Maximise fundraising

  • 15th February 2024

Annabel Green reveals why independent schools can celebrate record levels of income generation

Independent schools, having weathered the effect of the pandemic, can celebrate that their fundraising and engagement is thriving.

The Institute of Development Professionals in Education (IDPE) and Gifted Philanthropy Fundraising Consultants’ ‘Schools’ fundraising and engagement benchmarking update 2023’ builds on the full 2022 benchmarking report to provide an up-to-date overview of development in schools. In total, 152 schools contributed to the update, including both independent (92%) and state schools (8%), and the data is undeniably positive.

Philanthropy in schools is growing year-on-year

Despite the challenging economic climate, schools that have invested in development have been able to realise significant philanthropic support to advance their strategic objectives and provide exceptional opportunities for young people in education.

In the two-year period under review (2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years), £269,712,214 was received in gifts and pledges (including legacies and known legacy commitments) by 119 schools. The average income per annum, per school, increased beyond pre-pandemic levels to £1,133,245, up from £757,718 in 2018-2021.

Fundraising totals for independent schools – average income per annum

If we look at different types of school, co-educational independent schools continue to generate the greatest amount of income and girls-only schools’ income remains consistent at 10% of the total income generated, with a reported increase in legacy income. Boys-only schools – where development has on average been established the longest – continue to raise the most on average per school: 7% of the respondents were boys’ schools, raising 39% of the total income generated (up from 25% in the 2022 report).

Development offices have accelerated their fundraising performance

The ambition and abilities of development professionals in the sector are a powerful force that leverage greater results year-on-year. Of the development offices that reported income for both individual financial years under review (2021-22 and 2022-23), 56% raised more in 2022-23 than they did in 2020-21. While the number of development offices reporting annual average philanthropic income over £1 million per annum is up from 11% to 15%.

 What is underpinning this success?

  • Investment across the sector is increasing

The 2022 benchmarking report demonstrated that the more you invest in development, the greater the return. It’s perhaps no surprise therefore that the new heights of income generation being achieved across the sector are mirrored by an increase in investment in teams and budgets.

During the past two years, 34% of offices have grown in size, more than double the number which have reduced in size (17%), with 49% remaining the same. Similarly, the majority (65%) had increased development expenditure. The data also shows that 71% of the development offices that reported an increase in expenditure raised more money than they had previously.

Independent schools investment in fundraising

  • More heads are engaged in fundraising

The 2022 report evidenced that successful fundraising needs active leadership. Heads and senior leaders have significant roles to play – as ambassadors, cultivators, introducers and askers – and can be instrumental to the success of a development office. The 2023 update shows that the proportion of heads either very involved or involved in development has increased to 80% (2022: 71%). Among schools that are raising more than £500,000 a year, this percentage is 87%, further evidencing that when development sits at the heart of the school strategy and remains a priority for senior leaders, the greater the fundraising success.

  • Schools remain focused on major gifts

In every school community, there is the potential to unlock transformative donations. Benchmarking data consistently demonstrates the value of focusing on major gifts, and this continues to be the largest source of income across the sector, followed by lower-level regular donations. Between them, they represent 76% of all income generated by the 119 development offices which reported figures.

  • The most successful schools are proactively engaging their communities

Effective fundraising at any level relies on strong community engagement, bringing alumni, parents and other key stakeholders together around a school’s vision. The data demonstrates that schools that are being more proactive in engaging their communities are achieving greater fundraising success. Schools that engage alumni through reunions, events and careers programmes, and which consistently keep in touch with parents with written fundraising communications, generate the most income.

  • Purpose and social impact remain a powerful force for philanthropy

At a time when the attainment gap in education is increasing between children from different financial backgrounds, the need to level the playing field is compelling. Fundraising for bursaries remains a key focus for the majority (82%) of independent schools’ fundraising, while every independent school that reported an average annual income of more than £500,000 is raising money for bursaries, either for annual distribution or to build an endowment for future bursary provision (or in some cases both).

Why benchmarking is important

Benchmarking enables schools to compare and contrast their performance against similar types of schools, highlighting strengths, as well as identifying opportunities to enhance fundraising and engagement performance. While IDPE advocates that every school is different, and every school’s development journey unique, the benchmarking report shares emerging best practice across the sector, highlighting the factors which can influence success, and provides a basis from which to encourage schools to start, and accelerate, their development programmes.

The 2023 benchmarking update shows that the sector is performing at an all-time high and that the opportunities for advancement are there to be realised. At a time of rapidly increasing costs – for both schools and parents – schools need to be reading this update and asking themselves, can they afford not to invest in development?

  • To download the IDPE and Gifted Philanthropy Fundraising Consultants’ ‘Schools’ fundraising and engagement benchmarking update 2023’, visit: or contact via:

Annabel Green is head of content for IDPE.

Annabel Green

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