British International Schools abroad are increasingly reliant on fundraising to help them enroll students in a highly competitive admissions market. But many of them lack the budgets and fundraising expertise of their more successful US peers, and face prejudice because of their fee structures. So the story of how they overcome these obstacles to successfully cultivate an alumni community and donor base will interest anyone intent on soliciting donations from financial backers.
Neil Richards is headmaster of the British International School, Phuket in Thailand. “I think that fundraising will become a significant factor in international schools in the years ahead,” Richards says. “Most schools will be operating under capacity as more and more schools are opening up — the degree of saturation in some places is alarming.
“However, as national governments relax restrictions on international schools and the enrolment of nationals, there will be business opportunities. Fundraising will certainly become a more important aspect for ‘mainstream’ schools.”
Because it is difficult for schools that are seen as being “for-profit”, as many fee-paying international schools are seen, to entice donations, Phuket undertakes fundraising activities for charity instead, to build a donor base that may be willing to contribute to the school’s own activities in the near future.
“The students and teachers have successfully led a number of campaigns over the years,” says Richards. For example, the school recently raised over 70,000THB (£1,576) for Ovacome, a UK-based ovarian cancer charity that provides support to families and women affected by the devastating illness. The school raised the money through selling running vests, cake sales and donations. As well as raising money for charity and setting up a potential donor base, these types of events have the added benefit of providing opportunities for students to develop responsibility and awareness of their role as global citizens.
But Richards goes on to highlight the great challenge schools like his face in approaching donors to back internal projects: “I try to initiate discussions with potential donors, but so far it has been difficult to overcome the prejudice concerning ‘for profit’ schools,” he says. “Also, being under Thai ownership with almost no direct contact being made between the owners or the Board with our parent body, it is difficult to ‘sell’ the school [to donors].”
He believes that British international schools will need to donate more resources to alumni development in the coming years to remain competitive. “It is not something that is a part of the culture of British-style schools, although all schools would acknowledge that it is important,” Richards says.
“Most of the major independent US schools; they have been fund-raising for generations, and the endowment funds or building projects are very impressive. I know of no major international school that has been majorly successful in fundraising.” But he recognizes that this will need to change. Soon.
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