Thanks to the economic effects of Covid-19, education funding is drying up across the country, so there’s never been a better time to raise extra cash for our kids’ future. Whether your local school is in desperate need of an updated computer lab, specialty teachers, or just a fresh coat of paint, well-executed fundraisers for schools are game-changers.
If you’re planning to drum up some funds, there are strategies that attract donors like magic – and some that have the opposite effect.
We’re here to walk you through the complete guide to school fundraising, as well as some common fundraising pitfalls. You’ll know exactly what to do and what not to do from the get-go, ensuring that your event will be a smashing success. The PTA will be talking about this one for years to come.
What is school fundraising?
Let’s start at the beginning. Fundraising for schools is exactly what it sounds like. It involves organizing events and activities that are sponsored by a school or school district, geared toward supplementing a school’s revenue. Mostly organized and staffed by parents, PTA groups, and volunteers, fundraisers include everything from a simple donation page on the school’s site to major events, like dances or field trips.
The funds raised can go to supplement both academic and extracurricular activities, like clubs and sports teams, or to subsidize the costs of educating an individual student. They can also be used to offset the day-to-day operational costs of running a school, especially when the administration faces budget shortfalls.
How to Set Up a School Fundraiser in 6 Steps
Planning a school fundraiser isn’t hard to pull off if you have the drive! Here are the steps to take to organize a fundraiser at your school.
Step #1: Build a team
A group of dedicated volunteers is critical to any serious fundraising effort. Volunteers might come from the ranks of your school’s booster club, teachers, older students, or just folks in your community with major school spirit.
- Schedule a meeting at least a month in advance. When done right, meetings can make all the difference to successful fundraisers for schools. They offer opportunities to brainstorm, address concerns, and ensure healthy deadlines.
- Set milestones that the team can get behind, and don’t forget to debrief at the end to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Assign responsibilities based on interest. Maybe someone has killer drawing skills and can design posters, while someone else loves organizing and can handle the admin.
Step #2: Learn the rules
Some schools don’t allow fundraising outside of school hours. Others only permit a certain number of fundraising events per year. If you don’t already know, familiarize yourself with the fundraising protocol at your school. If there aren’t rules in place, make them!
It’s also important to get your team up to speed with laws governing fundraising activities at the local, state, and federal levels, especially if they involve license requirements, tax breaks, or nutrition.
Step #3: Budget
Once you have your recruits and know the fundraising basics at your school, it’s time to take an honest look at your budget and calculate how much you hope to raise. Obviously, that depends on where the money will go. You’ll need a lot more cash to build a new gym than to purchase new uniforms. Estimate how many fundraisers you’ll need to hit your target.
Here are some basic questions to get the ball rolling:
- How much money do you need?
- What products, services, or events can you offer to raise money? There are tons of imaginative school fundraising ideas out there, so get brainstorming.
- Who is going to be involved in reaching out to donors (students, staff, parents)?
- How will the funds be allocated?
Step #4: Plan
This is the fun part! There are hundreds of fundraising methods that deliver impressive revenue. Here are a few favorites that are guaranteed to bring results.
Sell tasty treats
This is far and away the most popular method of raising funds for cash-strapped schools. Selling food like baked goods, pizza, or candy works for 76% of elementary schools, 78% of middle schools, and 84% of high schools. It’s a classic for a reason: bake sales are easy and cheap to pull off, can always be tweaked to match the season or event, and everyone loves dessert. For example, hot cocoa stands at football games and online sales of pumpkin pie make for easy fall fundraising ideas, while Valentine’s Day cookies are a big hit in early spring.
Sell fun items
Another popular fundraising idea for schools is selling anything from magazines to raffle tickets. In some cases, the students are invited to do the fundraising themselves, for example, walking around the neighborhood and selling magazine subscriptions. Other times, volunteer groups hold online sales of DIY items, like flower arrangements or handmade cards. You can also set up a stand during a school function, like an athletic event, meeting, or performance.
Walk-a-thons, dances, movie nights, holiday parties, read-a-thons, parades, and art drives are all guaranteed to draw crowds of enthusiastic kids and their supportive parents. Sometimes, the entire neighborhood gets involved, especially if there are treats, costumes, or fun activities on offer. It’s super easy to sell tickets and advertise online, and best of all, events make for compelling content for your school’s website and social media pages.
