As for many nonprofits, the challenges and opportunities of long-term sustainability are a top priority for the Dayton Regional STEM School (DRSS). Due to the importance, our leadership team and Board of Trustees actively take steps to ensure that we remain open and continue to grow.
To fully appreciate our sustainability efforts, it’s important to understand how our organization differs from more traditional school districts. While it is a nonprofit, DRSS is also an independent, public STEM school. Our mission is to prepare students with the skills necessary to compete in the global economy while nurturing the same enthusiasm for discovery, invention, and application that launched the vision for powered flight. The school is in its eighth year of operation, currently serves 640 students in grades 6-12, and the students represent eight counties and 35 school districts. The school is not tied to another district, so it is recognized as its own district by the State of Ohio.
As a public school, our operating revenue comes from the state in the form of per-pupil funding. While that funding currently helps to sustain operations, the funding will eventually level off as the school reaches its maximum target enrollment of 700 students. Faced with this future funding revenue stagnation, we must focus on making intentional, strategic decisions to ensure our sustainability. That is why we have a multi-pronged approach to identifying and pursuing additional sources of revenue.
One of the revenue channels is fundraising. While many public schools have fundraising efforts, we have a formal program. Roughly three years ago, the school recognized that in order to bring in additional operating support and prepare for capital improvements to the facility and grounds, it needed to invest in a development program. In 2015, they hired me as the full-time director of development to lead the effort. I work closely with the administration and board to identify funding priorities and determine fundraising methods. The strategy includes finding steady streams of predictable operating support through fundraising, grants, and a major gifts program, all of which help to cultivate future donations to transform the school. Additionally, we are in the midst of developing a master facility and grounds plan, which will help cast a clear campus vision that can be shared with potential funders.
One part of our new fundraising program is the annual campaign, which sets the stage for yearly operating support, develops a pipeline of financial supporters, and creates a culture of giving at the school. In the fall of 2016, we conducted the first community-wide annual campaign in the school’s history. We made the case for support and asked all of our stakeholders – parents, partners, volunteers, staff, board, and alumni – to participate and invest in the school’s long-term success. The goal for the campaign was $25,000 which we surpassed by December.
In addition, we recognize that creating awareness of a more sustainable state funding model is key to long-term sustainability. To do so, we make an intentional effort to communicate the school’s educational successes and funding challenges to state agencies and elected officials. This state-wide strategy includes regular collaboration with other independent STEM schools in Ohio which are funded in the same manner. The schools work with one another to share best practices in education and, as a group, we combine efforts to advance STEM education and strengthen our case for independent STEM school funding across the state.
Like many nonprofits, our school dedicates time and energy to sustainability because we are mission driven and focused on serving our stakeholders and community. By approaching sustainability from multiple angles, we open opportunities to increase support from our stakeholders, regional and national grant funders, and the State of Ohio. Successfully doing so will allow us to continually provide an exceptional educational experience to students.
Sara Collins, Director of Development for Dayton Regional STEM School and on the advisory board for the Regional STEM Collective, has more than 15 years’ experience in community engagement, public relations, and fundraising, mainly for nonprofit organizations. She is a member of Leadership Dayton’s Class of 2011, and Dayton Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 Class of 2011.
This article is reprinted from Issue #8 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!
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