Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fired Up for Fundraising!

I returned from the Fellowship's Fundraising Conference with Sir Christopher Ball head buzzing with ideas, plans and excitement! I have been truly inspired by the last two days and my efforts on behalf of Brighton Steiner School re-energised, honed and focused. Sir Christopher promised that what he would teach us was simple and easy, and that he was engaging in transformational learning, transforming our poverty consciousness into a
clear, workable strategy for raising the money we need for our various schools, no matter the figure. And he delivered what he promised. Early on he had asked us all how much we needed; the figures ranged from £60,000 to £2,000,000 but we all came away feeling the target was easily achievable.

The conference was surprisingly poorly attended, given the financial issues that all Steiner schools are facing, but I can guarantee that all those who attended would thoroughly recommend it. As well as the Fellowship and the two of us from Brighton, Derby, Cambridge, Somerset and Cardiff schools were represented. Those interested in hearing more detailed information about what we learned might consider calling one of us: one of the conclusions of the event was the value of information sharing.

We focused on the principles of fundraising, namely:
  • believe it's possible
  • remember to ask
  • follow up and say thank-you
along with loads of hints, tips and suggestions about who to go to, how to approach them, what to say, what not to say, what sectors of funding were available and the relative merits of each, how much work might be needed and what timescales you need to be working towards. Whatever your fundraising project, attending this course will equip you with the tools you need to get the money you want. The good news for those that missed it, is that we all agreed the course should be run again, and I urge all of those involved in Steiner fundraising to attend.

Before we all get carried away with how we'll spend our new-found millions, it has to be said that there was a tougher aspect to the course. For all of us, there were major issues holding up the fundraising projects and, as every single school represented reported similar problems, it is worth looking at them in more detail. Sir Christopher stated repeatedly that there were a number of pre-requisites for effective fundraising:
  • a clear and viable project
  • a concise mission statement
  • an accurate 3 year business plan
  • a dynamic and effective project leader
For most of us, there were a number of plans potentially on the table, unhelpfully shrouded in indecision and conflict from within our school body. Throughout the weekend we bemoaned a management structure that restricted the kind of openness and forward thinking we were all beginning to take on board. We had realised that major fundraising was possible for us, but that we hadn't gained agreement on what direction our school should be taking, or how that should be achieved.

It became such an issue that in the end the final session was given over to constructive debate of the perceived roadblocks to successful fundraising, and the importance of overcoming them. Having Jane and Kevin Avison from the Fellowship in attendance, along with freelance trainer Gabriel Kaye, was enormously helpful in taking the first steps to support all Steiner schools who wished to address these issues. Firstly, we agreed that it would be marvellous to offer this training with Sir Christopher Ball again, in order to allow other schools to benefit. Secondly, it was suggested that the relationship with the Potential Trust, who funded this training, could be extended to provide other forms of training to address the crisis of management in Steiner schools. Jane and Kevin Avison have already agreed to meet Leo McNeir of the Potential Trust to this end. From the discussion there seemed to be a number of blocks about money in our schools. In a worst case scenario, it might be seen that we were rejecting state funding, because it is an unknown quantity and may compromise the education, rejecting corporate funding for pretty much the same reason, and rejecting raising fees as that would price the education beyond many parents' reach, leaving us no viable way to finance our schools.

Personally I am still a little unclear as to why the Steiner education movement as a whole, which has such a fantastic 'product' to offer, has become stagnant on issues of good management and financial planning. I came away from this training, however, feeling that the solutions to these issues were within reach, and the will to achieve them close at hand. Thank-you to the Fellowship, the Potential Trust, Sir Christopher Ball and all attendees for an inspiring weekend!

Sarah James
PR for Brighton Steiner School