Amid COVID19-era tightening budgets and declining enrollments, remaining financially sustainable will be a challenge for school districts next year and for years to come. Many districts continue to operate on lean budgets after the last recession, which makes simply decreasing spend to achieve a balanced budget without diminishing the quality of education nearly impossible.
Alternative revenue streams can help cushion budget shortfalls and prevent districts from taking away programming and support services to students. Here are 10 strategies your district can use to earn revenue beyond traditional educational funding sources.
School districts should use existing assets to generate revenue. One district was able to earn more than $90K annually by renting out their state-of-the-art fitness and athletic facilities for tournaments and other uses.
Even if your district does not have unique facilities to offer, renting out any space for churches, community organizations, or banquets is feasible for most districts. If your district already rents out some facilities, assess whether there are others that are not being used to increase the revenue your district generates. While the pandemic has mostly paused facilities rental revenue, districts can use this time to improve and expand these strategies for when the pandemic resides.
Dysart Unified School District, in Arizona, offers a full catering service. Explore their full catering menu here. The culinary arts CTE program at another school district operates in its own dedicated facility that includes a full commercial kitchen and bakery. These cooking facilities provide food and meals for the operation of an on-site banquet facility, a fine dining restaurant, and an express café open to the public to generate revenue and provide students with hands-on experience.
Seven school sites of Prince George’s County School District in Maryland generated $112,139 in the first year of leasing space for cell phone towers. Carriers finance construction and maintenance of foam structures that hide cell antennas by blending in with buildings or nature.
Schools are frequently excused from local municipalities height restrictions providing an attractive option for cell companies. Often, cell towers can be placed on the roofs of buildings making them totally invisible. Reach out to cell providers to signal a willingness to lease your space for increased coverage.
Government and private grants from foundations are abundant but securing these grants can be resource intensive. By training staff to be more effective grant writers, districts can get more grant dollars with limited resources.
Grant-writing trainings should use a best practice for effectively teaching students—make active learning a priority. Here are five established best practices from higher education to improve any offered grant training sessions:
- Share and analyze past successful and unsuccessful grant applications. Highlight and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these applications.
- Require staff to bring grant drafts to training to actively engage in revisions. This allows learning time to be spent actively editing the grant application rather than passively listening to abstract advice they’ll have to try and apply later
- Provide opportunity for peer review and editing to improve the draft.
- Invite staff who have successfully received grants to share insight and answer questions.
- Set a deadline for staff to submit a revised grant for final review. This increases the likelihood staff will follow through with the grant applications and improves the return on the training investment.
For districts investing resources beyond training to increase grant dollars, the school board and community will want a clear ROI to show that investments into grant development are worthwhile.
Use these two practices to ensure the worth of the resources you invest in securing grants dollars:
Quantify ROI in grants staff job description
For districts who employ grants staff, include the amount expected that the employee secures in grant dollars annually into the job description. This job description for a Grants Manager at Montclair Public Schools, located in New Jersey, serves as a good example.
The job description specifies that the position will be expected to bring in at least $250K in grant funding in the first year and $500K in subsequent years. This practice makes it clear to applicants what the expected performance of the role is upfront. It can also help to secure buy in to invest here by quantifying how much the investment in a salary and benefits of a new staff member will pay off.
Track success metrics of grant activity
Districts should also track success metrics of grants to provide evidence for a return on any investments, to target areas for improvement, and help districts make data-driven, more effective decisions.
Three metrics to track include:
1) Number of grant applications submitted annually: This helps districts monitor their quantity of grant activity. If this number is low, it signals that a district could invest in surfacing more opportunities through centralized grants development and encouraging more staff to apply by marketing support services and providing training.
2) The ‘win rate’: The number of successful grant applications (divided by the total number of grants to which the district applied) tells a district if their methods and support for grant writing needs to be improved.
3) Total awarded dollars: Track total awarded dollars so that any investment in grant development and management can be defended with a clear dollar amount ROI.
