School Foundation Feasibility Study
Research suggests that officials interested in establishing a school foundation might identify the need(s) for a school foundation before beginning the effort necessary to establish one. A feasibility study committee is established by school officials and/or the school board and is charged with bringing a feasibility report covering the following subjects back to school officials in a designated time period. This committee may be made up of anyone school officials deem appropriate; however, there is a high likelihood that several of them may eventually become BOD’s for your foundation, so choose carefully.
1. Statement of purpose, objectives and outcomes.
Before becoming fully operational, the foundation must define its purpose. The purpose has a global meaning (i.e. to advance literacy in the community, to promote quality education, to encourage athletic performance) and the purpose must of course be within the parameters of I.R.C. 501(c) (3) in order to offer tax exemptions to donors.
The objectives are the expression of the purpose in specific terms. The objectives will state the projects (in a school or district) the foundation considers for funding. Outcomes will identify how students will benefit from the efforts of the foundation.
Foundations are well known for accomplishing several tasks:
- Raising resources (funds, equipment, volunteer time, depreciated equipment, appreciated stock, gifs in kind as well as insurance policies and will bequests) for the sponsoring school
- Developing and improving public relations and communication between the school and its immediate community.
- Offering volunteers and others interested in helping the school its staff and its students continue to improve and develop.
2. Identify the mission of the organization.
A board’s central function is to keep the organization’s mission in focus, and its primary responsibility is to ensure that the other parts of the system are working toward accomplishing that mission.
3. Complete a review of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to forming such a foundation in the school/district/community.
A S.W.O.T. analysis can be as complex as school officials wish, it is however a valuable activity and offers valuable insight to the founding committee. Strengths and weaknesses are internal and opportunities and threats are usually external.
Schools or school districts can send written or phone questionnaires/surveys as well as personal interviews with members of the community in order to find out their opinion about the necessity of an educational foundation and also if they are willing to contribute to the success of the foundation. Parents, businesses, universities, alumni, local philanthropists constitute prospective partners. It is also important to find out if similar organizations exist, especially community foundations operate in the community and their impact on the programs they support.
4. Determine will the foundation serve the entire district or one school?
Often large districts have several schools often they are high schools which have their own foundations and the district itself does not have a foundation so this is a determination that will need to be made
5. Articulate the relationship and lines of communication between the foundation board (BOD) and the school board (BOE).
The best recommendation is to ask the superintendent/principle and/or a board member or two from the BOE to sit ex officio on the BOD. What will be the supporting relationship between the foundation and the supported organization: the school or school system? Also defined as a type I, II, or type III status.
- Type I (BOE = BOD)(BOD is nominated by the BOE)
- Type II (BOE has direct representation on BOD)
- Type III (BOD is entirely separate and any school officials, usually the superintendent sit(s) ex-officio)
Note: Type III is the most popular organization of the three types.
6. Define the relationship between the director of the foundation and school administration?
Will he or she be a member of the administrative staff, or what status will he or she have within the district. To whom will he or she communicate and or give reports to?
7. Discuss potential board members and how they can contribute to the success of the organization.
Research as well as school foundation literature indicates the three most desirable characteristics of potential school board members are:
- perceived as credible in the community
- have time to work for the foundation
- display loyalty to the local schools
In addition to these characteristics are professional services: accounting, legal, marketing, advertising or fund management, also highly desirable characteristics for potential board members include previous nonprofit board (NPO) experience, especially as a college or university board member. The ability to identify, cultivate and solicit donors must be included in the list highly sought after BOD skills as all board members should be expected to learn to develop all three skills. Finally, a willingness to learn the many details, nuances and intricacies of fundraising should be expected of new BOD members. Finally a willingness to personally donate to the foundation is primary to the cause.
8. Determine number of members number of meetings, methods of choice, quorum, and length of board service and other general structural and process characteristics of the foundation’s BOD? (By-law questions) Other topics might include the development of committees, an auxiliary or honorary committee of the board as well as core committees of the board.
9. Identify individuals capable of service as executive director and determine employment status* and related costs?
According to Howe, a strong executive will direct the staff, will clarify and define the mission, and will be the leading spokes person for the organization. The executive will inspire the board as well as the staff, and will motivate all in fulfilling the mission.
Qualities necessary in a good ED
- Comprehension of the basic mission of the organization and its greater context.
- Awareness of the organization’s internal and external culture.
- Familiarity with the organization to identify, evaluate and rank the to-do list.
- Vision to see a more radical version of the organization’s future.
- Sound Judgment in all administrative decisions.
- Willingness to learn school foundation and fundraising principles.
*(volunteer, paid volunteer, part-time and/or full time)
10. Measure the availability or potential for paid staff, volunteers, and leadership for the foundation and its work.
What school foundation researchers have found: Employing paid staff provides at least a 2:1 return on dollars raised (Nesbit, 1988 p.88). Tunnison, in his 1991 study of foundations in Nebraska, suggests a paid staff if possible. “Without development staff to methodically plan development strategies, fundraising will lack the planning and vision that is necessary to write effective proposals and to articulate school needs to donors. Personnel time dedicated to fund-raising activities is essential for success.” (Clark, p.98, 2002) “A paid staff member whose responsibility it is to coordinate communication and private funding activities within the community is vital to the success of an education foundation”. (Hyatt p.127, 1991)
11. Identify the official name of the foundation.
The name must be distinguishable from other nonprofit corporations, and your corporate name cannot suggest a purpose other than that in your Articles of Incorporation. Don’t forget to discuss associated branding, logo, website and preliminary marketing potential.
12. Location Discussion
Ideally it’s best to have a location away from the school and not funded by the school or district. This distance often physically represents the separation (from tax payer funds) as well as the somewhat “independent stance” the foundation has the freedom to take. For many schools or districts this is not a possibility or a reality at first. Be very careful what money and amount of support services you take, and make sure that you do not destroy your schools relationship with tax payers.
13. Identify startup costs and first three – five year costs of operation.
The amount of money you expect to raise is often in direct relationship to the amount of investment you make. This is a startup business. During the first year or two there may be some loss; however, in after two to three years foundations have experienced anywhere from a two-to-one to a ten-to-one return on the investment they’ve put into the foundation. Subsequently it’s up to the board at this point to determine what they want their foundation to look and be like.
14. Other studies/attachment to consider:
- Propose a feasibility study decision time line for the foundation’s formation.
- Review sample by-laws to get a feel for what other foundations have done to answer many of these questions.
- Develop a complete one – five year business plan
- Develop marketing and communication needed to promote the foundation with the community.
- Review IRS forms 990 and 1023 and associated filing requirements.
- Develop annual report format
- Propose founding board members, steering committee or incorporators to complete the oversight of foundation development, organization.
- Consider D&O and E&O insurance for the board of directors. (The best source is normally the associated school or school district)
Once completed and delivered to school officials, a go, proceed with caution, wait or don’t go until further study, will be rendered by the BOE. It is suggested that the school board appoint a founding BOD/incorporators to continue the work of foundation formation if they are in favor of moving ahead.