looking at, for instance, a revamp of a room or an outdoor area, then try to gain sponsorship from local businesses in the form of goods and donations. Companies are more often than not willing to help local settings, and the promise of a mention in any press releases gives them an extra incentive.
Case study: The team at Treehouse Pre-school in Winslow recently revamped their entire outdoor area purely through donations from local firms. A garden centre donated cobbles, compost, herbs and grasses; a builder supplied a tonne of gravel for the new gravel pit, and a turf company generously donated a tonne of top soil and enough turf to make a hobbit hole for climbing over and through. The whole project was topped up by a large donation from a local estate agent in return for putting up a sign on the gate to the setting exit, and staff even managed to source a free wooden rowing boat through an online selling site to complete the overhaul. Remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get – the worst anyone can say is no!
In my experience, parents really do want to help, but sometimes don’t have the disposable income to make a direct donation. If the money you need is to cover consumables such as glue, glitter, etc. then why not try a parent donation day? Invest in a set of brown paper lunch bags with handles and send them out to every parent with a list of possible donation items stapled to it – from cornflour for messy play to post-it notes, pads and pens. Parents can fill the bag with whatever they can (and children can decorate it) and then return it during a specific week or donation day. Anything that saves you spending money in the long term is worth doing.
One of the ongoing battles in early years is to get the ‘learning through play’ message out to parents. One setting I worked with decided to sell play packs for the children to use over the summer holidays. They developed two packs: one was a ‘Let’s get creative’ pack full of sequins, coloured card scraps, pipe cleaners and a glue stick; the other a ‘Let’s explore’ pack containing a cheap magnifying glass, a collecting pot, a bug hunt laminated sheet, some cheap bubbles, a pine cone and a set of pipe cleaners and googly eyes, so children could make their own creatures. The packs were put together with a £1-a-bag budget (items were sourced from the scrap store) and then were sold on to the parents and children for £3 each. The great thing with this project was parents got to order the packs beforehand, meaning the setting didn’t have to go out and buy bits they might not need. The packs were a huge hit, helping to raise nearly £200 and resulting in positive parent feedback about the many activities the children managed to access. What a great way to raise money and build on parent partnerships!
How often do you have an end-of-term clear-out that reveals a mass of unused puzzles and toys pushed to the back of a cupboard?
Why not utilise them by holding a bring-and-buy sale? Ask children to bring good-quality used toys, and set up a table where families can buy the items, plus those you have liberated. Try bagging up sets of excess Duplo, Stickle Bricks or HappyLand figures. Anything that doesn’t sell can then be donated to your local charity shop or family support charity. This is a great way of giving unused items a new home and making children feel involved in the fundraising process.
Local businesses often have a budget set aside for helping local projects; they might be willing to sponsor new uniforms, donate materials (everything from paper and pens to older computer equipment) or provide financial sponsorship. One setting I know recently funded a complete revamp of their marketing materials and their newsletter with local sponsorship from business. In return for a small ‘sponsored by’ ad in the newsletter, or at the end of the printed prospectus, staff were able to completely cover the cost of printing, while another local business helped out with free design.
The moral here is to utilise what you have at hand. Find out where your parents work and see if they can persuade their employers to help. Some businesses also operate a match-funding system whereby you raise money and they match the amount their employee benefits from your services.
There are many schemes that offer equipment for free. Make sure your setting is registered for those run by Sainsbury’s and Morrisons amongst others, both of which have a great range of products that settings can swap for vouchers donated by parents. It’s worth looking for other offers too – free flowers in newspapers or children’s books and CDs in magazines are all great for your setting and save you spending money. Why not try getting parents shopping via websites such as giveasyoulive.com where a percentage of the value of their purchases is donated by the retailer to the parent’s named cause or project?
There are many organisations who offer access to grant funding for specific projects or even to help with everyday running costs. National schemes tend to support specific areas of learning such as music development or outdoor learning, whilst local projects are available to help groups nearby. Search online to see if there are any projects in your area, and don’t forget to contact your local early years team to see if there are any capital funding projects available to you.
Settings I know of have over the past few years sourced grants for all sorts of projects including…
● a new dishwasher from the local Lions Club (try Rotary Clubs as well);
● a deprivation fund to support families in crisis from a local town council grant scheme;
● extra resources to support two-year- olds from a local authority capital funding grant;
● IT equipment from a LA grant project;
● a forest school development from a local charitable foundation.
Finally, it’s always worth remembering that sometimes a positive presence at local events such as fayres, farmers markets, etc. can have the ultimate financial benefit: more children in your setting. More children in your setting means more money in your bank account to play with – sometimes a positive profile can benefit you much more than any fundraising event!
Kirstine Beeley is an independent trainer, author and consultant, with experience of teaching in early years, primary and SEN settings.