Understanding School Fundraisers (Part 2)

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school fundraising 101

Planning School Fundraisers

Understanding School Fundraisers (Part 2)

In the first blog we posted about school fundraisers, we talked about the basic principals of the school fundraiser in part 1 of this post. The article you’re reading now is a much more in-depth look at understanding all the basic principals of fundraising. This article is part of a larger series all about school fundraising. Keep a lookout as there will be much more information coming soon.

school fundraisers

What is fundraising?

As defined previously, fundraising is about securing money for a particular cause. Fundraising is one of the oldest methods in practice today used to generate project financing and support for existing budgets. You’ve probably personally donated to a fundraiser, maybe without even realizing it; i.e., you bought something as simple as a cupcake at a local bake sale. A school can use these types of events in a variety of different ways for a variety projects. Many schools incorporate annual fundraisers into their calendars; whether for scholarships, technology upgrades, construction, or general upkeep.

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school fundraisers

How can Fundraisers be Helpful?

The #1 way fundraisers are useful is simple: they help raise money for your cause.

For example, if you choose to have a fundraiser to support the school library, you can end up with a fundraiser focused on procuring cash for new books or computers. Likewise, if you wish to raise money for your graduation ceremony, you can hold a bake sale with the proceeds going to the graduation fund. No matter what your goal, as long as it benefits the school, students, and the community it’s a good one.

The most successful fundraising events are those that people can connect with on a personal level. By personal level we mean the fundraiser should have a direct and immediate impact on the community of people you hope to involve. A school with a reputation for successful fundraisers is one that easily attracts students, parents, and alumni to the cause.

The #2 way fundraisers are useful is also simple: they help spread awareness.

Based on the scope of your fundraiser you may get positive press via social media, newspapers, and even via television. The information your event shares might inspire improvements to state funding, increases in student enrollment, and even general acclaim from your peers. For these kinds of positive results, your event must be promoted sufficiently throughout these channels – and of course, the event must be worthy of promotion and acclaim.

school fundraisers

The Number One Question: Why Do You Want to Raise Funds?

Asking people for money is never a task to take lightly. You want to make sure that your successful event properly utilizes the goodwill and money given by the donors. Always keep in mind your focus and “end goal” of your fundraiser with the preparation of any event.

So why does your school want to raise funds at this time? 

Perhaps you have an upcoming or pressing need that you know won’t be met by the budget. Maybe you have a graduation ceremony, school trip, or another school event that students can’t afford. Maybe the school can’t afford to hold those events because there simply is no budget for it. It could be for long-term planning, such as creating a new student building or making the current buildings “green” and eco-efficient.

Pro Tips: Understand why your school would like to raise money and what you will use it for before you get excited about planning a fundraiser – You’ll Need an Objective and a Target.

school fundraisers

Different Kinds of Fundraisers

Most people know that a fundraiser is an event where people intend to raise money. You can go formal if you’re looking for donations, or you can plan a fun experience. Formal gatherings include holding a dinner or a cocktail party. Fun events can include things like bake sales and fairs. You can publicly go looking for funds or go about it more quietly.

Sometimes you want to raise money, but also don’t want to advertise that your budget problems. There is an important distinction between a general public fundraiser and what we are coining as a “silent fundraiser.”

No matter which you choose, formal or fun, public or private, some of the very best fundraisers are simple and don’t require very much work at all. The simple ones come with the benefit of quick cash but typically miss out on community engagement.

Below find some quick examples of different types of fundraisers:

(our fundraising book and future blog posts will provide a dozen types of fundraiser examples with extended instructions)

An example of a public fundraiser:

One school we spoke with was known for its traditional and performing arts programs. They held two events throughout the school year.

The first event was an art show and contest where students were asked to create an original piece of work for the event. They asked board members and regular donators to contribute prizes for the students and charged admission to families, friends, and other students to attend.

The second event was a talent contest where students were asked to put together dance routines that would be judged by expert faculty with admission tickets sold to families, friends, and students. At both events, they gave winning students awards and raised much-needed funds.

