How To Organize A School Fundraiser Step by Step
For years I was in charge of my daughters private school's fundraiser, which consisted of a Spring Festival, with games, food and a silent auction. We raised $13,000 in 6 hours! It takes a lot of work and planning, but is very rewarding. Here are my tips.
Our entire Spring Festival was made possible by generous donations from businesses in the community. Businesses generally set their budgets early in the year, so if you are to get any of their donation funds, you need to start early.
When making your requests, you will need to write a formal letter, written on your businesses letterhead. After mailing, be sure to give it a couple weeks, then follow up your letter with a personal phone call. Donations for our festival were given in cash, prizes, toys, gift certificates, and in-kind donations that often advertised for the business.
Be sure to display all of the donors who contributed to your cause, we posted the names at our ticket booth. Also, don't forget to write a letter of thanks to each of the businesses, and let them know how they helped make your fundraiser a successful one.
I sold 50 cent tickets, which were bought in large rolls (like raffle tickets). In the first few hours of our event, the ticket booth would be extremely busy. To help speed things up, I had ticket bundles in $5, $10, $15, and $20 amounts. This meant I didn't have to spend time counting out tickets, and it was a great help. A little preparation really paid off on the day of our event.
Our Spring Festival took place both indoors and outdoors. Our local building supply store donated the wood, which the men in our church used to build the booth for the ticket sales, as well as game booths. We had 10 different game booths, lined up side by side, five on one side of the lawn and 5 on the other side, with the booths facing each other. Each booth had a wide shelf which was used to hold the box which held the tickets. Each booth was painted with white paint. (Our local dump gives away free paint. Because businesses and stores cannot dispose of products such as cleaners and paints, there is a haz mat "store" at the dump where you can get these items for free!)
I purchased poster paper and made a sign for each booth. On it was the name of the game, as well as how many tickets it took to play. I saved these and used them year after year.
Our games varied from year to year, just to keep things from getting stale. However, some games were so popular we brought them back year after year. The games we found the most successful are:
Take a simple dowel, attach a string to one end of the pole and tie a clothespin to the other end of the string. As the children toss their strings over the top of the booth, a worker clips a toy to the string. Toys can be bagged or unbagged, but we had a "Girl" box and a "Boy" box. Many of these prizes were inexpensive, and were often donated by local dentists (these are the types of toys that dentists often give to their young patients). Candy bars are also good to use in the fish pond. The school kids had contests to see which class could bring in the most bags of candy. The winners had an ice cream party. We used the candy bars in a variety of ways.
We blew up balloons and tacked them to a round spinning board, or wheel. Supervised children and adults throw darts at the balloons, and can win different sized prizes depending on how many balloons they pop. Our balloons were purchased with either money from donors, or they were donated by local stores.
What child doesn't love a Disney poster? Our local cable company was extremely generous! They donated a large number of posters and Disney toys, (such as plush Pluto puppets). I took large boxes, cut round holes in the tops, and we placed posters inside the holes so that half of the poster was visible. Make sure you have enough room between the posters so kids can toss rings over them. For two 50 cent tickets the kids could toss rings until they won a poster. The money this poster booth made was 100% profit. Local movie theatres also donated posters for our cause.
We let kids and adults toss a football through an old tire. If they got it through the hole, they won a prize. If not, they could purchase more tickets and try again! Dads loved this game.
Milk Bottle Toss
Some of the supplies from past festivals were old wooden milk bottles. The idea is to stack them in a pyramid, then knock them down with one throw of a softball or bean bag.
Flip A Frog
This was a new game, and the kids and adults loved it! I painted three galvanized wash tubs green, and I made large padded mallots from foam and heavy fabric. Men in our church made small seesaws. I bought stuffed green frogs, and the object of the game was to hit the seesaw with the mallot and send the frog flying into one of the tubs.
Ping Pong Toss
This game can be done with ping pong balls, pennies, or any other object of your choosing. Toss the objects into goblets, make one stick and you are a winner.
