iMentor’s fee-for-service model for school partners has evolved significantly in our 15-year history. We continue to revisit our fee-for-service structure as we refine our organization’s cost-per-pair methodology and our annual fiscal goals. Determining the level of financial investment in our program that is both feasible and sustainable for our school partners is a high priority for iMentor. Ultimately, we believe that a school’s financial investment in the iMentor program is related to its commitment to program implementation and associated student outcomes throughout our partnership.
Considering a fee-for-service model
In your work with school partners, there are certainly advantages for instituting a fee-for-service model for your organization. Some advantages include:
- Increasing your organization’s annual revenue.
- Getting a return on the investment of your organization’s resources in a school community.
- Revenue from schools often does not come with the same strings attached as other funding streams such as federal funds or grants from foundations.
- Your organization can still fundraise from the federal and local government, foundations and individual donors while running a fee-for-service model with your school partners.
- Paying for services rendered compels a school to thoughtfully consider the value of your services to its school community and to make an intentional and strategic decision about whether to partner with your organization.
- Often, a school’s financial investment in a program or service is aligned with its willingness to invest staff time and school resources to make the partnership work. When schools invest financially in a program, they are often more “invested” in partnership expectations, program implementation, and related student outcomes.
There are also some things to consider before your organization institutes a fee-for-service model:
- Many school districts have articulated processes for external vendors to provide paid services to schools. Your organization will want to become well versed in the policies and procedures of your district around charging schools for services.
- The fiscal management of a fee-for-service structure is an investment of your staff time and resources. Depending on the number of school partners you serve, the communication, collection and documentation of school program fees can be a significant investment of you organization’s time.
- Depending on the climate for fee-for-service models in your district, schools also may or may not be well versed in the procedures for paying outside vendors for services that will lead to the need for much collaboration between the school, relevant school district officials and your organization.
- Increased investment from schools often comes with increased accountability for your organization to demonstrate value and show progress toward outcomes (which may mean increased reporting). The school may also expect to play a bigger role in programmatic decisions.
- There are often other financial management processes to consider such as keeping school revenue funds separate from foundation and other grant funds for financial auditing purposes. A fee-for-service model will also increase the need for you to successfully market your program to a wider net of potential school partners as the financial commitment may be a barrier to entry for many schools; there is an inherent risk associated with having fewer potential partners to choose from.
- If you are currently offering your services for free, expect significant pushback from current school partners who may not want to – or be able to – pay for services that they are used to getting at no cost; there is the possibility that you will lose current partners. A gradual easing into the new fee-for-service model for returning partners is one option to address this.
- A written agreement between your organization and the school (and school district if required) outlining the annual program fees owed to you organization by each school partner with a corresponding payment schedule (to include all other terms of partnership) is a suggested standard procedure.
Here are some additional questions to consider as you institute a fee-for-service model:
What fee-for-service structure will you adopt?
- What is the climate for paying for external educational services in your city?
- Are there other programs in the school district that charge for their services? If so, what range of costs would be palatable for the school partner/district? What is the average cost per student that schools pay for programs?
- What is your goal for charging school partners – buy-in? program sustainability? other?
- Will you charge per student, per cohort, per year, or use another structure?
How will schools pay for the program?
- What is the current state of funding at the potential school partner? Do they have third party funders?
- What is your relationship to the school district? Is there a possibility for funds to be split between the district and individual schools?
- Who controls the individual school budgets?
- Do schools have constraints on how they spend down their budgets (i.e. limits on discretionary funding, timeline for spending in a given fiscal year)?
- If you are not implementing a whole-school model, what percentage of students are you serving in the school (and what will that number be when program is operating in all grades)?
How will you communicate the fee-for-service?
- Is this a new or returning school partner?
- Will there be a transition plan to a new fee-for-service model for existing school partners? The transition period could include a sliding scale structure for fees.
- Will you introduce fees up front as part of the initial conversations with districts and school leaders?
iMentor's fee-for-service model
Currently, iMentor charges schools $250-300 per student served. Schools pay from a range of sources including school budget allocation, third party funders, and grants.
On average, what percentage of the program’s cost-per-pair do schools cover in NYC?
Currently, schools pay approximately 20-25% of the cost-per-pair. However, cost-per-pair has been a moving target in NYC while the school fee structure remains static.
Is there a contribution from the district or umbrella network in NYC? Are these seen as independent contributions or are they linked?
iMentor NYC has been receiving funding from the New York City Department of Education (DOE) for the last two years to offset the cost of iMentor program fees. This allows us to provide iMentor NYC schools with a 25% discount on school fees. The amount the DOE has provided iMentor has changed each of the last two years. Our COO works closely with the DOE each year to confirm if the DOE is able to continue providing financial support to iMentor to offset the cost of program fees to schools and to determine what that amount will be. This funding comes from a School Allocation Memo directly to school partners.