Putting the "Fun" in Fundraising
Raising money for your child's school can be a tricky process. But with the right tools, clear-cut goals, and a positive attitude, you can help lead the class to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow — even if you've never organized a fundraiser before. So clear your calendar and get ready to be the chairperson of a successful, fun, money-making event!
T-Minus 3-6 Months
What's Your Objective?
First, focus on the goal of your fundraising project. The most important question to ask is, of course, "Why do we need to raise money?" Once you know that, consider other specifics:
- Who can be involved to help raise money? (Parents, teachers, kids, the community?)
- What is the most appropriate way to raise money for this cause?
- When is the money needed, and when can fundraiser be scheduled?
- Where can the fundraiser be held (if applicable)?
- How much money needs to be raised to make an impact?
Brainstorm for these basic "who, what, when, where, why, and how" questions, and see what other ideas, questions, and concerns arise from the session. All the answers you come up with will be crucial for setting a specific fundraising goal, and any questions that remain can be a collaborative effort once your committee is in place. Being very specific now will help your fundraiser to run smoothly. So make sure your cause has a realistic goal and you can orchestrate an appropriate benefit for it. Once you outline the details of your objective, you'll be one step closer to success.
Enlist a Supporting Cast
Recruit a small group of volunteers (3 or 4 other parents or teachers) to help you. This group will brainstorm with you and you can delegate some part of the work, such as publicity or finances, to each member of the group. Don't be afraid to ask for advice. Seek out a parent who previously ran a successful fundraising effort and learn the tricks to getting it done right.
Determine the Details
All those questions you asked yourself before? It's time to decide on the answers!
Why? Whether you've decided on a school-wide effort that will donate earnings to charity, a sports-team attempt to make money for new equipment, or a classroom fundraiser for new textbooks, congratulations! You have a cause, and you're going to work hard for it. Now brainstorm different strategies to earn the appropriate amount for your goal (see What?below).
Who? Think about potential resources available for your project. Can the community contribute to the fundraiser, or will it be a smaller endeavor? How many volunteers can you recruit before it becomes a circus? What role will the children play?
What? Here's the fun part: deciding what kind of fundraiser you are going to have! Here are some tried-and-true money-raisers (but don't limit yourself to these — the more you think outside the box, the more attention you may get):
Bake sale. One of the simplest fundraisers to coordinate, bake sales benefit everyone. Because the sale usually takes place in the cafeteria during lunch or after school, it doesn't disrupt class, which administrators and teachers always appreciate. Students and faculty enjoy modestly priced, homemade snacks. And since the volunteers (i.e., the bakers) generally give their time, energy, and tasty treats from the goodness of their hearts, your fundraiser is inexpensive to produce.
Book drive/sale. Organize a book drive where families can donate old titles their children have outgrown. Once collected, hold a sale in the school gymnasium or auditorium for students. It's a great way for kids to buy books at low cost, and any unsold books can be donated to the less fortunate or given to the school library.
Catalog. There are many fundraising companies that can help you with big events. Usually the goods are catalog orders, and kids go door-to-door selling products ranging from seasonal cookie tins to candles to toys. Fundraisers such as these take research and cooperation, since you will be working with a third-party representative. Before you agree to work with a company, ask:
- Can the company's program help you reach your financial goal?
- How many years of experience does the company have?
- Will there be a written contract between the school and the company?
- What's the quality of the products?
- Are products paid for in advance or upon delivery?
- Does the company understand and comply with your state sales tax laws?
- Will the company provide promotional assistance (parent letters, posters, samples for display, etc.), or does that fall to you?
- What is the policy regarding damaged, unsold, or backordered products?
- How are products shipped, and when? Who pays?
Is there a prize for the top seller?
Candy Grams. A Halloween fundraising favorite, candy grams are fun for kids and relatively easy to pull off. There are two stages: first, the selling stage, where you and your volunteers set up a station at school. During lunch, students pay a small amount (50 cents to a dollar) to order a small bag of candy with a written note for a friend or a teacher. After you collect orders for a week or two, you enter the delivery stage, where volunteers bring the candy grams to lucky recipients.
Carnations. Who wouldn't want to receive a pretty carnation on Valentine's Day? Carnations are accessible, low-cost flowers sent to friends or teachers with a Valentine note attached (though this fundraiser could work any time of the year). Carnation sales follow the same two-step process as candy grams.
Car Wash. A longtime favorite of sports teams. The upsides to car washes are many: the kids have fun and are usually enthusiastic about the task; it can take place after school; and supplies are inexpensive. The potential downsides? Finding a place to hold the event — and Mother Nature's cooperation!
Dance-A-Thon. Ask students to collect pledges for a good cause, and the rest of the fundraiser is a virtual party! Organizing a dance-a-thon can be complicated and costly: coordinating music, finding a place to hold it (school gym? youth center?), scheduling (at night? after school? on a weekend?), getting chaperones, collecting pledges (before or after the event?), etc. But dance-a-thons are fun for kids, who get to boogie down for a good cause.
