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SSO and school fundraisers: What we can learn from three Tennessee Districts

November 16, 2023

SSO and school fundraisers: What we can learn from three Tennessee Districts

When it comes to overseeing school and school support organization fundraising, K-12 school districts have a big job. Whether your school district is large or small, having a view into the various entities running fundraisers within your district is a key part of reducing risk of fraud and enforcing compliance. But, with so many school districts still relying on manual processes and paper trails, keeping up with every group and the fundraisers they want to run can be challenging.

Luckily, three senior leaders from school districts in Tennessee are sharing how they solved their challenges around oversight, compliance, and fundraiser approvals for the schools, clubs, and other school-related support organizations within their district, and they shared their expertise recently during a roundtable discussion hosted by Givebacks.

During the conversation, Taronda Frierson, Director of School Audit, Metro Nashville Public Schools, Angie Nye, School Accounting Supervisor, Hamilton County Schools, and Garrett Raiden, Director of Internal School Funds, Knox County Schools, talked about how they successfully implemented solutions to gain oversight and increase transparency around school and school support organizations and their fundraisers while reducing risk, saving time, promoting compliance, and reducing paper trails. 

How do school districts gain oversight of the schools, clubs, and other organizations in their district?

Each panelist agreed their biggest challenge in gaining oversight within their district centered around registration. In Tennessee, there are state laws school districts must adhere to around annual registration of school support organizations like booster clubs, teams, and other groups. 

Within that registration process, organizing the large amounts of paperwork each organization must submit and communicating with the organization’s officers regarding deadlines and submissions was time consuming and burdensome, so finding a solution that streamlined the process by building structure and facilitating easy communication while reducing paperwork and emails was a priority. 

While researching solutions to address the challenges around the annual registration process for their district, Frierson, Nye, and Raiden all found the Givebacks platform solved their issues around communication and documentation, and each has implemented Givebacks in their district with great success.

What challenges are districts facing around fundraising?

Gaining oversight into school and school support organization fundraising is another big challenge for school districts. In Hamilton County, schools and school support organizations are required to get a fundraiser number from a bookkeeper in order to submit the appropriate paperwork for approval. Prior to using Givebacks, the approval process was manual and paper driven, with a lot of time spent chasing paperwork. Now, the workflows in the Givebacks platform have created efficiencies in the approvals process and ensured compliance.

Nye pointed out that beyond the efficiency improvements, there has been another benefit with the process. In previous years, teachers ran an excessive number of fundraisers through Amazon Wish List and also ran crowdfunding campaigns through DonorsChoose and GoFundMe. The new approval process has made teachers more accountable, leading to a more deliberate approach toward which fundraisers they choose to run. And, the oversight the district has gained has allowed them to help shape policy and make recommendations to the board.

In the Metro Nashville district, school support organizations previously had to complete paper forms for submission and work through a bookkeeper, which was a manual process that led to communication issues. Since implementing Givebacks, Frierson said the district has been able to remove bookkeepers from the process, saving them time while reducing miscommunication and frustration. The new streamlined process also gives the district more oversight into the fundraisers school support organizations are running.

For Knox County, the highest priority for fundraising was to “reduce fraud, waste, and abuse,” said Raiden. To accomplish this, the district purchased the Givebacks platform for all of its schools and school support organizations to use at no expense. By making Givebacks accessible with zero cost, uptake has been high and the district has much more oversight than in previous years.

Another huge benefit for Knox County has been around workflow efficiency. Before using Givebacks, the fundraiser approval process was slow for the 5,000 requests made each year. In many cases, approvals would be so delayed because of the volume of requests and the onerous process, fundraisers would run without having received approvals. Now, with Givebacks, the approval process is significantly easier and more timely.

What school districts should know about crowdfunding campaigns

School districts across the country struggle with gaining oversight and transparency of fundraising activities in their schools and school support organizations. The prevalence of crowdfunding campaigns has only made things more complicated. With so many incidences of booster club fraud and other k-12 fundraising fraud each year, it’s important for school districts to find ways to reduce risk and gain oversight. 

While Tennessee is working to develop policies around crowdfunding to reduce risk of fraud, many other states currently provide little or no guidance around crowdfunding campaigns specifically. In many cases, it’s up to individual districts to create their own policies with the aim of minimizing malfeasance. Rather than wait for your state to develop crowdfunding campaign policies, there are steps your school district can take now to gain oversight and reduce risk of fraud

Start by transitioning away from a manual, paper-based process to a digital platform that enables compliance, reduces paperwork, and streamlines workflows. Givebacks allows school districts to centralize documentation, track approvals, and customize forms to suit their unique needs, which saves time and money, and perhaps most importantly, gives your district the oversight it needs to ensure schools and school support organizations are staying compliant. 

Taking steps to protect your school district from fraudulent activity starts with building the procedures and workflows that make sense for you. Many school districts including Metro Nashville, Hamilton County, and Knox County in Tennessee have found ways to successfully implement solutions that not only give them the oversight and transparency they need to reduce fraud, but also workflow and automation tools that help them save time and money. Use their knowledge, expertise, and experience to put the right solution in place for your district and you can reap the same benefits.