Perspectives from Appalachian Sustainable Development
By Katie Commender, Sustainable Forestry OSM/VISTA
It was three o’clock and the last raised potato bed was being made by a group of local elementary school students. The bus was pulling up around the corner, as the students hurried to fill in the last bit of peat moss. A unanimous groan could be heard from the students as the bus pulled in front of the school. “I don’t want to go home, this is too much fun,” one student said. “Will we get to come back tomorrow?” another student said to his teacher as he begrudgingly boarded the school bus.
This was not a typical day of school and certainly not a typical response for students leaving school. This, is the power of a school garden.
With such great responses, funding should be easy to obtain for these school gardens, right? Not always. It all depends on where you go for funding, when and how you ask.
Board fundraising, corporate giving, earned income, events, foundation funding, government funding, in-kind gifts, major donors, appeal letters, online fundraising, planned giving, endowments, grants- the list goes on and on when it comes to raising money. One can surely go mad when trying to raise funds. Knowing the key funding players is crucial for the creation of a successful school garden and the seven following tips will help you get there:
1) School District Superintendent: Start with the school system’s superintendent. Set up a meeting to talk about the project and make sure (s)he is on board. Having the superintendent’s support is vital for the creation of a successful school garden. With this support, the superintendent may be able to allocate school funding for the project. A crucial point to note is when the school’s yearly budget is created. Setting up this meeting prior to the budget’s creation may increase your chances of obtaining funding.
2) Federal Grants Program Coordinator: Set up a meeting with the Federal Grants Program Coordinator for the school district in which you plan to install the outdoor classroom garden. This Coordinator will be able to apply available federal grant funds to your school garden project. Make sure to list specific details, including partners involved, number of kids impacted, etc. This information will increase your chances of receiving these federal funds.
3) Parents: The parents of the children involved in the school garden should be your biggest supporters. Make sure to keep them involved with the project’s planning and implementation from the beginning. Your garden will provide their children with a place to learn and grow. Parents will want to be involved in this process, so include them! Talk to them on an individual basis, attend PTO and PTA meetings, and ask not only for in-kind volunteer support, but also monetary donations.
4) Civic Groups: Local civic groups, such as Kiwanis and Rotary, have a funding priority for projects that help children. So why not write a funding proposal to these groups? Set up a meeting with the group’s President and discuss your school garden project and the impacts it will make on children. Ask when their next meeting will take place and if you could write a funding proposal to be submitted and voted on during that meeting.
5) Local Businesses: School gardens require top soil, peat moss, landscape fabric, plants and more. Think about who sells these items near you. Set up meetings with local nurseries, farmer’s market vendors, Home Depot, Lowes and more. Or, write an “ask letter” and follow it up with a phone call. These local businesses may be able to donate some of the supplies and materials you’ll need to create your garden. Again, include specific details about your project and its anticipated impacts. You can even offer incentives, like including a thank-you note about their assistance in your organization’s next newsletter, on Facebook and even on your website.
6) Master Gardeners: If your school garden is approved as a project that can count towards Master Gardener’s mandatory 50 community service hours, then you are also eligible for their in-kind funding. Find a Master Gardener who is interested in this project and ask them to write a project proposal for your school garden. This proposal will list specific expectations that your organization will have for Master Gardener volunteers, including requested funding assistance. The type of in-kind funding Master Gardeners can give, includes supplies and materials like top soil, plants, etc. Be sure to find out when the Master Gardeners create their yearly budget. For some states it is the end of September, but it may be different for others. Having this proposal written and voted on prior to this budget’s creation will increase your chances for funding.
7) Fundraising Events: It’s likely that your garden will be growing flowers and/or fruits and vegetables. Think about how these products can raise money to keep the garden going. One idea is to have a school flower sale. Another is to get a booth at a local farmer’s market and have the school children practice being entrepreneurial farmers. These fundraising events utilize the products that the children are growing in their garden to raise the funds needed for the garden’s continued success. Involving the children themselves in fundraising will add yet another teaching layer to your school garden project.
In the end, it’s one thing to raise the funds needed to start up a school garden and another thing entirely to make it successful and keep it going. A key ingredient for keeping successful relationships with funding partners is to show your appreciation! If Kiwanis, PTA or Home Depot donate money, volunteer time, or supplies and materials to your project, do not overlook the power of a simple thank-you card. After obtaining a signed photo release form from parents, you can even take pictures of the children in the garden and include this in your card. Simple touches like this, translate to continued funding and support for additional projects in the future.
There is no miracle answer for raising school garden funds, but these seven key tips can help you get started. So put on your garden gloves and fundraising hat, and start making those key partnerships!
Katie Commender attended Arcadia University and obtained her B.A. in International Studies with a concentration in Globalization, Development, and Human Rights and a minor in Political Science. After interning for the Office of Surface Mining as a policy and research intern in 2011, Katie decided to join the OSM/VISTA team. Placed with Appalachian Sustainable Development, she began working on obtaining funding for school gardens located along the Panicello Memorial Trail.