Fundraising In Schools Essay

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Perhaps more then ever, America’s schools need additional funds. Increasingly, primary and secondary schools are faced with demands for accountability with regard to their teaching. They are also adapting curricula to be more in line with the nation’s increasing plurality, diverse learning styles, and ever-changing technology. However, traditional school budgets, provided by public funds, are often not able to meet these demands. As a result, public and private schools throughout the nation are starting separate education foundations to raise, handle, and redirect supplemental funds toward these vital tasks. Fundraising can also be seen from the perspective of student giving rather than receiving, through programs that encourage student philanthropy. This entry looks at both phenomena.

Local Education Foundations

Local education foundations are different from parent teacher associations (PTAs) in the sense that the foundations do not have any oversight responsibility within the school system. Typically these foundations raise about 0.3 percent of their district’s budget. Some suggest that the money raised by these foundations is relatively small and therefore these nonprofits should be seen more as public relations tools than fundraisers for the schools that they serve.

While the amount raised by the foundations is small in comparison to the district budgets, its impact is not insignificant. A 1995 longitudinal study found that foundations with an annual fundraising income of less than $10,000 provide mini-grants and scholarships, while those in the $20,000 to $50,000 range provide training, enrichment programs, and other teacher resources. And, those foundations able to raise more that $100,000 in a year often provide support for additional teaching positions.

This further differentiates local education foundations from PTAs. Parent-teacher associations, while often engaged in fundraising, raise considerably less. These small amounts support particular “extras” such as costumes and scenery for plays or extra funding for field trips. As with other nonprofits, education foundations are required to report their activity to the Internal Revenue Service but are not told how to specifically spend what they have raised.

Researchers and critics, such as Faith Crampton and Paul Bauman, are concerned about the potential inequities that could further expand the divide between poorly funded and wealthy districts. However, Ron Zimmer and others at the Rand Corporation believe that the proliferation of foundations has helped close this funding gap. Notably, the number of foundations does not differ significantly across communities of different economic status.

Educational philosophers, such as Emily Cuatto, are worried about the effects and unintended consequences of local education foundations. Stipulating that education is a public good that gives students the necessary skills to be productive members of society, Cuatto suggests that it is the government’s responsibility not only to provide education to its citizens but to fully support it. By having education foundations raise supplemental funds, Cuatto believes that local, state, and federal governments are relieved of their responsibility to fully support education, thereby relinquishing their duty to provide this public good.

Youth Empowerment And Philanthropy

Other than fundraising for schools, teaching about philanthropy and primary and secondary student involvement in giving back to society through monetary means and volunteerism increased substantially at the close of the twentieth century. Youth engagement in philanthropy is the focus of many nonprofit organizations and foundations. Between 1988 and 2003, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation gave over $100 million in grants to fund and engage students in social, civic, and community building through volunteerism and philanthropy.

In addition to foundations supplementing district budgets, some nonprofits, such as the Youth Leadership Institute (San Francisco), Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (Kansas City, Missouri), have begun teaching K–12 students about the importance of philanthropy by empowering the students in the grant-writing and -making process.

An estimated 500 foundations across the country are giving secondary school students the opportunity to create requests for proposals (RFPs) and then evaluate them and decide, along with adults, which programs meet their goals and are deserving of funding. By involving youth in this process, these foundations teach students how to incorporate their ideas and needs assessments in making funding allocation decisions and expose the students to the idea of giving, all while helping solve the foundation’s pressing issues.

Casting philanthropy wider than just monetary giving, schools are learning from these youth empowerment foundations to include actions of community service and philanthropy in their curricula. Richard Bentley and Luana Nissan have explored how primary school students learn philanthropy and altruistic behavior. Their study found that witnessing an influential adult, such as a parent or guardian, teacher, or a religious or youth organization leader, engage in acts of philanthropy is most effective in passing along the importance of helping others. This teachable moment is intensified when it is coupled with a discussion about the importance of such actions.

Finally, the most effective tool is for the child to participate in giving and serving activities to help reinforce the positive feeling associated with helping others. Research by Laurent Daloz found that providing opportunities for community service helped children learn the importance of philanthropy. According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than half of the high schools in the country require community service as a condition to graduate, up from 9 percent in 1984. Between 1984 and 1997, student volunteers increased from 900,000 to 6 million—a growth of 686 percent.

Further, according to the Higher Education Research Institute, nearly 83 percent of incoming college students in 2001 indicated they had volunteered prior to graduating high school, up from 66 percent in 1989. In theory, through these new policies of requiring community service and engaging students in opportunities to partake in other civic engagement and service learning projects, schools will produce a more philanthropic generation.


  1. Bentley, R. J., & Nissan, L. G. (1996). The roots of giving and serving: a literature review studying how school-age children learn the philanthropic tradition. Indianapolis: Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.
  2. Cuatto, E. V. (2003). Not your average PTA: Local education foundations and the problems of allowing private funding for public schools. Philosophy of Education, 220–229.
  3. Daloz, L. (1999). Mentor: Guiding the journey of adult learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  4. Ginsberg, A., & Gasman, M. (2007). Gender and educational philanthropy: New perspectives on funding, collaboration, and assessment. New York: Palgrave Macmillian.
  5. McCormick, D. H., Bauer, D. G., & Ferguson, D. E. (2001). Creating foundations for American schools. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen.

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