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Articles > Fundraising Ideas > Building the brand for bursaries: Q&A with Allegra van Steenwyk, Lady Eleanor Holles

Building the brand for bursaries: Q&A with Allegra van Steenwyk, Lady Eleanor Holles

Allegra Van Steenwyk, Development Officer at Lady Eleanor Holles, participated in ToucanTech’s panel about ‘Building a brand for bursaries’ at the IDPE’s Bursaries & Partnerships conference in March 2022. She shares her experience of bursary fundraising at Lady Eleanor Holles and how this has changed through both COVID and over the years. 

How does bursary provision impact on the overall perception of your school, including the impact on admissions?

It’s in the DNA of LEH. We’re proud of our heritage and how we were founded, and it’s right that we continue to honour that legacy.  At open events the first thing you see is the bursary information video, which provides details to applicants about the programme and how to apply. It’s important to us that the perception of the school highlights how important the bursary is to us and how the school community is what it is because of our bursary students. We also mention our bursary programmes in many editorial pieces that are published for this reason. Everyone is given an information leaflet on how to apply, so there’s no need to seek it out and we hope this circumvents any potential reservations people have with having to ask for it. We hope that this gives people the confidence to apply when they might have previously thought a private school was not an option for them. We also hope that this leads to the overall perception of LEH being that it is a very diverse and inclusive environment that values bright students from any and all backgrounds. We have significantly more applications for bursary support than we can currently fund, so it’s at the heart of our development programme.

How do you reinforce the value of giving back to bursary campaigns to bursary recipients as alumni?

It’s our hope that their experience of being at LEH motivates our bursary recipients to want to give back – not just to the school but more widely to society. We have a strong alumnae engagement programme and often highlight the experiences and successes of our bursary students as they go forward in life. Sharing their stories is key. Past bursary recipients understand that their testimonials are the most important thing we have in our efforts to encourage people to give and they strongly hope for more students to be given the chance they had. A number of them do give back to the school now, whether that’s providing testimonials and helping us raise awareness of the importance of bursaries, or donating money themselves.

How do you balance promotion of your bursary campaign alongside capital campaigns?

We don’t currently run any capital campaigns and the strategic priority is the bursary programme. We felt that our community was far more receptive to donating to bursaries than anything else – trying to raise money for our most recent capital project (until 2019) was hard. We made the decision at the start of covid to focus exclusively on bursaries and have maintained that (no plans to go back). Of course, we are open to any specific capital projects if an individual wants to fund something - for example recent legacies to build reading room and improve archives. 

How has engagement with bursary campaigns changed since you started working in development?

We have seen a big increase in first time donors in the last few years due to the nature of some of our campaigns. The last 2 Christmases we worked hard on increasing awareness of bursaries through our 12 Days of Giving campaign, which isn’t fundraising focused but more to communicating what we as a school have done to give back during the year. This fosters the feeling that the whole school community prioritises giving and then the ask for donations to the Bursary Fund are a natural progression. Particularly our Giving Day saw a large number of people donate for the first time – almost 70% were giving for the first time, and we’re excited to build on that this year and see if donations are larger this time. We also brought in approximately 40 regular givers in the last year, we found that donation is most frequently not huge but more talking about the impact of working together. This has been a big focus also of our philanthropy report this year as a reflection on the response to Giving Day etc. – when we work together we are much stronger. 

What’s the key to conveying the case for support - is it to put the beneficiaries front and centre?

Taking a human-centred approach, storytelling, focus on impact, not just on academic or career achievements but happiness, fulfillment, life experiences. We conducted an alumnae survey during lockdown and had a great response rate – the overwhelming message was that testimonials from past recipients were the greatest motivator to giving. We also focus on sharing a clear vision and clear articulation of the need – e.g. at the moment we have to turn bright and brilliant students away because we have more applicants than we can fund.

How has major donor relationship management changed for you over the past two years?

