10 Steps to a Successful School Fundraiser
What I've learned from seven years of fundraising in my children's schools with our parent council
By Virginia Berman, Equal Exchange Community Sales
- Find and build a good team. An effective team consists of folks that bring different skills to the table. Look for the:
- People Person – We all prefer not to have to nag people, but we need to remind parents in a brief, friendly and positive way. Lots of fundraisers don't reach greater potential simply because busy parents — even those with clear intentions of helping — simply get too busy. Find someone who is great at putting out short, friendly reminders to the parent community throughout the fundraiser.
- Bean Counter– Someone who is good at counting and keeping track of how the money is coming in.
- Task Master– It's important to have someone who can keep track of fundraising milestones and will hold the team members, and most importantly, the community, to important deadlines.
- Plan the school fundraising needs for the year. Check in with the school principal to find out if there's any expense the school is expecting parents to make contributions toward. What's the amount the school needs and by when?
- Be realistic and pace yourself. How many times do you want to ask families to fundraise? When are the most appropriate times in the school year? There is typically lots of energy in September when people are just getting back to school. If it's a product fundraiser have it organized to start by mid-October so that you can have the items as gifts for the holidays.
Pace yourselves by spreading out the fundraiser "asks" throughout the year. How much energy and time does your team have? In my children's school we had an annual adults-only "gala," with auction, and dance, in January. That worked well because we weren't competing with lots of other school events and we liked having something special to look forward to in the coldest month of the year in Boston.
- Research catalog fundraisers that are right for your school. Consider the type of product, the customer service, customer reviews, and profit for the school. With two catalog fundraisers in a year you can reach most families. The key is knowing your community. What do they like? In my daughters' schools, for example, some families buy organic foods. The Equal Exchange fundraiser works especially well when there's enough interest in organic. For other product fundraisers we have used flower bulbs but you need enough gardeners. Once you choose a fundraiser you think will work for your community, call or email to ask for tips and favors. That's why vendors like Equal Exchange are here!
- Use school fundraisers as community builders. Bringing everyone together for a walkathon is fun because all grades can participate and get out and exercise! It means simply donating or asking neighbors to donate instead of buying. Equal Exchange ends up working great for me, because it's the kind of product I feel good about giving (and convincing others to give) as holiday gifts to colleagues, caretakers, bus drivers, neighbors, piano teachers, etc. I also think the timing of a fundraiser matters. For Equal Exchange gift fundraising, call in the order just after Thanksgiving and give the gifts to families by Christmas – it beats the heck out of cookie dough!
- Get the kids involved and use fundraisers as teaching moments. For example, for younger children, choose the fundraisers that put your children's art onto different things like a mug or book bag. There are plenty of math lessons in the fundraiser at every level, for example, ask your child how much they'll make for the school if the school is getting 30% profits from an item. You may even have a discussion with children about the good question of why schools need to fundraise in the first place! Here is one example how Karen Wilke, a teacher in Madison, Wisconsin, turned her Equal Exchange fundraiser into a teachable moment – read her story.
- Do you want an online fundraiser? Ask catalog fundraisers if they offer an online version. This way you can get the whole extended family involved.
- Ensure the fundraiser matches the values of your school. Is there hands-on learning? Is there a service component? Is the fundraiser helping the environment? My kids are most excited to raise money when they also know its helping others. Fundraising with Equal Exchange and a passionate teacher changed this first grader's perspective on the world as well. Read his story.
- Retain momentum and prevent burn out. Show gratitude and appreciation in a public way for parents who give a lot of time or money. Develop traditions for saying, "Thank You." Maybe flowers at a school assembly, a shout out in the newsletter, a special pizza party, or babysitting by teachers to give parents who fundraised a night off. Send a re-cap to the team and school administration about how many students participated and how much money was raised. It's a great place to congratulate and to set a base for next year's goals.
- Recruit and train the next year's school fundraising organizer while the current fundraiser is going on. Teach them what you've learned so they don't make the same mistakes.
Good luck with your school fundraising efforts, and we're here if you have questions: