Fundraising Tips for Your School

Advice for Stress-free Ways to Raise Money

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school fundraisers planning organizing money raising PTO PTAI’ve got to admit, as a parent of four children, just the thought of writing an article about school fundraisers puts a wild look in my eyes and makes me start twitching in ways that could get me locked up. It’s not that I have anything against schools trying to raise extra funds. I see their budgets growing smaller each year. Let’s face it, cuts like those are as painful as a ten-year-old girl shaving. It’s just that so many of the so many fundraisers make me feel like I’m being violated. I mean, $20 for a little tub of popcorn? Unless it’s coated in gold, I can’t figure out who decided charging 4000 times the actual cost of a product would go over well with potential customers. Am I alone here?

So in light of a strong desire to help schools increase their bottom line while maintaining the sanity of parents everywhere, here are a few tips for raising money for schools:

Don’t Over Fundraise

The idea that if one fundraiser is good, 1000 fundraisers are better is oh, so faulty. It may work in the short term to raise more money by adding on events, but in the long run you’ll hit donor fatigue head on, and trust me, it won’t be pretty. You end up with a whole lot of cranky volunteers putting in long hours for dwindling results. So focus on a few key fundraisers to minimize your efforts and maximize the return on your events.

Intermix Large Events with Small

Don’t shy away from small fundraisers that might only bring in a dollar or two from each student. As long as they are fun for everyone, chances are they’ll require very little time from volunteers. Free dress or chew gum in class days, anyone? Students and staff enjoy a break from the normal routine, and parents will be more than willing to shell out a few dollars for their kids to get excited about going to class that day. With a few minor money makers, you can focus the majority of your volunteer efforts on one or two large fundraisers.

Choose to Sell What You Want to Buy

If you won’t buy wrapping paper that costs $15 a roll at Target, why do you expect the elderly lady in your neighborhood to do it for the school down the street? The idea that, “Folks like to support their local schools,” doesn’t give anyone the right to rob their community blind. People generally abhor asking others to buy things from them, so the least you can do is give them a product that will sell itself. Discount cards or coupons that will actually save friends and family money are great ideas. Local companies are likely to offer the discounts because it provides them with a low cost advertising option that makes them look good. In the same way, if you’re going to organize a fundraising event, make it one that your community will want to attend.

Choose Incentives Wisely

When deciding on a fundraiser because of its incentives package, don’t fall into the philosophical booby trap of believing that “The ends justify the means.” It very well may increase revenue to take our kids out of class to pump them up with a pep rally where they’re told they can win a trip to Disney World if they sell a million dollars worth of cookie dough, but is it wise? Maybe, instead of cheap toys they don’t need, we could offer our kids a lesson in working towards a worthy goal with a group of people. If you’re not sure that will work, I’m perfectly okay with offering me incentives instead of my kids. Free mani or pedi for ordering a year’s supply of fruit baskets? Hmm, it’s tempting.

Consider a Capital Campaign

On second thought, let’s just throw out the incentives and fundraising with overpriced products altogether. Kick off the year with a capital campaign where you promise to eliminate all fundraisers if you meet the year’s fundraising goal by a specific deadline. Set a suggested donation amount per student or family, and remember to adjust the amount for students with multiple siblings at the school. Keep in mind that not every family will participate when you set the suggested donation. A typical school with involved parents and a strong PTA can expect about fifty percent of the families to contribute.

SignUpGenius Payments can make a Capital Campaign as easy as a click of the mouse!

Evaluate and Improve

Develop a set of criteria for evaluating your fundraisers and survey those involved after each one. It’s tempting to simply ask, “Did it make a lot of money?” but in the long term, it’s only one of many questions that determine a successful fundraiser. Add in questions like, “How many volunteer hours did it require?”, “Did the people who bought the products buy them because they wanted to or because they would have felt guilty otherwise?”, and “Did sellers find the product or event an easy sell?” At the end of the year, the fundraising committee can look at all of the data and decide which fundraisers really scored high marks in every area. When people see you listening and adapting because of their input, they’re going to lend greater support in the future.

