Education Funding Options Expand for Districts
Mickey Freeman, President & CEO, Education Funding Partners
Dr. Rod Berger: Why Education Funding Partners and more specifically what, in the educational environment, was missing that spurred the idea?
Mickey Freeman: U.S. public school districts have experienced more than $25 billion in budget cuts in the last five years; U.S. companies spend $180 billion annually to market their products and services. EFP seeks to tap these valuable resources through socially responsible marketing investments to allow trusted consumer brands to support student achievement.
Districts have had to cut staff and programs and increase fundraising and fees for families to offset budget reductions.
The EFP team has significant experience and expertise working with large public school districts as well as Fortune 500 companies to develop responsible marketing programs. We saw the need from both parties to create a win-win scenario that puts districts in control of programs while introducing to marketers a new, national channel that effectively reaches parents and educators, combining marketing efficiency and corporate social responsibility needs.
In effect, EFP created and brokered the opportunity to drive urgently needed, meaningful, and sustainable funding for schools from a new source.
RB: What are the most common questions you receive from districts and what can we discern from these questions as to the overall challenge(s) they’ve experienced raising money district-wide?
MF: Revenue is king, so the first question is “how much revenue can we expect to make from the EFP programs?”
We believe that there is a certain revenue threshold that districts seek from programs to garner interest; while this number varies greatly per district, EFP has generally found broad interest in programs that have the potential to exceed six figures per year and/or programs that deliver greater than $1 per student per year.
We also believe that it’s important for districts to show their stakeholders (parents, educators, students, and community members) that they are doing everything possible to appropriately monetize any assets they can to show it’s not all about budget cuts and burdensome fundraisers.
The second question is “what will it cost us to run a program?”
- EFP is 100% commission-based, we don’t get paid until the districts get paid, so there’s never upfront costs.
- EFP passes through an industry-leading average 70% of revenue generated directly back to school district clients.
The third question is “do we have control over sponsors?”
As a leading “benefit corporation” (social enterprise), EFP puts control with districts, where it belongs. EFP’s district clients have explicit, written final say over brands, messages, and locations of sponsorship and advertising messages.
The fourth question is “can we do this ourselves?”
There are limited examples of success for even large standalone districts to command the attention of major brands, which seek national distribution networks comprising millions of monthly marketing impressions
EFP uniquely has built such a network, thus drawing brand interest from the likes of Microsoft, Walmart, CVS, Sports Authority, etc., who value EFP’s market access and district-friendly approach.
EFP’s program is a positive juxtaposition to small-scale, localized, never-ending micro fundraisers of gift wrap, candy, cookie dough, magazines and other educationally irrelevant “trash and trinkets” that students are incentivized to sell in exchange for silly prizes, that district families are asked to continuously support, and that distract teachers and administrators whose priority should be educating students.
RB: You work with, as you call them, forward-thinking school districts. What tips you off that a given district is forward-thinking and what advice do you have for those that desire to be but aren’t quite there yet with their funding efforts?
MF: Often, EFP’s district clients understand that partnering with blue chip nationally respected companies is a winning proposition for them by driving new, significant, and sustainable revenue sources that support the educational objectives of the district.
Still, the process of getting the necessary buy-in and approvals at the district and broader school community can seem daunting to some, so they never get started.
Fortunately there are many forward-thinking districts and senior district personnel who understand the benefits that partnering with Fortune 500 companies can bring to their district.
Some of the signs to EFP that districts are forward-thinking and marketing sponsorship ready are these:
- A current, formal branding, sponsorship, and advertising district policy (EFP can provide examples)
- A senior district administrator who has responsibility (full-time or partial) for corporate sponsorships and business development
- Current privacy policies for district and school websites
- A supportive superintendent and board
RB: How have national brands evolved understanding the educational landscape, the importance of language and messaging to students and the entire local school community?
MF: It is a privilege for brands to be part of the school district environment, and they and EFP take that stewardship to heart.
EFP brands are highly attuned to the importance of their involvement and messaging being appropriate and responsible for the contextual environment unique to K-12 education and school districts.
It would not benefit the brands if the messaging is perceived as commercialism or in any way inappropriate for a partnering with districts, and they follow EFP’s lead on crafting appropriate audience communications.
EFP programs focused primarily on parents as decision-makers and purchasers and secondarily on teachers as trusted, informed influencers. Programs also create a positive brand “halo” on students and the community at large, promoting long-term brand affinity.
RB: Social impact is important to you and EFP. Share the first moment you received confirmation of the impact you had projected and how that experiences drives current efforts.
MF: It is! And it’s why we do what we do. EFP engaged with Staples early on for a back to school, school supplies sponsorship.
One of the participating districts, San Juan Unified School District (Sacrament, CA-area), earmarked the funds they received from the Staples program for science enrichment workshops over their spring break for elementary school kids. They did not have funding for the workshops until the Staples sponsorship. The workshops gave the students something educational to do over their spring breaks that involved learning and fun. This early example showed us the direct, measurable impact that the brand/district partnerships can bring.
We’ve had multiple examples since of EFP-enabled sponsorship revenue supporting health and wellness, athletics, STEM, and back to school initiatives.
RB: What can district leaders do if they desire a new approach to educational funding?
MF: Call EFP! They don’t have to "pre-pay" to learn about our programs or to be part of our network, are never under any obligation to say yes to any sponsorship opportunity, and can join any time.
On a relevant note, brands are dramatically shifting marketing investments toward digital opportunities, so being aware of and open to considering digital marketing programs (web banner ads, social media, district-communications like emails, etc.) could be a timely new revenue opportunity for school districts.