How to approach local businesses for support 

From cash donations to equipment contributions, local businesses can be a valuable income stream for your school. Justin Smith asks, ‘How can you maximise your chances of getting support from local businesses?’

Income generation remains a hot topic in our schools, with many savvy school business leaders becoming more and more tuned in to sustainable ways of raising additional income. Many are adopting innovative approaches to engaging with potential supporters and sponsors to help fund new initiatives and projects in schools.
Any fundraising plan adopted by a school should include multiple routes to funding aspirational projects – from traditional grant funding and lettings income, to crowdfunding and business sponsorships. Engaging more closely with community and local business can bring a myriad of benefits to all parties.
Clarity and purpose
Schools should be crystal clear on what they are looking for from the relationship with a partner business, defining precisely what type of support they’re seeking – financial donations or in-kind expert advice – and, of course, what benefits they can offer to the business. It is also very important to link potential donations or financial support to a specific project – sponsors are far more likely to willingly engage with the school if they can see their input directly impacts on the children at the school.
Whilst any partnership should be driven, ultimately, by what’s best for the school, all successful relationships – at any level – function best if they offer ‘win-win’ scenarios to all parties. Schools can gain access to business mentors, volunteers, financial support, careers advice etc. Businesses, meanwhile, are able to forge stronger connections with their communities and, potentially, access a talent pool for the future.
Some businesses may prefer a low-level, light-touch association with their local school, whilst others may be keen to offer tangible and overt support. Businesses may be motivated for altruistic reasons or by desires to meet their corporate social responsibility (CSR) expectations. Either way, it is crucial the school understands what it can offer in return – from a web placement on the school’s ‘business sponsorship directory’ to an appearance in the school newsletter. Similarly, schools need to understand the expectations of the sponsor and what the ground rules are – and just how involved the partner expects to be in the project they’re supporting. They’ll want to consider how the community views the partnership, too, and you could develop questionnaires to engage with your parent groups (PTA etc.) to assess their views.
Care should be taken in selecting which organisations to approach when promoting sponsorship opportunities – risk to reputational damage can be significant for both parties.
Of course, schools need to apply due diligence and consider, carefully, any commercial relationship they develop with an external organisation. The safest, and most obvious, place to start is with suppliers. Schools have trading relationships with suppliers and a degree of trust that may have been cemented over a number of years.
Alternatively, schools may need to search out specific businesses to meet their needs. For example, school leaders looking for a specific service or support should reach out to a business that has expertise in that area. Parents, too, ought to be asked if they can suggest suitable partners. Much may depend on the location of the school; being surrounded by growing, high-tech, micro businesses may offer different opportunities to those schools located in traditional industrial heartlands.
Options and opportunities
There are many examples where schools are operating commercial partnerships successfully with business –introducing a number of ‘sponsorship package’s that suit various needs and budgets, for example. Tiered scale options – such as a bronze, silver or gold packages – allow a partner business to select the appropriate level of support. In return, the school offers a sliding scale of promotion and advertising opportunities – from appearing in an event programme to regular posts on social media channels.
Additionally, a ‘business directory’ on the school website allows selected businesses an opportunity to raise their profile for an annual fee. Regular subscriptions from trusted, local businesses offers a win-win for both parties and, over time, helps cultivate those relationships so the school is in a great position to ask for more support another time.
As is the case with all successful income generation schemes, if time, co-ordinated effort and thought is invested up-front schools can enjoy lucrative and sustainable relationships with business. Innovative school programmes and fundraising campaigns can have a real impact on the lives of children, supporting projects our diminishing budgets cannot sustain.

Justin Smith is managing director of Chameleon Training and Consultancy.
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