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TX: Going for the Green

Summary: This district shares its experience and advice on developing funding opportunities and finding grants.


What is a district to do when federal money may be available to fund free- and reduced-price lunch, but money for school supplies is scarce? As traditional funding sources for public education programs become less reliable, some school districts have begun to reach out to corporate sponsors for support. Raymond Hartfield, senior

District characteristics
Name: Round Rock Independent SD
State: TX
Type: Suburban
Grades: K–12
Enrollment: 39,092
Students per teacher: 15

Enrollment characteristics
Economically disadvantaged: 24.8%
English language learners: 7.9%
Students with disabilities: 8.6%
White: 54.7%
Black: 10.3%
Hispanic: 24.4%
Asian/Pacific Islander: 10.1%
American Indian/Alaska Native: 0.4%
Other: n.a.
Source: schooldatadirect.org
school board member for the Round Rock (Texas) Independent School District says, "The majority of funding will always come from state or federal legislatures, but a significant amount can be secured from alternate sources."

He speaks from experience. In his 14 years on the school board, and through his work as the director of education markets for AT&T, Hartfield has learned how to “hook” donors and how to keep the checks coming in, year after year.

Understanding your donor

It starts, says Hartfield, with research. “You have to understand your donor.” Hartfield advises grant seekers to review the donations the targeted company has made to other schools. Ask: What are the common denominators for donations?

Hartfield found, for example, that AT&T tends to donate money and fund activities in schools that benefit socio-economically disadvantaged children. So Hartfield, wearing his school board hat, appealed to his company’s charitable characteristic and asked it to sponsor an effort to provide school supplies to needy students in his district.

Providing a public face

To put a public face on the corporate donation, the school district created a “by invitation only” event, held at a central location. PTA volunteers stuffed bags and stowed them at grade-level designated tables. Volunteers from AT&T and the school district then gave a bag of supplies to each child that presented an invitation. “On the first day, we gave away 5,500 bags of supplies to students. On the second day, we gave away another 3,000,” Hartfield recalls. The remaining bags were sent to schools in the district and would be distributed to the remaining students once school started.

For the $28,000 the company donated to sponsor the event, it gained a wealth of public good will in return. Families that attended the event saw corporate philanthropy in action and employees realized that the company was doing its part to assist in the education of young people. “Children benefited directly from the donation,” Hartfield states. “With the proper supplies, learning improves.”

Keeping the relationship going

Once a relationship between a donor and school district has started, it’s important to keep it going. “Once you get the money, you’ve got to keep the company connected to the core of what you do as a school,” says Hartfield. “And never lose an opportunity to thank them.”

All events can be structured to raise money and publicly thank corporate sponsors at the same time, Hartfield notes. The Round Rock school district, for example, holds a golf tournament each year and participants can register at various sponsorship levels. Displayed on each golf cart is a list of ways that the company’s monetary donation has assisted Round Rock schools. “It never mentions dollars—it mentions impact,” Hartfield explains. “So everyone can see that the XYZ-corporation has provided school supplies for 1,000 children, or that they supplied x-number of hours for mentoring.” Such public recognition has the added benefit of capitalizing on the competitive nature of business leaders who don’t want to be shown up by a competitor. Visibility can often inspire more generous giving, Hartfield observes.

More about school funding

For an in-depth guide to school funding, click on the links below.

A primer on K-12 school funding: An indepth guide for school funding.

At a glance: A summary of the guide's findings.

Basic facts: A one-page handout of facts about school funding.

Q&A: Frequently-asked questions about school funding.

How to dig deeper: How to find the facts about your own district's funding.

Tracking the education dollar: An example of how one state's education dollar gets spent.

References

Feeling good

Ultimately, school districts going for outside money want to help corporations feel good about giving so they will keep “writing that check” once a year, says Hartfield. Even if the strategy works in just half of the attempts, he states, “just think about the money you’re going to make to sustain programs” important to student learning.

Lessons learned
  • Know your anticipated corporate partner's giving habits to ensure a good fit between your district and the corporation.
  • Putting a public face on corporate giving enhances good will. Look for ways to show your partners how your students benefit from their giving.
  • Keeping the relationship going between your district and your corporate partner can be done in a variety of ways. For example, finding ways to publicly thank your partners can pay off in the long run by more generous donations.
  • If the donation agreement between your district and your corporate partner is for a fixed amount of time (e.g., 5 years) don't wait until the end of your funding period to figure out how you will keep your program going. Starting early to find ways to bolster your program when the funding stream runs dry can help ensure the program's sustainability. 

This story was written by Kathy Checkley, a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. Kathy has more than 13 years of experience writing about education issues.

Posted: July 10, 2008

©2008 Center for Public Education

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