School Foundations

The Valley Springs public school district in Arkansas has worked with alumni, teachers, students and community members to launch a successful school foundation.

School Foundations

Adding Value to the School Community

“Education is the linchpin issue in rural economic development.” This simple statement is the credo of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks’ Rural Schools Partnership and its nationally recognized work with more than 70 school districts and local foundations. Schools truly are the lifeblood of small towns, and everyone must do all they can to maximize the learning opportunities for teachers and students.

Starting a school foundation is not a panacea for the challenges facing public education, but it is of the utmost importance in these times of shrinking state budgets, rural capital flight, and small town brain drain. A thriving school foundation engages citizens and alumni in the school, facilitates important school partnerships, and can provide much needed resources to the school community.

How to Start a School Foundation

Rural school foundations require vision, commitment, and planning. Even in the best of circumstances, developing a viable school foundation may take several years. However, foundations don’t magically appear, and rural school districts that fail to establish foundations will not be in a position to take advantage of the ongoing transfer of wealth.

We recommend the following action steps to get started:

  1. Establish a small working group to explore the feasibility of establishing a school foundation.
  2. Keep administrators and school board members in the loop; garner their support before moving forward.
  3. Establish a formal board or advisory board, depending on the legal structure of the school “foundation.” The sitting school board should not serve as rural school foundation governance board, although school board members can participate in the foundation governance structure
  4. Clearly articulate the foundation’s mission statement.
  5. Develop a launch plan that focuses keenly on community education/communication.
  6. Determine short-term goals to build momentum and launch the foundation.
  7. Determine long-range objectives and consider existing assets that eventually could be included in the school foundation’s portfolio.

As rural school foundation leaders move forward in their work, we encourage folks to be mindful of the characteristics of a successful school foundation:

  1. The primary focus is on student success and opportunities.
  2. Efforts to build a foundation are imbedded in the community.
  3. All school foundation board members are donors.
  4. The foundation is open to collaboration and partnerships.
  5. Planned giving is at the forefront of foundation dialogue.
  6. Foundation leadership is active, engaged and persistent.
  7. The focus on communications and educating the school community is ongoing.

The Rural Schools Collaborative is committed to helping communities and school districts establish and build school foundations. Our board members and advocates have a wealth of foundation building experiences, and they are willing to help out in any way possible. Also, you may want to watch the short 2012 film, Hats, Pies, and Fiddles: Strategies for Building a Rural School Foundation, which features school foundations in the Ozarks. More stories on successful rural school foundation efforts can be found here.

Please contact us at with questions or ideas of how we can be of service.