An example of a silent fundraiser:

Several schools we spoke with said graduation itself was too costly of an enterprise for them.

Partnering up with a graduation company solved that problem; making graduation an affordable (even profitable) event. By aligning themselves with a graduation supplier, they were able to create an online store where their students could purchase graduation accessories and regalia. The company would then ship the products directly to the students (though they also had the option of shipping in bulk to the school).

The company then, in turn, would give cash back to the school for every student purchase made. Though more commonly, the company just provides an upfront discount. This school was able to quickly and easily get their students a great deal on cap and gown sets while raising (or saving) the money necessary to fund other graduation expenses.

Pro Tips: If you want it simple, we advise the “silent fundraiser.” If you want community engagement, we recommend the public.

It is important to note you may need to run more than one fundraiser to achieve your ultimate goal. Building a new gym isn’t going to get funded through one or two raffles. Depending upon your goal, it could take one event or several over the course of time. It’s always best to try something that personally speaks to who your school is and why your students love to be there. The best fundraiser is one that your parents and students find inspiring.

school fundraisers

Choosing the Right Fundraising Campaign

It’s easier than you think to choose the right fundraiser. Don’t worry – we’re right here to help you!

You want to make sure that the fundraiser doesn’t distract from your cause – depending upon what your cause is. No matter what your primary motivation,  make sure the focus is on students and their achievements and supports the mission of your organization.

Please note, sometimes you have to spend a little money first to make donations happen. Starting cash can be a potential limitation to which fundraising ideas you can develop. Some of the fundraising ideas in this book can be harder than others, though many schools have met with great success.

Let’s get started with a little brainstorm and a quiz:

You may like to copy and paste this into your preferred typing program.

Fill these out first:
  1. Our school motto is:
  2. What is our cause
  3. Our school mascot is:
  4. Our school’s colors are:
  5. What is the best fundraiser I have ever seen:
  6. Our school is famous for:
Now answer these multiple choice questions:

Don’t worry; there are no “wrong” answers!

  1. We want our fundraiser to be for:
    1. Students
    2. Parents and Students
    3. Alumni and Members of the Board
    4. The Community at Large
    5. Everybody, everywhere!
  2. At our school we prefer events that are:
    1. Formal
    2. Casual
    3. Fun
    4. A blend of all three above
  3. Our budget for our fundraiser is:
    1. Minimal – Less than $500
    2. Conservative – $500 to $2,000
    3. Moderate – $2,000 to $5,000
    4. Considerable – $5,000+

Once you have these answers, you’ll have a basic sense if you can plan a big, black-tie style fundraiser for parents and the older alumni or if you’re looking to plan something that’s just for the students. It also will help you determine if the event you hold needs to be sold in advance to help pay the budget or if you can lay out the money first and collect later (a little more risky).

school fundraisers

Steps to a Success

A successful fundraiser isn’t always about raising as much money as you can. We’ve mentioned some of those additional benefits already, such as raising the profile of your school in the community, attracting more alumni to participate in events, increasing school admissions, positive press; the list goes on. All of these, in the long run, will certainly increase your chances of hitting your goal and may act for the betterment of your entire organization.

Now that you know the positive long-term impacts, it is vital that you take additional steps to increase the goodwill of your institution during the creation and implementation of your fundraiser.

We suggest the following helping steps to putting everything together:

Goal Mapping
  • Decide what your goal is; is it monetary, social, or both. If monetary, what is the figure you’re looking to hit, and where do you intend to spend the profits; new gym, computers, etc.
  • Now is the time to create budgets and estimates for your goals. For example, if you are looking to outfit a new computer lab – get quotes and estimates on everything all the items you’ll need to see that come to fruition.
  • That way you will have a clear picture of the total amount you’ll need to raise. Without this, you set a goal that isn’t high enough or one that asks for too much.
  • Essentially, create a balance sheet to show what you will spend versus how much to earn to determine at what point you start making a profit (i.e., a break-even analysis).
  • From the above step alone, you’ll know how many people will need to be engaged – you’ll be able to establish things like the number of event tickets you’ll need to sell and the selling price.

