Some school gardeners find the prospect of raising funds to start up or sustain a school garden daunting, but others relish the challenge and see it as an opportunity for learning. The good news is that there are many different ways to acquire the materials and funds you will need. Successful kids' gardening programs frequently incorporate several strategies.
If you begin by estimating the costs for the entire project and preparing a realistic budget, you'll have a good fundraising target. Remember to include expenses for site development and improvement, routine maintenance, curriculum materials, and miscellaneous items. Consider setting up an account for your project with the PTO or school business office, or appoint a treasurer and open a checking account. Create a recordkeeping system for revenues and expenses, and establish who has the authority to spend money from the account.
Soliciting Donations Locally
Soliciting donations from local groups and businesses is more than a way of obtaining needed money and materials. It serves to publicize and develop support for your program and to actively involve the community in supporting education. Here are some tips for requesting donations.
Have a specific plan and set of needs in mind before approaching potential donors. Create a list of the items you'd like from each donor.
Businesses receive requests for donations all the time, so be professional, organized, and specific. Ask for only appropriate amounts of cash or materials.
Meet with potential donors in person, if possible.
Create project folders that you can leave with each potential donor. This folder will show that your effort is well organized and that the program has the full support of the school. This presentation does not need to be flashy but should include the following: endorsement letter from an administrator or program director, one-page project description, garden plan, list of people who support the project, photos or students' quotes or drawings.
Know the tax status of your school or organization and the name businesses should use when making out checks.
Money may be the first gift that comes to mind, but other donations can be just as valuable. These may include plants and seeds, lumber, soil amendments, fencing, tools, release time for employees who wish to participate, and in-kind gifts (use of equipment and printing, for instance).
Celebrate and acknowledge your donors in word and print. This might include student-produced certificates, banners, press releases, and so on.
Launching Fundraising Projects
Fundraising projects can require a lot of time and energy, but they can also be used to bring curriculum goals to life. For instance, consider a school seedling sale. Students who create flyers or write articles about the event hone language arts skills. Economic and math concepts have meaning as students price products and track expenses and profits. Raising healthy seedlings requires a growing understanding of life science concepts. Such projects can also create school and community enthusiasm for and a sense of ownership of the garden project. Cultivate team spirit around fundraising, set goals, and celebrate the results. Be sure that students recognize and thank volunteers, donors, and sponsors whenever possible. Here are a few fundraising project suggestions:
Sell garden-related items such as seeds, transplants, indoor plants, dried herbs and flowers, sachets, potpourri, herbal vinegars, pressed flower stationery, produce, zucchini bread, or certificates for an hour of weeding.
Host a silent auction or raffle. These events can build community partnerships featuring promotional donations from local businesses. Auctions and raffles can be combined with a dinner or special event.
Build small worm composting setups, butterfly houses, or other garden-related products and sell them along with directions for use.
Hold a spring garden sale with plants started by the students or donated by local gardeners and nurseries.
Try a harvest market event with produce, cut flowers, salsa, herbal soaps, and garden crafts.
Finding School Funding Sources
Consider potential sources of funds within your school. Request an annual allocation from the school budget or PTO funds. If the garden is a vital part of the school infrastructure; is actively championed by faculty, staff, volunteers, and kids; and features permanent structures, such as fences and sheds, you are more likely to receive such funding. Emphasize the connections between the garden and curriculum, detailing how the garden program will address local, state, and national standards and frameworks.
Finding Outside Funding Sources
School gardeners have discovered scads of local, regional, and national support for school garden and habitat initiatives. Each program, context, and funder is unique, so do your homework and try to find the best match before sending out an application or proposal.
To find sources of educational funds available in your area, talk with your principal, subject area coordinators, or district grant writer. Ask if there are mini-grants or other funds are available through your district. Local corporations (including utility companies), community foundations, and public education foundations may also offer grants for educational programs and materials. Many school gardeners have found support, in the form of donations or funds, from local stores or foundations of some of the big retailers, such as Wal-Mart.
Do some research to learn about grants available from foundations and organizations that are interested in school gardens and habitat projects, science and environmental education, or other areas related to your project. For instance, if an ethnic garden in part of your plan, look for funders who support multicultural initiatives. Local or regional foundations are usually your best bet. You'll find information on many regional and national grants in the Kidsgardening Resource Directory. Here are some other places to research available grants:
SchoolGrants - Contains a wealth of information for school grant seekers, including a state-by-state list of grant opportunities for educators.
E-E Link - Features many funding sources emphasizing environmental education.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - Check this site for updates on the agency's environmental education grants.
The Foundation Directory - A major resource for people looking for grant funding. See if your local library has a copy. (Also ask about other grant resource guides.)
Grants are awards designed to provide funds or materials to support specific projects or programs. Funders typically have guidelines for award eligibility and an official application form. Some have deadlines for applications and others accept them throughout the year. It pays to research the background of the granting agency or foundation so you can make sure your objectives meet its goals. You can often find this information in a grant announcement, descriptions of previously funded projects, or annual report.
Most granting organizations request at least the following types of information:
evaluation (how you'll assess your success)
(District or educational foundation grantors also typically want to know how the project will meet learning standards.)
Your proposal should convey enthusiasm, while also stressing the excellent organization and broad base of the gardening program. Most foundations are not interested in funding a short-term affair. You will probably be asked for documentation of strong leadership, community support, and the sustainability of your program. Emphasize why your project is unique and worthy of funding. Create a vivid image by describing what teachers and students will actually do and detailing the outcomes for students, teachers, and/or the community.
Be sure to follow these cardinal rules of grant seeking:
Do not apply for grants that don't relate to your project. Be certain you meet the criteria.
Follow all the guidelines detailed in the proposal
Make requests as short as possible. Real people have to read each proposal, so be concise.
Make simple and straightforward requests. Do not assume complexity adds credibility.
Avoid the following: acronyms and professional jargon, small type or a hard-to-read font, irrelevant appendix materials.
Show appreciation when your organization receives a grant!
Know when to quit. If rejected, it is appropriate to ask why, but do it in a way that leaves a good impression.
Be a good non-winner. Do not argue with a foundation representative. Try again later with another project.
Don't underestimate the power of keeping the community informed about your project for securing ongoing donations, involvement, and funds. Here are some tips for reaching out.
Calendar. Develop a detailed calendar of activities, committee meetings, fundraising efforts, work projects, and special events for the entire year and use that in your public relations efforts.
Publicity. Develop a plan for publicizing your garden to a broad audience. Compile a media list with contact information for local newspapers and radio and TV stations. Talk with reporters, send press releases, and invite the media to special events.
Promotion. Create a brochure or project folder that describes your project and provides interested supporters with information on how they can contribute.
Documentation. Have students create a scrapbook that includes news articles, color photos of kids working in the garden, letters of support, and dreams for the future. Display this scrapbook at public gatherings, school open houses, library exhibits, and county fairs.
Mailing list. Start building a mailing list or e-mail list of business people, parents, teachers, administrators, garden volunteers, community leaders, local nonprofit organizations, city and town officials, and legislators who support arts, education, and environmental programs for kids. Keep the members of this list informed about the gardening program, and ask them for help when needed.
Newsletter. Publish a newsletter about your program. Include a section listing and thanking sponsors and contributors. Make your goals, mission, and wish list known to readers. Network. Cultivate community partnerships with local garden clubs, 4-H clubs, Master Gardeners, scouting groups, service organizations, businesses, and conservation organizations.
School Garden Businesses
A hydroponic basil business that markets to restaurants . . . a weekly farmers' market . . . a fresh salsa venture . . . butterfly garden consulting services. In schools and classrooms across the U.S. and Canada, students have addressed funding dilemmas by using their gardening savvy as a springboard for green business ventures. Some are as small as a one-time school seedling sale, and others as involved as a salsa business that supplies restaurants and grocery stores. For inspiration, check out Strategies for a Growing Business.