Encouraging your school community to use programs like Amazon Smile is an easy way to make additional dollars. When community members use the district’s Smile link, the district receives a small percentage of the revenue from any purchases. Some districts use ‘round-up’ campaigns at local grocery stores and other businesses. This gives customers the option to round up to an even dollar amount on purchases with those cents going to the school district.
Other small scale sponsorships like putting a logo on school district collateral can be quick-win for extra dollars. One school district receives $9,000 annually just by putting a Target logo on back-to-school lists.
School districts can contract with beverage companies like Pepsi and athletic gear brands like Nike to exclusively use those brands throughout the district. One school district’s beverage exclusivity agreement gives them $80K in additional dollars annually.
Districts can sell advertising space on their website, especially for products aligned with the district’s mission, to raise revenue. One district was able to generate $100,000 in annual revenue through website advertising space, which they reserved only for advertisers with an educational message.
While COVID has put a pause on athletics for many districts, they will be back. Districts commonly begin advertising relationships and corporate sponsorships through their athletic programming via scoreboard ads or sponsored signage. These are great first steps, but they often pay for one-off needs like updated gear, rather than providing a reliable and consistent stream of revenue year-after-year.
Parkway Public Schools located in Missouri has designed a robust sports marketing program that provides consistent dollars for their athletics programming.
The district offers businesses different packages at increasing price points. Each level is defined by an amount of exposure and advertising benefits for the company. Selling in packages makes the pitch more compelling as companies know what they are agreeing to and what they will get for the dollars spent. It also provides an opportunity for the district to upsell companies into higher packages.
Parkway expects annual revenue is approaching $500K. The district also previously used a vendor to manage this program, but they now manage the program in house which has increased the district’s revenue by nearly 30%. The program covers most of athletics expenses at the district, freeing up 2-3% annually of the general fund that used to go to athletics and now can go back to educational needs.
The athletic marketing program has also allowed Parkway to make equal upgrades to athletic facilities at all their high schools. These facilities are often the first thing one sees of the high school campus. Standardized, high-end athletic facilities across the district has helped level the playing field and mitigate biases of which schools are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on the appearance of campus.
Elmbrook Schools in Wisconsin has created an impressive professional and experiential learning program called Launch, structured to generate revenue to sustain itself. Launch provides real-world problem solving opportunities to juniors and seniors who enroll in a focus area like health care or IT and complete projects for businesses that invest financially in the program. Students also receive mentorship and academic experiences related to the focus area they select.
Here’s the key: participating businesses pay a partnership fee that gives them access to student projects and advertising opportunities. The businesses then work with teachers to design projects for teams of students. These projects are real-world problems the businesses face.
Many districts offer experiential learning programs for students, but what sets Elmbrook’s program apart is that their program generates revenue from businesses, and the program will be self-sufficient within six years of implementation.
The program is modeled similarly to Parkway’s sports marketing program where there are different levels of partnership with increased benefits as the partnership fee increases. Elmbrook asks partners to commit for three years to give the program financial consistency and a better ability to plan for the future.
Another key to sustainability is the revenue is put into an endowed fund. This will eventually allow the program to survive on interest from this endowment, taking the pressure away from raising new funds every year.
Too often, experiential and professional learning programs lack real results for students and are unapplicable to real-world professional experiences. But not only is Launch financially sustainable, it provides students with invaluable experiences.
4 Stories of Success of Launch
- Two student teams working on business-designed projects for two different companies came together and found a solution that led to a brand new health care technology.
- Many students have done such impressive work during their Launch experiences that they were hired by the companies for which they completed projects.
- Three participants of Launch are working on an ongoing project for the district’s Education Foundation. These students run a social media campaign for the Education Foundation to get the community more interested and aware of the Foundation and their associated fundraising events. Two of the students design and run the social media campaigns and a third has designed a dashboard to track the effectiveness of those campaigns so that the students can constantly improve their approach.
- One student enrolled in a Launch focus area for students who are interested in learning more about teaching and related professions. This student created sensory boxes that are now in every special education classroom in the district’s elementary schools.
By employing new strategies and improving strategies your district already uses to generate additional revenue, districts can supplement governmental dollars to help navigate hard financial times and better provide students with robust educational experiences.
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