Raising money is hard work, no matter what economy you face. The good news is that even in tough times, when you’re raising money for schools, you have a worthy cause to promote, and that’s more than half the battle. If you’re careful to respect your sellers and buyers throughout the fundraising process, you’re bound to be successful.

Posted by Angel Rutledge


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Posted by Amy Johnson on Fri Apr 12, 2013 9:07 PM EST
OMG! Very thoughtful. I'm part of the PTO, and i wasn't to know what fundraisers i should do. this really helped. THX FOR POSTING THIS!

Posted by Kathy Ellman on Wed Mar 14, 2012 5:04 PM EST
I’m a parent of three boys who attend schools in Manhattan and their schools just started fundraising through a program called Schoolit. It's a coupon site that donates 100% of their proceeds back to schools so people can shop, save money, and earn money for their schools all at the same time.

Over the past four months, my son’s elementary school, PS 11, has already raised $3,000 with this program, and my other son’s school, Baruch College Campus HS, raised $100 in its first week. I’ve been fundraising for my sons’ public schools for over ten years, and this program is one of the most effective, and is also really easy to navigate – you go to Schoolit's website, find your school, and once you buy a coupon from your school’s page, Schoolit then donates all of their proceeds back to your school.

I’m impressed by how simple of a concept Schoolit is. This program has been really successful in my sons’ schools, and it could do a lot for other schools, too. Wishing you the best, Kathy

Posted by Angel Rutledge on Wed Jan 18, 2012 12:19 PM EST
Hey Barb, thanks for letting us know about your Santa's Workshop. I'll post on our Facebook page and ask for input. You can check that out to see if anyone posts ideas. Creating a sign up on our site to coordinate your volunteers will be a huge help! You can write some of the guidelines in the description for the sign up for the volunteers. In addition to buying Christmas items, you might want to ask students to bring in new and gently used items their families aren't using to sell. I've seen this done, and it's amazing. You can make little baskets to sell with books, DVDs, CDs, mugs, stuffed animals, games, etc that look brand new and cost nothing!

Posted by Barb Engwall on Tue Jan 17, 2012 1:19 PM EST
Do you have any ideas for a Santa 'sWorkshop Fundraising Event? We are buying Christmas items now at 50-75 percent off the retail price,we wil have the Santa Workshop next December,the students will purchase gifts for their families, parent volunteers to assist in the event. It' s a fun time for students and teachers and parents. Do you have guidelines for volunteers to assist with this event?

Posted by Tracy Bartos-Sandrs on Thu Nov 17, 2011 7:16 AM EST
I see it is only ever a hand full of people parents that step up to help. If all parents would step up three or four times a year they would understand why we are there what Pto really does. Then they would not be so closed minded on fund raising. At that point it wont matter what is being sold. Thanks God Bless!

Posted by Angel Rutledge on Mon Nov 7, 2011 10:57 AM EST
Gina, thanks for the great comment. I love the idea of selling advertising space. It might be something to think about for other school events as well like programs for drama productions. I've also seen schools raffle off prime parking spaces or jump the line passes for carpool lines. In this day and age, creativity in fundraising is definitely the key! Kudos to you for taking on a volunteer position that many shy away from. Your kids' school will benefit greatly from it!

Posted by Gina Forsberg on Sat Nov 5, 2011 10:12 AM EST
Thank you for this informative and thoughtful article. This is my first year as the Fundraising Chair for my PTO, and I'm being bombarded with sales pitches from companies who want to be our next fundraiser! We just did a huge catalog fundraiser, which took care of our budget for the whole school year, yet I hear the complaints from parents about having to buy over-priced junk. We tried straight donations from our school families, and only a handful of people participated, unfortunately. Another avenue we're looking at is selling advertising space in our school directory, and on a PTO website, so our school families don't have to do ANYTHING.

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