- Penny War. Set up a friendly competition between grades or classes with a Penny War. Each "team" gets a huge jar as a piggy bank, and students try to win by dropping spare change into the banks. Rules vary from school to school. But generally, teams earn points by adding pennies (one point for each penny) to their jars, and points can be deducted by putting other coins in "the enemy's" jar (minus five points for a nickel, minus ten for a dime, and so forth for coin values). Best of all, whoever wins gets a pizza party.
When? You'll need plenty of time to plan, but you may need to raise money by a certain date. Also, make sure your fundraiser doesn't conflict with another big school event. Check with at least two or three people in the administration's office before setting the dates: the principal, of course, your child's teacher, and at least one secretary in charge of managing the school's calendar. Aim for a two-week run. That gives a week for your effort to build momentum, and a week for it to peak. After 14 days, you may find that interest has waned — and your volunteers have other commitments to attend to.
Where? Of course, this will depend on what you're doing. If you are holding a car wash, research highly trafficked parking lots. For a dance-a-thon, you'll need to book the school gymnasium for the event and send volunteers door-to-door to collect pledges. Use your imagination to envision the best location for your fundraiser.
How? As in, how much money do you need to raise? Determining your prices can make or break a fundraiser. So draw up a budget that includes what the costs are going to be (renting space, buying supplies, advertising, any prizes, etc.), how much you are going to charge (donations, set prices, or pledges), and how much you expect to make.
T-Minus 1 Month: Put Everything in Place
Approximately a month before the big event, you should have enough volunteers standing by. Assign them specific tasks to help run and administer the fundraiser so you can be sure that nothing will conflict with their duties, short of an emergency. Construct a master schedule of important dates for everyone to use as a reference. Include the following:
- Promotions like press releases or newsletter articles
- Arrival dates for company promotional materials if you are doing a catalog fundraiser
- Deadlines for money to be turned in
- P.A. announcements
- Committee meetings
- Delivery of products and/or prizes
- Volunteer commitments
- Announcement of results to all participants
- Wrap-up meeting to review the entire event
- Kick-off activities
Be sure to inform teachers so that they may incorporate fundraising efforts into their schedules as well. Take time to meet with your committee to review the logistics. Make a list of materials that you'll be responsible for and those that others — the school, the volunteers, or the fundraising company (if you are using one) — will supply.
T-Minus 2 Weeks: Promote, Promote, Promote!
Get the word out! Give fliers to all classrooms so teachers can send them home to parents. Include your fundraising goal in P.A. announcements and PTA newsletters. Hang posters around the school and post dates on the school bulletin boards. If the school has a web site, contact the Webmaster so details about the fundraiser can be front and center on the page. Take advantage of Parents' Night, if one is scheduled during this time, and arrange a display with product samples from your project. Word of mouth is also key, so make some phone calls to relevant members of the community.
T-Minus 1 Week: Psyche Up the Crowd
Within a week before the fundraiser begins, schedule a short but enlivening rally to kick off the event. Ask the principal if this can be school-wide or, if not, go from classroom to classroom with your presentation. Build enthusiasm towards meeting the goal, and explain what the kids can do to help. Pass out more fliers for students to take home, and mention what the prize will be for the winner. Prizes can be anything: a pizza party, a class trip to the roller skating rink, a gift certificate, a picture in the local newspaper, etc. Just be sure to get the okay from the school administration beforehand!
T-Minus 1 Day: Countdown to Kickoff
You're almost there! In the 24 hours before the fundraiser begins, everything should be running so smoothly that all you need to do is make some phone calls. Check in with volunteers, teachers, the principal, the company you elected to use, and your committee members. Clear up any last-minute concerns they might have, and confirm that all the supplies and materials needed to make the fundraiser a hit are in the right hands.
The Big Day and Beyond: Step Back and Support
Now you can watch with pride as your fundraiser reaches its goal — and then some! During the event, you'll need to:
Show support: Roll up your sleeves and take an active part, whether that means helping sell brownies at a bake sale, taking a child door-to-door for catalog fundraisers, motivating volunteers, or announcing progress on the P.A.
Track progress: Keep reminding your volunteers of important deadlines. Make sure everything — order forms, tallies, pledges — are well-organized and have at least two copies of everything on file. And always be sure to give updates on how much is being raised!
Deliver the goods: Make sure volunteers will be available to deliver products or prizes. Have a trusted committee member help you with troubleshooting, such as dealing with missing pledges, orders, or paperwork. Finally, announce your success everywhere you can: on bulletin boards, over the P.A., in newsletters, and on posters.
- Give credit: Be sure to thank everyone involved in your fundraiser, from your committee to the volunteers. Call one final meeting with your team to review the effort and take notes on what you might do differently next time. Once you have all the information, submit a report to the principal in a brief meeting. If you used a catalog company, provide the representative with results, comments, and suggestions in order to build a working relationship.
Now exhale. And congratulate yourself on well-executed, successful fundraiser!