If you’re strapped for time, going digital is a totally valid option.
- Online auction. Run an online auction for unique items or services donated by local businesses, for example, or reach out to your network of supporters to find special items that everyone would be thrilled to own.
- Crowdfunding. For an even easier alternative, you can opt for creating a crowdfunding campaign that explains why you’re raising money and how much you need to inspire people all over the world to support your school.
- Donation pages. Another effortless way to drum up extra cash is to create a customized donation page that’s linked to your school site and social media channel that accepts ongoing contributions.
Make sure your fundraiser is inclusive
While you plan, keep in mind that not every student can run, dance, or read without difficulty. Similarly, not all parents and staff members have the time or resources to volunteer or buy cute but non-essential items like candles or flowers.
That doesn’t mean you need to forgo selling candles or hosting read-a-thons, but it does mean that you should take the time to learn how to run an inclusive school fundraiser that brings the academic community together without the pressure to compete or shell out cash for big-ticket items.
Step #5: Advertise
Once you’ve fine-tuned your budget and planned your fundraiser, you’re ready to tell the world about it. Advertising is critical: if nobody knows about your fundraiser, even the most creative ideas won’t get you far. Since most of the world is glued to their phone all the time anyway, it makes sense to use no-cost tools like email and social media to help you get the word out, encouraging students, staff, and volunteers to like and share your fundraising efforts.
Consider using programs, like Mailchimp, where those with no experience can upload email addresses and create a beautifully designed email campaign for free.
As the cash rolls in, post updates on the school’s website or social media page: “We’re 1k away from refurbishing the library!” When funders see the tangible effects of their contributions, they’re more likely to be generous in the future.
To really ramp up your marketing game, take advantage of free fundraising platforms that let you manage your supporter base, create customized fundraising pages, accept donations, and track the results so everyone can cheer on your hard work.
Step #6: Follow through with gratitude
To capitalize on your success and set your school up for another big hitter the next time around, make sure that your fundraiser ends with a bang. That means posting your success story to your school site and social media and thanking ALL your donors. Yes, even the ones who just showed up to cheer you on or offer advice without contributing a penny. You might also consider a follow-up email with your story of success.
A local business owner might be taking stock of your fundraising skills to decide whether he wants to sponsor your school’s activities next year in exchange for his business name on your academic calendar. You never know what people will give later down the road or whom they know, so make all potential supporters feel appreciated and welcome.
How NOT to Set Up a School Fundraiser: 8 Mistakes to Avoid
Now that you know what to do to take your school fundraiser to the next level, it’s equally important to learn the most common mistakes school fundraising committees tend to make. Avoid these pitfalls and come out on the other side of your fundraiser with both cash and wisdom to spare.
Mistake #1: You Don’t Have a Clear Message
It’s hard to get excited about a general (and generic) call to action, like “School Needs Funding.” Your school is unique, so be specific. Studies show that donors are much more likely to pull out their wallets when they know exactly where their money is going.
Will the funds go to new uniforms for the basketball team? Great! Prepare a mock-up of what those future uniforms will look like. Maybe even ask a student volunteer to dress the part.
Are you hoping to invest in a more comprehensive library? Share which books or resources are lacking, and why the kids need them.
Mistake #2: You Focus on Problems, Not Solutions
Okay, so the showers in the school gym have been broken for a decade and the math textbook hasn’t been updated since 1999. These are serious issues, for sure. But they aren’t what prospective donors need to hear.
Instead of focusing exclusively on the bad stuff, emphasize how your proposed solution is the key to fixing whatever is wrong. The goal is to make funders feel empowered to improve the school, not scare (or guilt) them with insurmountable difficulties.
Try saying something like, “With our Fall Costume Party, we’ll raise 10k to repair the gym showers and begin expanding the outdoor sports facilities!” Give donors – and kids — something to look forward to and get excited about.
Mistake #3: It’s Last Minute
Maybe a student can pull an all-nighter to finish that book report, but it’s impossible to plan out an entire fundraiser the night before! It takes time. To make sure you’re on the right track, plan ahead (and bring snacks)!
