Working to Make School More Equitable

How can we make sure every student gets a fair shot at success? Schools and teachers work hard to ensure every student gets an equal opportunity at improving and succeeding in their studies and life. To support that work, the need to fundraise is constant, particularly now that budgets have been strained by coronavirus and distance learning.

Fundraising season is also a sad reminder that the financial situation of a school community varies from family to family. How, then, can we make these fundraisers something that uplifts the entire community, while also not discouraging large contributions from those able to make them?

This is easier said than done, and we don’t always get to choose where our funds come from. But by prioritizing equity in the way we conceive and execute our school fundraisers, and by prioritizing experiences and memories over things and objects, we can begin to do a better job of providing all of our students an equal opportunity at success, fond memories, and deep ties to our local community.

Prioritizing Experiences over Things

To raise money at scale, you’ll want to identify some type of benefit which warrants families, businesses, and other volunteers giving money for your cause. Two common ways of doing this are raffles and auctions. But these two approaches are “pay to play” that can be a matter of who is the highest bidder, and thus are less accessible for some members of the community.

The obvious conflict is everything costs money, yet every member of a school community deserves equal access to the funds raised in a fundraiser. This is a constant paradox we face in fundraising, and a problem that requires flexible and equitable thinking. Limiting ticket purchases in a raffle would be one way to make it more accessible. Auctions, a popular fundraiser that have been disrupted by coronavirus, may be less intimidating in an online format.

By shifting our idea of fundraiser benefits to be less about “things” and more about experiences and fond memories, it will be easier to use school funds to the benefits of every student. For example, having lunch with a teacher or principal is a popular benefit that is fun for students, and also relatively inexpensive. So what if you began a fundraiser specifically to fund this reward for students over the course of the entire year, and then measured the amount that a donor gives in the number of student-faculty lunches they sponsored?

That is just one example of a more experiential approach to school fundraising, and it is not to say that raffles and auctions don’t have a place in our school fundraising approach. If we can begin to shift our mindset and make choices that prioritize the good of all members of the school community, we can develop a more effective school fundraising program that also creates memories for students that will last a lifetime.

Getting the Word Out to the Community

If not everybody knows about an upcoming fundraising event, then it’s not equitable. While effectively getting information out to interested members of the community is an ongoing challenge, if we actively try to streamline the amount of communication necessary to perform the fundraiser, we can make it more accessible for everyone.

This means sharing information about fundraisers over as many channels as possible and as far in advance as possible. It also means thinking through accommodations for non-English speakers. If you are able to boil instructions for your fundraiser down to a page or two, for example, you could have a document professionally translated to accommodate those in your community who speak languages other than English.

A successful fundraiser relies on a large number of people hearing about and participating in it. This includes the extended networks of the students, teachers, and volunteers involved. Digital Deets was created to help organize these communications into one central place, while simultaneously creating sponsorship opportunities for local businesses. It also includes analytics on your messages, so you can see who you aren’t yet reaching, and automatic translation to whatever language a user has chosen to their profile.

Not everybody might be receiving the monthly PTA newsletter. What are other ways we can reach those parents?

Striving for More Equitable Fundraising

Equitable fundraising is not a box we check, but a goal we continuously work towards. Our circumstances may always change, but our need to raise money for our school communities isn’t going anywhere. We need to keep our thinking and fundraising ideas flexible to meet unforeseen challenges with solutions that continue to promote equity for our students.

In my years teaching at Title 1 public schools in the Denver area, I saw firsthand how much it meant for students to participate in field trips and other special days funded in part by fundraising activities the school pursued. There will never be a one-size-fits-all solution to equitable fundraising, but we can and should always make it our goal to provide equal benefits for all of our students.

How will you make your fundraising efforts more equitable in 2021?