The Art of School Fundraising

We scoured the country for fun, creative fundraisers that go beyond the bake sale and are still a relative breeze to pull off.
By Melody Warnick



Budget shortfalls mean that parents have to scrounge money for all kinds of things, from art supplies to teachers' aides. Here are some unique ideas that can bring in the necessary cash:

Student and parent art show
Blaine Elementary School, Chicago, IL

Money raised: $2,000

How they did it
Hosted at a local restaurant, this gallery night showcased work by students and their parents. The artists donated a portion of their sale prices ($5 or $10 for students’ paintings; $50 to $500 for adults’) to the school. In addition, the restaurant donated 10 percent of the evening’s food sales. Around 200 families dropped by the three-hour event.

Make it yours
Focus on the kids’ artwork — when more of it is on display, more parents will show up (hence, the more food and art you’ll sell). Pump up interest with a contest awarding best-in-show. Then attract even more families on the big night with craft tables, mini art workshops taught by volunteer artists from the community, and art scavenger hunts for kids (“Find the sunset with a purple flower”).

Insider tip
Determining pricing is perhaps the trickiest part of this kind of fundraiser. “Underpricing isn’t as huge a deal as over-pricing, which can kill your event,” says Frank Sennett, author of FUNdraising: 50 Proven Strategies for Successful School Fundraisers. Start out modest, and as you start to learn what the market will bear, raise fees little by little.

Shawsheen School, Andover, MA

Money raised: $10,000

How they did it
Each pre-K through second-grade student at the school aimed to raise $50 in pledges for completing a 10-page packet of age-appropriate math worksheets over the course of 10 days. As an added incentive, when students turned in worksheets, they got to toss their names into a daily raffle for prizes, like gift certificates donated by local stores. If every kid in a class took part, they all earned an ice cream party. No wonder there was nearly 100 percent participation.

Make it yours
There are so many possibilities for "–athons" (walk-a-thons, history-a-thons) that you can tailor your fundraiser to whatever excites folks at your school. Let everyone know what your goal is by distributing a mini script, says Sarah Barrett, author of A Mom’s Guide to School Fundraising: “We’re raising money so the science department can buy new microscopes. Can you help us meet John’s goal of raising $50?”

Insider tip
Have students turn in their pledges on day one of the event. “No one gets excited about after-the fact donations,” says Barrett. Web portals like can help make it easier to collect the money.

Grown-up spelling bee
Thomas J. Rusk Elementary, Nacogdoches, TX

Money raised: $2,000

How they did it
Parents and teachers joined forces to form 10 three-person teams; each team paid a $150 entry fee to compete on stage in crazy costumes. One teammate at a time spelled out a word. If someone messed up, the whole team was out — unless they presented a “secondchance pass” donated by a sponsor.

Make it yours
Solicit sponsors — from daycare centers to car mechanics — who can add to the pot of cash by underwriting a $20 “second-chance pass.” “If I’m up there and I misspell my word, I can say, ‘This pass was sponsored by Precision Auto Clean,’” explains fourth-grade teacher Jill Wheeler, who organized the most recent bee.

Insider tip
Hitting up local business bigwigs or city hall employees can broaden your pool of potential teammates. But inviting media personalities like radio DJs or talk-show hosts can also be a great way to drum up publicity, says Sennett. Get specific about what you want: an appearance? A mention in a certain news segment? Then be sure to set up a VIP lounge stocked with snacks so your celebs will want to come back.

School all-nighter raffle
Armstrong Elementary, Dallas, TX

Money raised: $10,000

How they did it
They may gripe about going to school most mornings, but students jumped at the idea of having a sleepover there, snapping up raffle tickets for $25 apiece (or five for $100) to get a chance. Fifteen lucky winners were drawn, each of whom got to bring a buddy. Then the school auctioned off two extra tickets to the highest bidder; they went for $1,875 a piece. As part of the larger school auction, teachers from each grade donated “gifts of time,” including a picnic, a dance party, and a milk-and-cookies bedtime tuck-in at home.

Make it yours
Even if you charge less for tickets (consider $5 to $10 a pop), spending the night at school can turn into both a mega fundraiser and an unforgettable tradition when you arrange a full slate of activities. At Armstrong Elementary, for example, that included a scavenger hunt and flashlight tag, the requisite pizza and movies, and doughnuts for breakfast. Raffling off a simpler event can still be buzz-worthy: a late-night movie party, say.
Insider tip
Put some marketing muscle behind the event. Parents made oversized posters to advertise each auction and taped them to teachers’ doors, while a punchy video that promoted the school sleepover raffle was made for free by the local high school’s audiovisual department.

Wine and beer tasting
Malcolm Elementary, Laguna Niguel, CA

Money raised: $18,000

How they did it
For a portion of the event ticket price, the owner of a local wine shop provided samples of wine, beer, and champagne, as well as tasty finger foods. He also donated 20 percent of the evening’s sales (priced anywhere from $10 to $100 a bottle) to the school. At $50 each, all 100 of the tickets to the tasting sold out in advance, thanks to the Friday evening event’s casual, fun vibe.

Make it yours
Offer babysitting at a separate location and try other ways to upsell the evening, like a balloon burst, where attendees can pay money to pop a balloon containing a donated gift card. Partnering with a local brewery for  a beer tasting could keep prices lower if need be.

Insider tip
Look for a start-up liquor store or restaurant that’s hungry for customers or one that needs a loyal clientele. “Think about who’d be willing to strike up a partnership with you for more than one year, so that each of you can invest the time and effort into building something,” explains co-organizer Diana Swanson. Then nail down in a contract what each of you will do.

Dollars and Sense: Money Management for Kids

Credit: Illustration by Andy Rementer

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