School Fundraising: ‘When was the Last Time That You Saw the Air-Force Running a Cake Stall to Buy a New Fighter Jet?'

02 February 2017

Floating around in the eighties was a lovely tea towel sold, I am sure, at school fundraisers. It read something along the lines of ‘it will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a cake stall to buy a new fighter jet.’ (The Idea of Home).

As a new teacher in the early 1980s I clearly recall seeing one of these tea-towels and after having been a student of the 60s and 70s, I saw fundraising at schools as simply the norm - cake stalls, car washing, raffles and even film nights were all common activities. Whenever there was a need for some new class sets of readers or perhaps a team was travelling interstate to represent the school at an event, fundraising took place to help reduce the costs to the parents and to ensure that students, who could not afford these important events, did not miss out.

Not much has changed in nearly forty years. Schools continue to provide the best education they can for all of their students, within the scope of their finite budgets. Any items or activities that are not incorporated into a budget (or if the budget has been spent) are either postponed until the following year or there may be a fundraising drive to raise the money required for the purchase.

Some schools have very clear policies regarding fundraising and some leave this type of activity solely at the discretion of their teachers or their Parents and Friends Association. Pro-active Parents and Friends Associations have been known to ask school staff to prepare a ‘wish list’ for items that will enhance student learning outcomes (add value) but are not covered within the next year’s budget. They then ask the principal or executive staff to prioritise the list and they set about developing a plan to raise the money for the next year.

However, it is how the funds are raised and not just what they are raised for that needs to be determined by the principal and the school board. The Australian Tax Office (ATO) and the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission (ACNC) have guidelines and rules that schools need to understand and uphold before embarking on any large scale or ongoing series of fundraising initiatives.

There are also specific state and territory and local government requirements that need to be met before a school can run certain types of fundraising events. For example, some jurisdictions and local councils have specific food preparation and occupational health and safety (WHS) requirements for sausage sizzles.

In NSW, non-government schools which operate on a not-for-profit basis must comply with the 'Not-for-Profit Guidelines for Non-Government Schools' released by the NSW Department of Education (Guidelines). Under the Guidelines, non-government schools must only use ''income and assets'' for the operation of the school and ''income'' is defined as "all revenue and other financial benefits accruing to the school in the course of its operations, including (but not limited to) all State and Commonwealth financial assistance paid to the school, all school fees and parental contributions paid to the school, and all donations and other payments made to the school for any purpose." The reference to 'parental contributions paid to the school, and all donations' encompasses income from fundraising events and therefore non-government schools in NSW must comply with the Guidelines.

According to the ACNC, in 2014 less than 6% of the $103 billion reported as income by Australian charities came from donations and bequests. The ACNC also noted that charities sought donations via a wide range of activities such as door-knocks or other appeals such as holding events or raffles.

Although schools rarely use door knocks or other direct contribution fundraisers, there are very big duty of care issues for students who may be asked to participate in these types of activities. In NSW, for example, fundraising is primarily governed by two separate acts - the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991 (NSW) and the Lotteries and Art Unions Act 1901 (NSW). The Charitable Fundraising Regulation 2008 (NSW) outlines a number of special requirements relating to the involvement of children in fundraising activities.

It should be noted that breaches of WHS/OHS laws and privacy laws can also result in quite severe financial penalties that may far outweigh any small financial gains made through an ill planned or poorly executed fundraising event.

In addition to WHS/OHS, privacy laws and local by-laws, the Age reported on changes being made by the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA) where they noted that the new requirements for a Code of Conduct may preclude certain types of fundraising activities being held and who may be able to volunteer to assist in the event.

The Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) in their Teacher Magazine note that there may also be GST implications for some schools with reference to certain types of fundraising activities. “It may have been expected that a school’s support entities, such as exempt not-for- profit parent associations, would be given concessional treatment to minimise or completely absolve such entities from obligations under the GST Act, but this has proven not to be the case.”

Schools should also be aware of other considerations associated with certain fundraising activities. For example, playing films or DVD’s for non-educational purposes requires a specific Co-Curricular Licence for copyright purposes. This type of activity does not have to be for fundraising either- it applies to the showing of a film/DVD that is non-educational, such as popping on a movie on a long bus trip or at a school camp.

Schools understand that fundraising is valuable and that it can assist schools to ‘add value’ to their general educational and social programmes. Successful fundraising events such as dinner dances, annual school fetes and a myriad of other activities have been known to generate income in the tens of thousands of dollars. However, like any income generating source, all fundraising activities need to be planned, monitored and executed effectively and overseen by the school executive and board.

The ACNC  states: “Ultimately, a charity’s board, committee of management or trustees (its ‘governing body’) has responsibility for fundraising activity, whether it is outsourced or not. The board has the overall responsibility for the charity’s actions. Board members must have a clear understanding of how money is raised, including any fundraising operations, and they must ensure there are appropriate and lawful processes in place to manage any money raised. They must ensure that the charity generates funds in a way that is in the charity’s best interests. This includes considering the charity’s charitable purpose, its beneficiaries and the impact on the public and other potential donors. For example, information collected from donors must be appropriately stored and used in ways that comply with relevant privacy laws. Some boards choose to adopt fundraising policies, or codes of conduct, like those developed by the Fundraising Institute of Australia. “

Even if a fundraising activity is completely outsourced, the total responsibility and accountability for breaches of jurisdictional and federal laws and by-laws lies with the school board.

Does your school have a fundraising policy?


Craig D’cruz

With 37 years of educational experience, Craig D’cruz is the National Education Lead at CompliSpace. Craig provides direction on education matters including new products, program/module content and training. Previously Craig held the roles of Industrial Officer at the Association of Independent Schools of WA, he was the Principal of a K-12 non-government school, Deputy Principal of a systemic non-government school and he has had teaching and leadership experience in both the independent and Catholic school sectors. Craig currently sits on the board of a large non-government school and is a regular presenter on behalf of CompliSpace and other educational bodies on issues relating to school governance, school culture and leadership.