Major donor fundraising is an area for potential growth for us and we are focusing on more now. Easing of restrictions means we can hold more in person events, and deepen our understanding of our donors’ interests and motivations. We're looking forward to the chance to do this and seeing ways we can undertake this effectively.

What has been the most impactful way to share bursary stories? 

It’s nice to share bursary stories in lots of different ways to target people differently, we have a mix of video, audio and written ones on our website. We try to use more recent graduates when talking to students. We’ve used videos in assembly to help spread awareness in the school. It’s also nice to be able to cut these videos into other promotional material so we’re maybe only hearing a short part of their full testimonial. We like to share testimonials from people who have donated and why. We recently created a video for Giving Day called “I support LEH because..” and have cut some lovely old footage of the school from 1950s with an alumna of that time period who has given to the school with some of her memories and info on why she supports the bursary. We also have many written testimonials and leaflets that we can hand out to people to take away at events. We use written quotations in all of our fundraising materials and try to include head shots where they’re available for longer quotes.

How do you keep your leavers engaged and willing to give back? 

Networking events, careers/mentoring advice from more experienced alumnae. We also host events such as university tours, alumnae reunions and Remarkable Women receptions etc. We engage our leaving U6th before they’re gone by signing them up to our alumnae portal and hosting their first reunion within the year after they leave. It’s much easier to keep them engaged rather than try and bring them back to the school. This is an area for improvement as many are highly engaged with the school but this is not currently reflected in the number of donations we are receiving. Some cultural norms to overcome in this area but we are working to really personalise our message and tailor our message in a way that will encourage alumnae to give.

What steps are you taking to put bursaries and partnerships at the heart of your school's strategic vision?

It’s in our school’s DNA – we proudly highlight the fact that the school was founded by a charitable donation to provide education for low-income families. Our leadership team champions the need for us to grow our bursary provision because the benefits of this are multi-faceted and, ultimately, the school is enriched because of our bursary programme. It has to be part of our strategy. This sentiment is readily communicated to all in our community right from the beginning of their journey as applicants to the school. The whole community is involved – many staff and students are engaged in our partnership work as mentors, governors on boards, providing expertise or organising events for local schools. The bursary fund is mentioned regularly in terms of its importance and also the need for donations, we are not shy to ask and try to avoid any stigma associated with financial assistance.

Have you been able to combine bursaries and partnership projects to drive forward change with your school? 

Partnership projects have partly been on hold but we are getting back to a full programme. Staff and students undertake a wide range of outreach activities with local schools, for example the SHINE programme which consists of a 12-week course, targeted at girls in Year 5, from 15 partnership local primary schools, with staff running it and students acting as mentors. In the past we have attempted to recruit potential students from this but it is something we need to focus more on in the future, as it hasn’t been possible recently.

How do partnership projects compliment your bursary campaigns? 

You need to go out into the community to ensure you are truly attracting all those who would benefit from an LEH education but who haven’t previously considered private education as an option. It’s not good enough to see who comes to you because that is already a very specific population of people who feel that private school is accessible to them. Real inclusiveness comes from seeking those individuals out who would thrive at the school but who would never have even thought that it was an option and don’t know about bursaries. At the moment our applications are so oversubscribed that there is limited scope to do this but as our programme becomes more funded this is a significant area for growth.

How do you ensure you are attracting diverse donors?

Our community of donors has the potential to be as diverse as our school community. Our income generation activities need to be diverse enough to meet people where they are and to speak to the ways of giving that will engage them most. We have a wide range of giving opportunities from major donations, to regular giving and smaller donations during big campaigns like Giving Day where the emphasis really is on volume of donations rather than the individual value of them. Matching funds also mean that even small amounts given on the day have more impact and we really push this message. 


Many thanks to Allegra for her insight and participation in the panel. For more info about using a connected CRM, database and donor pipeline to run a successful bursary fundraising strategy, speak to a member of the ToucanTech team.

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