Fundraising Q&A: Do you have any suggestions for raising funds to build a new charter school in a low income area?

Here is some useful context on the fundraising challenge, as submitted to us.

I will be doing some private fundraising for a tax supported charter school in a low income area.  Because of politics, state policies limit the funds available for capital projects. There is no alumni group to tap, such as a state college or university might have, and few local people who can contribute.  Do you have any suggestions as to our best approach to potential donors including foundations?  The primary objective is to build a new neighborhood school, for which about $3M in private funds will be required.

First of all, I can appreciate the challenge, as my son is on the board of a charter school.

I should start by saying that I don’t think foundations are a good target. Many don’t like capital projects because they don’t directly serve a nonprofit’s purpose. In the case of schools, they would strongly favor educational programs over buildings. I would focus on an individual giving strategy.

Ideally, you will be able to get onto the priority list of some individuals able to give $25,000 or $50,000. Start by looking at people supporting other schools in your area. They don’t necessarily have to be from the local neighborhood. Some of the most generous supporters of parochial schools aren’t even Catholic; they just are sold on the value of the education provided by those institutions.

Make sure that you build a compelling case, before approaching your targets. (Remember the four big donor questions!) Be creative, and tap into your most powerful selling point – your students and their families. (Summer Search, which offers leadership programs for inner city youth, has good success with events featuring its participants.) If you sense some interest, invite the prospect to the school, and display plans for the new building. Get him or her excited and engaged.

Finally, I wouldn’t completely write off your alumni and parent base. They goal here is participation, not absolute dollars. Potential large donors will be impressed by the spirit of the gifts, the local community will feel more engaged, and you’ll start building a culture of giving among your young alumni. Who knows, some of them may one day be in a position to make a significant gift.

Best of luck!

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