Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School is a state school with ambitions to raise funds and build a thriving network of alumni to improve opportunities for its students.
With no development budget, the school does not enjoy the same financial fire-power as independent, fee-paying schools. But Brian Davies, the man in charge of development, has not let that fact hinder the school’s fundraising efforts.
An old boy who has studied and worked at the school for over two decades, Davies’ strategy is to engage students before they graduate, through social media, careers fairs and a mentorship platform. “That will create a new wave of potential donors for the future that are forever engaged with their school,” he says.
The funds go into an Inspiration and Excellence Fund — which is earmarked for drama and music provisions, and sports fixtures. “That’s the stuff that sets us apart from other state schools,” says Davies.
All of this he combines with his job of Deputy Director of Sport. Davies admits that striking the right balance between the twin roles is a challenge, but he says the rewards are worth it: “If I were just sat in an office, I would lose some of my relationships with the students, parents and alumni.” He can leverage his personal network to help the school raise funds. “Sometimes it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” Davies says.
Q. When did you first start thinking about development?
June 2016 after our inaugural Golf Day. I have been at the school myself since 1993. I was a pupil here until 2000. After that I did a bit of coaching voluntarily and that worked up to a job in the PE department. Then I became Deputy Director of Sport (I still hold that role). Then the development role came up and I felt it was a good time for me to get involved. I’ve been loving every minute of it so far.
Q. What made it a good time to get into development?
We’ve tried a number of things that did not work. We’ve been approaching it from a fundraising angle first. Now, our approach has gone back-to-front. We talk about engaging people and building a community, and the money will follow at a later date.
I’m very happy with the results so far. We’ve built up a scheme around working with local businesses, many of which are owned by alumni or parents of current students. They advertise their businesses through the school and we help them market their businesses across our database. A lot of people see the benefit of that.
Q. What school projects are you fundraising for?
It all goes into our Inspiration and Excellence Fund. That’s the extras that set us apart from other state schools. For example, we are one of only four state schools that row. And the cost of implementing the rowing sessions and buying the boats is expensive compared to other lessons, but we feel the value that it brings to our students is outstanding. The Fund also goes towards drama, music and sport provision. Sporting fixtures are also subsidised, with buses to and from fixtures on a Saturday morning costing us up to £1,000.
Also, we had a STEM block open on the 8th of December and we are launching a new campaign for 2017 to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the school’s formation on the 10th October at the Reform Club in London.
Q. What steps did you take initially to launch your new alumni community?
We’ve already got a LinkedIn page for our alumni. We are gathering data on our recent leavers and we are getting the email addresses of students before they leave school. This is us developing a cultivation pipeline for the future. If we get things right now before students leave, that will create a new wave of potential donors for the future that are forever engaged with their school.
We are also planning to run a careers fair shortly and a mentoring platform with ToucanTech that will enable current students to reach out to alumni for advice about job opportunities, CVs, and perhaps even get some work experience. If we can help our students get jobs now, they are going to want to give a bit back when they are in a position to do so.
Q. What steps have you taken to build corporate relationships?
We are doing a lot of work with the local Chamber of Commerce in Birmingham. We are running a jobs fair for recent leavers on 1st April. And we have set up a Corporate Partnership Scheme, in which local businesses give the school a little bit of money and we advertise for them. Local businesses also get access to our students, which for some organizations is fantastic. We are the 27th best state school in the country for A2 results. We have some of the brightest students in the country. Perhaps local businesses didn’t realise how good our kids were. Now we are telling them that, they are more keen to be working with us.
Q. How do you find the time to combine the role of Development Director with your sports teacher role?
Without the teaching role, I would be able to do some fundraising things a bit better, but I would lose the fact that I’m part of the school. If I were just sat in an office, I would lose some of my relationships with the students, parents and alumni. And I still want to be a part of the school rather than someone they see occasionally at an event. It’s my community, it’s my network, I’ve been a part of this school since 1993. If I believe in our development efforts, I’m not asking anyone to do what I’m not. So, it’s an easier conversation to have with alumni.
That’s where I have an advantage over someone going into a new role. Sometimes it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Q. As a non-fee paying school is it difficult to embrace alumni development?
In development, some of the big independent schools have budgets of £300,000 a year, although they might then raise £1.5m annually. I haven’t got a budget. I have to go to the school business manager anytime I want to spend any money and explain how they will see that money return. But I’m getting more buy-in and support now. Because of the success we are having, they are trusting me more now.
Funding is an ever-increasing issue in state schools. We think we have come up with a model that will help us to generate a lot of money for the school, and some of that will be used to cover costs, but also to give our students amazing opportunities. That’s the goal of the school ultimately.
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