Pro Tips: If you’re not comfortable with math – ask someone who’s who is to help you out; such as the school’s bookkeeper or business accounting professor.

Organizational Planning

Once you’ve finalized your school’s decision on the type of fundraiser, it’s time to plan the action steps. It is critical that you have all the different moving parts mapped out.

  • Step 1 – Figure out if you need help and who those helpers will be. Start reaching out to those you intend to have help with those different functions; students, other educators, school clubs, vendors, etc.
  • Involving others makes sure you cover all your bases. The power of many minds will always be better than yours alone.
  • Step 2 – Build a list of tasks required and note if they use budgeted funds – then assign them to those team members best suited for the job. Make sure they know what they are allowed to spend and make sure no one goes over!
  • Step 3 –  Put all information into a folder, onto a bulletin board, or in an application that all team members can update with their progress. Allow users to self-select their due dates if possible – if urgent – assign the due dates for them, but make sure they can hit them. If any team member can’t complete a task by the date you need, apologize, but reassign it to someone who can.
Running the Fundraiser

You’ve been planning and preparing, and now it is time to put everything into motion – and now you take that first step towards actually getting it all going. If you want to yield results from your fundraiser, there are a few key factors you’ll want to pay attention to:

  • Stay focused on your original goal; the reason you are raising funds for your school. It’s easy to get distracted and frustrated with the day to day and the minutia. If you start getting overwhelmed, visualize having achieved your goal already. Do you see your students on a trip to Europe? Can you imagine the new track team outfits? Can you picture the new library?
  • Express your goal with intention, excitement, and emotion to inspire participants and reach that goal. Nothing sells your goal more than passionate individuals.
  • Make certain everyone at the event feels welcome and that whatever type of fundraiser your operating offers a fun and enjoyable environment for people to socialize.
  • If your fundraiser isn’t an event and is just a website – make sure you utilize social media in a positive, uplifting way to drive traffic to your donation page. Building an online community in this day and age will be a vital part of hitting your goal. Create a place or page where others can interact about your cause.

Pro tip: Make sure to check-in with everyone on your fundraising team regularly ensure no issues arise.

school fundraisers

Making a Terrific Impression

Any school holding a fundraiser wants to raise money, and that’s completely understandable. Further, the school realizes it or not (and hopefully they do) the secondary objective should always be to make a terrific impression.

Make sure not to ignore the value of developing some goodwill among your students, parents, and the community as a whole. Depending upon how well you announce the fundraiser and its goals, the higher the probability that interested parties may decide to write a check or donate their time. Relationship building is essential to success in all areas of life; fundraising included.

People who attend your fundraiser can include many people:
  • Potential and Existing Students
  • Potential and Existing Educators
  • Alumni proud of their alma mater
  • Active community members
  • Members of the Board
  • Friends and family of all groups above

Some people will donate directly, some will offer their help, and others will attend the event for enjoyment alone. No matter what the reason, relationships are the driving force of what builds an organization’s ability to successfully fundraising on a consistent basis. It’s rare, but not unheard of for anonymous donors to write a check for 5 or 6 figures, or named donors who love your cause, but wouldn’t mind if you named the new building after their grandfather.

Pro Tips:

Ask yourself how your event can develop goodwill among guests? How will your school administration, educators, and staff socialize with people at the event?

school fundraisers

Future Reading:

Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing articles on specific topics related to school fundraisers. We will provide fundraising ideas, fundraising instructions, and other useful insights.

If you’re interested in getting all of that information at once, GraduationSource recently published an eBook detailing school fundraising – it’s a draft that’s continually improving with feedback from readers like you.

If you would like to read the entire eBook “Fundraising for Your School” – DOWNLOAD IT HERE

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