Philanthropic funding for your school

Our latest Research Files podcast looks at the LLEAP (Leading Leading Learning in Education and Philanthropy) survey report.

The LLEAP report notes that Australian Tax Office (ATO) approved building and scholarship funds provide avenues for philanthropic funding, but the survey found about 30 per cent of schools had no fund set up and 8 per cent were unsure whether they had one. Government schools were the least likely to have a fund set up.

Organisations that can receive tax deductible gifts or contributions are known as Deductible Gift Recipients (DGR). Tony Poulakis, the ATO's Assistant Commissioner, explains there are several advantages of DGR status:

  • gifts of money and certain property of $2 or more to the fund may be tax deductible to donors;
  • certain contributions to fundraising events held on behalf of the fund may be tax deductible to contributors;
  • and, the fund may seek grants from philanthropic funds and government programs that only assist DGRs.

So, how do you go about applying for an ATO-approved school building fund? Jayne Kennedy is one educator who’s been there and done it.

She is Head of Department, Alternative Pathways, at Clifton State High School, in the Darling Downs region of Queensland.

The small, rural school introduced Equine Studies into its curriculum about a year ago following a suggestion from a parent, who started the ball rolling by donating two horses.

‘[It] quickly gained in popularity and our minds turned to how we could expand the program,’ Kennedy says.

Plans for a $1.5 million Agriculture and Equine Centre were drawn up and it was part of Kennedy’s role to work out how to go about setting up an ATO-approved school building fund.

‘Most building funds are attached to the P&C … [but] it was important to us to apply as a school,’ she says. ‘We wanted the management committee of the building fund to be people in administrative roles, like the principal and myself.

‘We also wanted to put all the finances through our BSM (Business Services Manager) so that everything was invoiced correctly, because we were potentially looking at large sums … so we felt it was too much of an imposition on our P&C to deal with that amount of money.’

Kennedy says it was difficult to find someone within the state education department who could advise her of the process, so she contacted the ATO directly.

‘I [spoke to] a lady who explained what would be required by the ATO ... and it's predominantly what they call a design brief. That, for me, ended up being around eight pages long.

‘Included in that we had to provide the ATO with evidence of intention to construct the building – so, that meant plans in place, some information around what the building was going to look like (it didn't have to be sourced and paid for plans at that stage, it could be a concept design).

‘So we gave them a little blurb about where we were situated in the world and what we were planning on doing, and we included a [basic] site plan.

‘The second thing I had to include was evidence of intention to be used as a school - that's the wording the ATO asks you to use. Under that heading, I had to demonstrate how this particular building would be used in the curriculum.’

To meet this requirement, Kennedy provided links to the Education Queensland and Queensland Studies Authority websites. ‘For us it was, at the time, a Year 10 Agricultural Science class. I provided links showing how often each week the class [would take place], and links to the curriculum. That took a little bit of time. I had to find how many kids would use the class, how many teachers there would be …’

Kennedy says it was certainly a steep learning curve and the hardest part of the brief was writing governing rules. ‘The ATO gave me a list of eight or nine topics I had to cover.

'I couldn't find anybody who'd written governing rules before, so I wrote them myself. Then they had to be signed by the principal ... and formed part of the school's constitution.’

Although the actual application took around six to eight weeks to write, the experienced educator says it took her four or five months to get her head around the process. ‘I was also working full-time at the same time. So, it is hard.

‘I also wrote a big business plan for the Agricultural and Equine Centre, so if someone wanted to see the project in a business plan form before they donated they could do that, so that was very time consuming as well.’

Kennedy says the ATO advice was very helpful, but of course every application is different and no-one can write the documents for you. ‘The ATO can't tell you what to say, they can only advise you and then reject it if it's not right, or approve it if it is.'

All the hard work paid off and the application was successful. The building fund was officially launched at Easter and the first donations are already starting to roll in.

The school has also applied for funding through Education Queensland’s Smart School Subsidy Scheme and is hoping the first sod of soil on the new centre will be turned at the end of this year.

Kennedy has three pieces of advice for educators considering applying for an ATO-approved building fund – go for it, aim high, and have a small steering committee with focused roles rather than a cast of thousands.

‘We had three people on ours: My role was the business side of it - applying for the building fund and writing the business plan; one of the other people was involved in marketing and promotions; and the principal was the figurehead of the group, I guess.’

Readers interested in finding out more about Clifton State High School's experiences applying for an ATO-approved building fund, and the Ag Centre, can contact Alice James (HOD Junior Secondary School) on +61 7 4697 4777.

ATO information: Readers can refer to the school building fund webpage on the non-profit section of the ATO website or search using the term 'QC 16311'. Taxation ruling TR 2013/2 Income tax: school or college building funds also has further details and practical examples.