Forward the Foundation

from Technology & Learning

Local education foundations offer an alternative source for school funding.

February's column ("Going Corporate") discussed ideas for approaching private foundations for funding. Some districts take this idea several steps further by partnering with the community and local businesses to establish a not-for-profit foundation, or local education foundation (LEF).

It probably comes as no surprise that the idea of forming an LEF appears to be more popular during tight economic times, but is it worth the time and effort required to get something like this off the ground? Here's a quick overview of what an LEF is and how it can provide supplemental funds.

Most LEFs are launched for three reasons: to improve the quality of local education programs, to strengthen relationships between schools and the community, and to provide a source of additional funding for school programs. These foundations typically work with just one school district but are not actually part of the district. Instead, the LEF is a separate organization with its own board of directors, staff, and bylaws. The LEF bylaws determine whether or not school officials are involved directly in decision-making for the LEF, and to what degree. This means that all concerned parties must establish and maintain open lines of communication for the LEF to succeed.

Fundraising usually takes the form of special events (dinners, golf tournaments, auctions) or direct mail solicitations to community members. Some LEFs also procure funds through grant writing. The amount of money raised annually varies widely and generally reflects the socio-economic demographics of the community. However, regardless of the community's level of affluence few report securing more than $100,000 in any given year. These funds are used for a variety of purposes: mini-grants given to individual teachers, instructional materials, equipment purchases, and building projects. There are also LEFs that solicit in-kind services for the district, which take the form of donated services and/or goods. Though this may seem like a drop in the bucket, many educators report that the goodwill generated cannot be purchased at any price and that even small contributions help keep less-expensive programs afloat.

To learn more about establishing and operating an LEF, visit the National School Foundation Association or the Public Education Network.

Susan Brooks-Young is an educational consultant and writer.

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