Jessica Engfer (right) with support from her sister Julia (left) and their friend Nell Kerndt (center) places the $9,000 lemon marker on the Project Lemon-Aid Tree at the projects celebration at Virginia Avenue Park on Friday afternoon. The grassroots fundraiser was created to help support the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District during the present budget cuts. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SMMUSD HDQTRS — The Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving local public schools, is striving to consistently raise $1 million per year by the end of 2013.

In the past, the organization has been able to consistently raise $400,000 to $500,000 annually, according to foundation board member Kathleen Rawson, with the exception of last year. The foundation was able to raise $1.5 million in 60 days, saving numerous Santa Monica-Malibu School District employees from the dreaded pink slip.

Linda Gross, the foundation’s executive director, noted at last week’s school board meeting the “unprecedented grassroots outpour,” and was motivated by the community’s commitment to the cause.

“(That fundraiser) really set the stage for our foundation and catapulted us onto a new plateau in terms of our fundraising capacity,” said Jodi Brooks, chairman of the foundation’s board.

The foundation’s new, ambitious fundraising goal is part of the organization’s revamped strategic vision, said Gross at the meeting. She said the foundation plans to unify district-wide efforts to raise a significant amount of money in a short time span to protect schools from budget cuts.

The foundation has relied on grassroots efforts in the past, with Lemon-Aid stand fundraisers and the Save Our Schools campaign. The foundation continues to rely on community input and support from local businesses that donate proceeds from sales.

Foundation administrators recently hosted two “idea meetings,” where about 150 community members discussed ways to raise funds, garner support, and direct profits to where they would be most impactful in the classroom, Gross said.

With approximately 40 new foundation members, Gross added that she believed “fresh blood” would help invigorate the new strategic vision. Departments have also been revised and regrouped into four areas of focus: impact, resource, community leadership and operations and governance.

While Brooks stressed the importance of each department, she said the foundation’s ultimate goal is to enhance revenue in the SMMUSD.

The foundation hopes to boost academics, athletics and the arts by establishing endowments. By the end of 2013, they hope to secure $2 million for each program. The foundation has currently raised $2 million for the arts, a little over $1 million in academics and additional funds for athletics, Brooks said.

Board member Lynda Dorf explained the direct approach the foundation now employed when fundraising. A fundraiser by trade, Dorf said she’s been known to “take the bull by the horns” when asking for contributions.

Dorf said that foundation members can’t be afraid to look their peers in the eye and ask for a check, face to face.

Dorf also advocated an annual fund campaign. She believed that if every child that attended public school in SMMUSD were to donate $1 every day of the year, the foundation could raise nearly $4 million to aid education.

Brooks said this would be the case “in the best of all worlds,” but revealed that the foundation is in talks with the school board to “create some kind of agreement with us to help us all facilitate fundraising.” She added that an annual fund campaign is in the works.

The foundation will begin work with it’s new committees at full force in September.

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