Spring is fundraising season at local educational foundations: in March and April, volunteers will hold events to benefit the public schools in Chelsea, Dexter, and Saline (see list below). With sharper marketing and more donor-friendly events, supporters hope to increase revenues even as state schools funding dwindles.

The Dexter and Chelsea foundations each gave out more than $50,000 in grants and college scholarships last year. Last fall, the Saline foundation made grants totaling more than $18,000 and committed to raising an additional $65,000. The Manchester Community Schools Foundation has raised $123,000 over the last eight years.

Foundation grants support everything from school visits by the Ann Arbor Symphony to Buster the Bus, a small remote-controlled bus used in Saline to teach kids about safety; a pilot installation of “eco-lights” in Manchester; and an “edible garden” at Dexter’s Creekside Intermediate School.

“What we like to do is provide something new and innovative that the teacher wants to try,” says Linda Brewer, president of the Educational Foundation of Dexter. “But once it is proven, then we want the schools to put it in their budget.”

With state funding cuts, though, school budgets will not be growing anytime soon. In fact, although the foundations were created to supplement public funding, they’re getting more requests to pay for things once covered by taxpayers—things like equipment, transportation for field trips, and even books, says Carolyn Adkins, president of the Chelsea Education Foundation.

The recession also has pinched the foundations’ donors. “Cash donations have dropped 50 percent since I came in two years ago,” says Adkins. “Even getting donations for the [annual] auction has changed. We used to auction off private time-share resorts, and you could get $2,000 [for them] easily; but people don’t have that kind of cash anymore.”

In response, the Chelsea foundation has moved its auction to a more casual venue, cut ticket prices in half, and added “a lot more service items” for attendees to bid on, explains Adkins. The changes doubled attendance, keeping profits about the same.

The Dexter foundation also has tweaked its annual auction “to be accessible to more people,” says Brewer. They now offer a price break on tickets ordered in advance, and “have modified our live auction items to be accessible to more people.”

Both Dexter and Saline are working to raise their foundations’ profiles. “We need to let people know we are here,” says Cheryl Hoeft, president of the Foundation for Saline Area Schools. Historically, Saline’s donations have come mainly from the district’s own employees. “While they are very gracious about giving, we are now starting to look at other groups like alumni for donations,” says Hoeft. “The district needs to maintain the level of education we [residents] expect.”

The annual auction supporting the Educational Foundation of Dexter (­efdexter.org) is March 19 at the Ann Arbor Country Club. The Chelsea Education Foundation (chelseaeducationfoundation.org) hosts its annual gala March 26 at the Comfort Inn. The Foundation for Saline Area Schools (supportfsas.org) hosts its first fundraiser and recognition reception at Stonebridge Golf Club on April 28.