This is where a committed team is critical. Splitting up the work not only helps speed up the fundraising process, but can also nurture greater accountability, care, and creativity. And speaking of creativity, that brings us to our next point…
Mistake #4: It’s Boring
No one likes a rushed, cheesy fundraiser. Some ideas have been replayed so many times that they become dead to the community.
Cookie-cutter copies of past successful events may serve you well for the first few years, but people will eventually grow tired of the same old, same old. Try sending out a survey or poll to get the community involved. When we come up with ideas on our own, it’s easy to fall in love with our personal biases. Getting stakeholders involved opens the door to fresh insights and unexpected ways to get things done. Kids, especially, are gold mines of imagination, so get their creative juices flowing!
Another option is to use current seasons, holidays, and events for inspo. Springtime bouquets, summer beach days, spooky costumes in the fall. Pretty much every month of the year has some unique trait or activity that everyone recognizes and loves. Capitalize on these popular moments of joy and add a little festive flavor to your event.
Mistake #5: Bad Budgeting
If this is your school’s first fundraiser ever, be prepared for the possibility that you won’t get a ton of support to start. To increase donations, think like an entrepreneur and diversify your revenue stream. Your income should come from more than one source:
- Ticket sales
- Sponsorship (for every mile Sally runs, participants fork over a dollar)
- Food sales (just because it’s a marathon doesn’t mean you can’t have cookies)
- Ad revenue (maybe your local coffee shop wants to feature on event flyers—ask!)
Mistake #6: You’re Scared to Ask
Look, we get it: asking for money is weird. We’re taught to avoid talking about finances, and grilling people about how much they make is taboo. While those are solid rules for dinner parties, they won’t get you far when you’re trying to raise revenue.
Don’t worry, it’s possible to make asking for donations less intimidating:
- Start with friends, neighbors, and PTA members. These people already care about your kids and your school. In addition to donations, they’re likely to chime in with smart fundraising ideas of their own.
- Be transparent. Don’t waffle about how much you need or where the money will go. If you want to go the extra mile, have a chart. People love charts.
- Be prepared for questions or refusals. If a potential donor asks why they should contribute, have a spiel prepped ahead of time. If they say no, don’t take it personally, smile graciously, and move on.
- Be specific. Your donor probably has no idea what’s appropriate to give and might be hesitant to either part with too much cash or look stingy. Do the work for them. Try something like: “We need 5k for the new chem lab. A ten-dollar gift would help a lot.”
Mistake #7: Local Businesses Aren’t Involved
Corporate responsibility is definitely A Thing, especially right now, when so many big companies are in the hot seat for prioritizing profits over people. While the small businesses in your area are unlikely to have that problem, they still get a financial boost from giving back to the community.
If you’re a regular at the neighborhood breakfast joint, tell the owner about your fundraising activities. Chat with the manager of the local grocery store or the bank’s nearest branch. Often, corporate contributions won’t be financial. For example, a company might donate some of their old equipment to use in your school’s computer lab. Maybe that cute little shoe boutique will contribute a fresh pair of kicks that you can auction off.
Once you capture a company’s interest, consider the quid pro quo. What will you offer in return for a contribution? Suggest adding their business name to your flyers or stick their coupons into the event program. Sometimes, they’ll just need to be reminded about that sweet tax write-off they get from charitable giving. You get donations, they look good, everyone wins.
Mistake #8: You Haven’t Gone Digital (Yet)
If your school fundraiser isn’t searchable, you’re missing out. While paper posters, donation jars, and clipboards for signatures have an undeniable charm, you’ll get a lot more exposure (and cash!) if your event has an online presence.
While some folks might prefer a newspaper clipping stuck under their door, most students are so much more likely to share the event with friends and family if they can tweet about it. And, if your school doesn’t already have a Twitter handle, make one! Post it to your school website and add local business links for good measure. #2021bakesale anyone?
Start Planning Your Next School Fundraiser
Your school fundraiser is more likely to succeed if you have the right tools. Here at RallyUp, we take your school’s success seriously because every student matters. That’s why we created a nonprofit fundraising platform that enables organizations like yours to create customized donation pages for fundraisers. You don’t have to be a designer or know anything about coding. Simply follow RallyUp as it takes you through each step and at the end presents a professional, beautiful donation page specific to your school. And it’s completely free!