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Fundraising: Ideas to Raise Money for Your Unfunded School Programs

This author has experience raising money for schools and knows how to put the "fun" in "fundraiser."

Remember to Market Your Event

Remember to Market Your Event

For the last several years, extracurricular school programs have suffered. Many have been cut because of lack of funding.

Programs like sports, outside of the normal physical education; and the Arts, which benefit children by providing a well rounded education are losing funding and sometimes are completely eliminated. This is very unfortunate. Not only do these programs provide an opportunity to expound on learning but in some cases are the only access a child has to learning about art or team sports.

Children can learn so much from participation is organized sports programs. From the discipline it teaches, the team work and possibly finding out they have a real talent for a particular sport. The Arts too are of benefit and you never know which child may find they have a real gift for acting or dance which may lead to a future career path. There has been many an actor who credited their drama teacher for having faith in them and encouraged their talent to act.

How can we keep these programs in the schools when money to operate them is being reduced or in some cases completely cut off? The answer is: Fundraising!

All school parents are well aware of the multiple fundraising that goes on at every school; every year (unless you are one totally uninvolved parent and manage to escape these notices-if you are please share how you do that with the rest of us). The problem with most fund raisers is you have to buy things. We do not need anymore overpriced gift wrap or candy. Magazine subscriptions? Don't think so. I read all my magazines online.

"Money don't buy everything it's true, but what it don't get I can't use. I want money, money, money that's what I want"

— Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford

Parents as Fundraiser Organizers

In my own case, my children attended Catholic schools. I served on the Parent-Teacher board, known as PTO in Catholic schools. I also produced the school play. Catholic school parents are required to participate in all fundraisers for the school-it is clearly spelled out in the contract you sign with the school that allows your child to attend. Many Public schools, especially those who have a magnate program are requiring the same commitment. Parents are bombarded with fundraising and whether it is asking your co-workers, neighbors, family, and friends to buy gift wrap, raffle tickets, candy, cookie dough or you come to the realization it just easier to write a check for your kid's quota; we are well aware of how annoying it is to buy things we neither want nor need! Successful fundraising depends on creative and new ideas otherwise it is just a waste of everyone's time.

Partnering With Small Businesses for Fundraising

In addition to having experience with fundraisers as a school parent; I also participated in numerous fundraisers as an owner of a small ice cream shop. A few years ago, when our shop was located across from a park and near several elementary schools and dance studios, we were constantly asked to "donate" "give money" or "buy an ad in the school's newspaper or media guide." Being hit up for money or donations started to cause a real burden; and customers who asked us for donations became increasingly upset or outright angry when we had to decline. Small businesses struggle daily and there is only so much money to go around.

When we were approached by a Team Mom for the Sophomore Girls Basketball team at our local high school and asked to buy uniforms for team members who were financially disadvantaged we hit our limit of being hit up to give and give some more! However, as a small business that caters to families, you walk a fine line between giving back to the community that supports you and being called a Scrooge. We had to come up with an alternative to help these kids who frequented our store and helped promote our business by word of mouth at the high school.

There was absolutely no way we could not afford the $50.00 each for ten or more team members who were unable to afford their uniforms. We were also well aware that when word got out we donated money for the uniforms, the doors would open for more such requests from other teams at other schools. We were in the profit-making business, not donation business! We brainstormed and came up with a solution that turned out to be a very successful fundraiser.

We approached the team and their school administrators (very important, you need the school's approval) about selling our ice cream on a weekly basis. We asked to be allowed to sell our ice cream on Wednesdays every week during the Spring and Summer months. We would set up a booth, use our banner to attract attention. We insisted on the team's participation in the sales. We requested two of the team members help us on each sell day. They would help us with the setting up, selling and most importantly, with the promoting of "Ice Cream Day" at the school (it does no good to have a fundraiser when no one knows about it. Missing sales because no one "brought money, I didn't know about having ice cream to buy" is a big disappointment!). In return, we would donate 25% of the profits to the basketball program.

We provided the school's administration with our ice cream's nutritional information, a copy of our business license, insurance, and the four flavors of ice cream we agreed to sell. We provided a simple contract/agreement with the terms and time period for the sales. We received 100% approval from the school to sell on campus.

We sold every week on Wednesday and added selling at all Home games. The result was we sold $8,700.00 and the team received a $2,175.00 donation. It was more than enough to buy uniforms for the team members who could not afford to buy their own.

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In addition to helping the team raise funds, we also promoted our store and drove business to our location. What we did to help for fundraising is just one idea. Be creative, think of new ways to find money for your program.

Creative Fundraising Ideas

These days you really need to be creative to come up with ideas that will maximize your sales and make for a successful fundraiser.

Here are some of the fundraising ideas:

  • Contact local food shops or restaurants who sale food items that are easy to transport, some suggestions are: sandwiches (Subway, Jersey Mike's or similar chains offer reduced costs for their sandwiches to schools), cupcakes; cookies; ice cream, smoothies--all foods easy to transport and sell.

Setting up Your Creative Fundraiser

As we did with our ice cream shop in the example above, successful selling of food or dessert items is to have the actual business on-site at the school. Sales are higher for your fundraiser when the actual business has a booth on your school's campus. Starbucks has many kiosks on college campuses, as does Jamba Juice and they are very successful.

