Every parent knows the familiar call of the fundraiser—a note from the principal about the upcoming bake sale or a PTA email about the magazine drive.
As school-budget cuts have plagued school districts nationwide in recent years, these pleas have increased.
According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, from 2008 to 2012, education spending fell nationwide by $19 billion.
Parents organizing these events are often enthusiastic and altruistic, says Sarah Barrett, who wrote A Mom’s Guide to School Fundraising ($9 at Amazon), which is the leading e-book on school fundraisers.
But that doesn’t mean that every fundraiser is efficient.
“Each fundraiser works differently at every school,” says Barrett, who helps her children’s Los Angeles–area school raise $500,000 each year for a district with 1,000 students.
“You have to know what kind of parents you have, and what kind of efforts they can lend,” she adds.
Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your school’s fundraising efforts:
Think about the demographic. Does your school have a lot of stay-at-home parents who have time to volunteer?
Do most families consist of two professional parents who would be happy to write a check (but bristle at anything else)?
“If you don’t have a lot of parent volunteers, do not hold a school carnival that requires a ton of manpower,” Barrett says.
What will get parents excited?
Barrett promotes the work of The Simple Gifts Project, through which students can elicit donations for local or global organizations.
All donations are tax-deductible for the giver, and schools get 50 percent of all donations.
“The classic annual wrapping paper sales drive puts all the pressure on the parents to sell to their colleagues,” Barrett says. “And everyone is worried about childhood obesity, so bake sales seem insane.”
The Simple Gifts Project is popular because it is easy, universally positive, and the margins donated to the school are high.
“Parents like this program because it teaches kids about the importance of giving to people who are less fortunate than themselves,” she says.
Scrutinize the success of various campaigns.
Barrett uses the popular greeting card campaigns featuring student art as an example.
These can be labor-intensive projects, as parents must collect and scan student art, email large files to the company, and receive a small percentage of proceeds in return.
“Analyze the numbers carefully and see how effective the fundraiser is,” she says. “It may be a success one year but not make much money the next year. Always be willing to change and grow.”
It’s all about marketing.
Barrett spoke to one of her book’s readers who held a wine and cheese tasting that earned $3,000 for her child’s school one year.
The following year, she carefully worded the invitations and other marketing materials to reflect the sophistication of the event and raised $30,000.
“It’s just like anything else in life,” Barrett says. “The invitation you get for a potluck dinner at a neighbor’s house looks much different than a wedding invitation.”
Especially for high-ticket fundraising events, people want to get something in return for their spending.
In addition to feeling good about their donation, they want to be entertained, mingle with like-minded parents and generally enjoy themselves.
The email, flier, Facebook page and other materials should set the stage for what is expected.
Last year, Barrett hosted a creative Top Chef–themed event in which a live auction was held to see who would be selected as judges.
Tickets to attend cost $500 per couple. She credits the event’s success to the wording she chose in promoting the evening.
Get down to business, and ask local merchants to help.
Appeal to their business needs: Maybe they want to sponsor a sporting event in exchange for branding opportunities during football season.
A restaurant frequented by students and their families may offer to donate a percentage of sales one evening per week. Or suggest to a local vendor to give school uniforms in exchange for an ad in the school newsletter.
Check out Schoola, a new Groupon-like platform that allows parents to solicit deals from local businesses to raise money through daily deal–style discounts.
The local pizza joint, for example, might offer a $30 coupon for $15 through Schoola, which takes 15 percent of the funds raised and hosts the promotion on its site.
The business benefits from the ads and collects the $15 while the school gets the rest.
Time it right.
Barrett sees that a simple ask for money—usually around the holidays—is the most effective and lucrative school fundraiser.
“It’s not enough to just ask people to give,” she says. “Set a goal and expectations.”
For example, establish a fundraising goal of $10,000 in 100 days, and break it down to how much money each family would have to give to reach that goal.
Do everything you can to get school administrators involved.
“Schools that have the enthusiastic support of the principal have a huge advantage,” Barrett says.
A principal willing to dye her hair blue for a day when a fundraising goal is met, or an assistant principal who promises to jump into a kiddie pool of shaving cream always get lots of support, Barrett says.
Similarly, silent auctions for events like “Bowling with Mrs. Sampson” or “Lunch with Mr. Yang” are often a big hit with students (assuming the teacher is a favorite).
“Parents and teachers and the administration all have to work together to make money for the students,” Barrett says.
Teachers can participate by offering rewards, such as a pie to the face, for the top-selling student.
Emma Johnson is a writer for The Real Deal, the online magazine by RetailMeNot.com, the largest digital coupon website in the U.S.