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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Forest Lake Elementary School

Grades K-5 | Columbia, SC

Fundraising Tips from Forest Lake

How the South Carolina elementary school secured an eye-popping set of technology tools.
Grace Rubenstein
Former senior producer at Edutopia

If the trove of technology tools in use at Forest Lake Elementary School seems out of reach for your school, don't lose heart. The technology magnet school in Columbia, South Carolina, didn't acquire its impressive inventory overnight. The school progressed little by little, over several years, combining money from various sources and adding just a few items at a time.

To help you get started, Principal Kappy Cannon, Curriculum Coordinator Marian Scullion, and John Winterhalter, president of the Forest Lake Elementary Educational Foundation, got together recently to brainstorm their most successful fundraising strategies. Here's their advice for how you can begin. "None of it's hard if you've got the motivation," Cannon says. "It's not a secret."

Constantly Adapt

"We never do it the same way twice," says Cannon. Her school adopts new fundraising strategies and drops old ones every year, depending on what's available, what's working, and what they need.

Deploy the Teams You Already Have in Place

Forest Lake is fortunate to have its own educational foundation, created and run by parents to raise money for technology. Even without a team like this, Cannon suggests you look to groups of dedicated people you already have -- such as a site improvement council or PTA -- to help with fundraising efforts.

Bond Before You Beg

Volunteers from your PTA or other team should visit local businesses early in the school year to make a personal connection. Bring along copies of the school's newsletter, literary magazine, or other materials. When you come back later seeking donations, there's already a relationship to build on.

Get Everyone into Grant Writing

Rather than appoint one person as grant writer, the Forest Lake team likes to mix it up. One year they made a goal for every grade-level teacher-team to submit at least one grant. Other years, the school formed a committee to solicit grants. Sharing the task helps build grant-writing skills across the staff and avoid burning out individuals. Plus, this enables teachers to identify grants for things they really want in their classrooms -- and that makes them more psyched for grant writing. (To learn more about how to get started, check out the archive of our "Fundamentals of Funding" webinar.)

"If you've never written a grant you may think it's a big deal and it'll take a lot of time," says Cannon. "But once you've done it once, you realize it's not hard."

Believe that No Grant is Too Small

Scullion and fellow staff members spot grant opportunities in newsletters from such sources as GrantStation, America's Promise Alliance, and Philanthropy News Digest. No prize is too small to pursue, if it would benefit students. The school has received grants from local franchises of Lowe's, CBS, Target, and Taco Bell, as well as the nearby Sparkleberry Country Fair, the anti-litter organization PalmettoPride, and the websites DonorsChoose and Digital Wish. Whew!

Find Allies at the District Office

Connect with your district liaison, if you have one. If not, try to find someone in the central office who looks out for grants or could help you collect data or proofread applications. With administrators and school board members, beat the drum about the need for tech in schools.

Strut Your Stuff

If you win a grant, spread the news! Tell the local media, the superintendent, and the school board. It's proof that you're doing something worthwhile, and it could convince them to invest more money down the road. Do the same with good news about the technology-enhanced learning at your school.

Seek Donations Beyond Dollars

The impressive gadgets filling Forest Lake's TV news studio came second-hand from a local media company that didn't need them anymore. Forest Lake has also received free framing services and food to sell at fundraising dinners, among other things. There are all kinds of donations that don't have dead presidents on them.

Use Tech-replacement Dollars for Innovation

Don't just replace; innovate! When your school's equipment comes up for replacement, think about how you can use those dollars to expand your capabilities, and to keep current with modern tech tools.

Embrace Traditional Fundraising

Don't discount the bake sale or the annual silent auction. The Forest Lake Educational Foundation has raised cash by giving local businesses plaques of appreciation for contributions, by hitting up grandparents for checks when they visited the school on Grandparents Day (yes, it works), and offering "Honor Cards" to notify people of donations in their honor for Valentine's Day.

Set Reasonable Goals

"You can start small, with a service-learning grant or books for your classroom or a school garden," Cannon says. "Don't try to do something every month. Do something every nine weeks. Set a goal that's reasonable for your school."


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