Having partnered with a food business that can sell on campus will attract more sales for a profitable fundraiser. Most fast food and dessert places have experience selling at fairs or carnivals. Many have, as our ice cream shop did, colorful canopies with their store's name on them or banners which help bring attention to their being on campus. You need to convince the business of the value of them being on campus and the marketing opportunities, as we found like mentioned above.

The shop or restaurant can offer coupons to students to come to their actual store. You might even get the store owner to agree that for each coupon redeemed, they donate a small percentage to your group, this way you have two fundraisers for your organization.

Note: Be sure to check with the school regarding any food items that are not allowed to be sold on campus. Many schools have adopted a strict nutritional guideline and many items high in sugar or fat are not allowed on campus. However, private schools did not have this same regulation in our experience.

If your school's administration will not allow outside businesses to sell on campus or if the business is not interested in coming to sell on campus, inquire about the business selling you their product at a reduced cost or maybe contributing some "free" product if you buy so much of their product at full price. We did this for many schools or sports programs where we felt the sales for the fundraiser would not be enough to justify our selling on campus. We would sell 200 cups of ice cream at a reduced price and the group having the fundraiser could sell the cups for more thereby covering their cost of purchase but also making money for their fundraiser.

Non-Food Items for a Fundraiser

Fundraising does not have to be limited to selling food, candy, or dessert items. A local dentist where I live is now offering a teeth cleaning with X-Rays for a reduced charge and all proceeds going to a local Arts program. Try contacting other service-related businesses, think auto repair shops, and ask if they would do an oil change and donate a percentage. Your group could do flyers with a coupon and for every coupon redeemed, the shop will donate to your group. Carpet cleaning companies and car wash places are also service businesses everyone uses. Approach these types of businesses with the same offer. People are more likely to participate in a fundraiser when they get something they need or use in return.

  • Crafty Items: Making simple items like a scarf. The scarf in the photograph was for sale at my Step-Daughter's graduation from high school. Her school's mascot was the "Husky's" the student body made these scarves without sewing one stitch. All they did was buy some soft cotton/velour material and cut fringe shapes at each end. If you wanted to jazz it up, you could glue on fringe. I bought this scarf while at graduation because even though it was June in Southern California it was freezing. I paid $15.00 for this scarf and I am sure it did not cost more than $1.00 to make. Other simple and inexpensive craft ideas can be found online at sites like
  • Calendars/Cookbooks: With the ease these days of printing your own cards, calendars, it cost very little to make your own calendars with various photographs of school events to use for each month. Another idea is to compile your own recipes into a book for sale.
  • Portraits/Photographs: digital cameras and instant photographs with your pet are a great fundraiser. Charge $7.00 to $10.00 and offer a nice backdrop to photo people with their pets. This fundraiser is good for school carnivals. Have the kids on your team or in your program design and paint the backdrop. You can also make simple paper frames for the photos-similar to the kind given out when your child is photographed with Santa or the Easter Bunny.
  • Do Your Own Desserts: If you find you are having difficulty getting any food business to donate to your fundraiser, you can buy your own ice cream at any warehouse-type store for a real discount. Root beer or coke floats are a big hit in the Springtime. The cost of making one float, including the paper cups (8 oz size) and a plastic spoon is about .59 each. People will pay $2.50 to $3.00 for a float. That is a pretty decent profit. Again, selling any food item during school needs to be cleared with the administration, however, we were able to sell our ice cream after school-still on school property but without the need to have permission from the school office. Frequently school sports games are played on school property, after school, and candy or other high sugar items are sold.
  • Babysitting Night: I would not recommend this for really small children, but preschool and elementary kids are perfect. If your school will allow you to use their auditorium, have a "Pizza and Movie" night for the kids. Set up a movie screen. Order pizza (maybe get it donated so there is no cost) and offer to babysit kids for $20.00 each for 6 hours. What parent does not like a night out. Make the students who are part of your program volunteer to be the baby sitters. Obviously follow safety procedures, have an adult on duty educated in CPR, have parents complete an emergency form with all their contact numbers, and advise of any allergies or other medical issues their child may have.
  • Brunch and Fashion Show: This event was a major fundraiser for our Catholic school. The brunch does not have to be elaborate. A simple menu of items found at any Costco or other warehouse-type store are appropriate. One menu idea: muffins, bagels, fresh fruit, lunch meats, bread, packaged potato salad, some soft drinks, bottled water, sparkling apple juice-keep it simple. The models should all be the participants of your program/group whom the fundraising is being held for. The clothing worn for the show should be from a local clothing store. Approach one or two of your local clothing shops for clothes to borrow in exchange for offering free advertising for their shop.

Don't Do All the Work

Do not try to micromanage and for sure, do not take on all aspects of the fundraiser by yourself. Definitely make the children who participate in your program also participate in the fundraiser. Assign jobs and follow up to be sure they are being done. One of the worse things is for one parent, who seems to be the same parent all the time, to take on all responsibilities for the fundraiser. The kids need to participate and by doing so, learn about brainstorming for ideas, marketing, purchasing, and most of all teamwork.

Get the Word Out

Whatever fundraiser you try to do, please remember to MARKET your event and do MORE MARKETING! This means flyers, posters, sending out tweets, posting on Facebook, in fact, make a special Facebook page for your fundraiser. The main thing is to get the word out. The more people aware of the event, the better your sales.

Happy FUNraising.

Conan Selling Ice Cream

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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