Bushel Basket Toss
This was actually a game that we saw at our local State Fair. We were able to get a local supermarket to donate a bushel basket, which we nailed to a board. The object is to toss three softballs and to get all three to remain in the basket. This is harder than it looks. The key is to put a backward spin on the softball, so it doesn't bounce back out of the basket. Because this game is challenging, we gave away full sized stuffed animals (which were donated by local stores and businesses), and of course the price to play the Bushel Basket Toss was more than other booth games.
Many of our stuffed animals consisted of stuffed bears donated by State Farm. The bears had T-shirts that said "State Farm" on them, so the insurance company received free advertising my virtue of their donation.
Bean Bag Toss
If you know someone who is artistic, you can easily make your own board for the bean bag toss. Ours pictured a clown, with holes for his head, hands and feet. You simply throw bean bags through the holes and you win a prize. This was a big hit with younger children.
Needle In a Haystack
Another game that uses small toy prizes or small pieces of candy is the Needle In a Haystack. Break apart a bale of hay and hide the prizes in it. Kids get a minute or two to find as many prizes as they can.
Fill a small kiddie pool 1/3 full of water, and float plastic ducks in it. We had numbers 1-3 on the bottom of the ducks, which corresponded with boxes of prizes. Kids can pick their own prizes, and each duck is a winner.
This idea for this game was also borrowed from our local State Fair. We used a round board with numbers, and each number corresponded with a small hole. There were sides on the board, and when a mouse was let loose, he would travel around the board until he chose a hole to enter. This is a form of gambling, and as such we did need to get a permit from the city.
Some of the game booths awarded prizes, others awarded service tickets, which children could redeem at the indoor prize pool.
Other Outside Games
Cake Walk: Cakes are donated by families in our school and church.
Basketball Toss: We have a basketball court in our school playground, so this was an easy game to set up.
Firing Range: Set up in a separate area, for adults only. Prizes included donated sports memorabelia (from local pro and college teams) as well as great merchandise from Harley Davidson. A very popular booth for adult men!
Rope Walk: One of the school kids dads made a ladder with a rope for the rungs. It was strung between two objects, raising slightly vertically, and it was placed over the sand filled swingset area. We clipped a one dollar bill to the top of the ladder, and kids wo managed to climb the entire ladder (usually on their knees or bellies) won the dollar. Very popular, but very difficult!
Since this was a "Festival", I wanted it to look festive. I strung small balloons between the booths, making a ceiling of sorts, between the booth on the left and the booth on the right. Other balloons were stapled at the entrance to our school, as well as on the ticket booth.
A festival would not be a festival without food! Much of our food was donated by local businesses, the rest was purchased from cash donations. Grocery stores gave us $25 gift cards, Costco donated hamburgers, Sam's Club hotdogs, and a local bakery was generous enough to give us all of our buns totally free. We cooked the meat outside on grills, and the smell alone sold the food for us! I also bought foods for making nachos, as well as chips, and hot/cold beverages. Pepsi donated cases of assorted carbonated beverages. I found it best to keep it simple and not try to have too many foods on our menu.
I contacted the business that supplies ice cream to stores, and they donated a ton of ice cream products - as well as a portable freezer to use for the day. Again, this was ALL profit.
McDonalds donated a large insulated jug of punch. They use these for their childrens birthday parties, and they let us use it for the day, punch and all.
One party store donated the machine and ingredients for making cotton candy, which is always a big hit. We were not able to get this machine every year, however, as it was sometimes loaned out for other fundraisers.
This booth did not take tickets, but cash only. We sold novelty items, similar to what are sold at local county fairs. Plastic swords, hand buzzers, whoopie cushions, candy, tatoos, plastic jewelry, finger traps, rubber animals, sticky hands, telescopes, masks, kazoos, etc. Most of these items were the cheapest through a catalog called Oriental Trading.
Inside Games and Booths
We had four fundraising events indoors. One was a cake auction, which brough in as much as $200 per cake. These were very special cakes that were donated by school families.
One of the biggest money makers in our entire Spring Festival was the Silent Auction. This took so much room it was done in our church basement. Every single item in our auction was donated, and consisted of hundreds of items, including merchandise and gift certificates.
Our gift certificates included restaurants, movie tickets, airline tickets, tickets for the Alaska Railroad, sealife tours, hotel vouchers, and a large variety of merchandise such as coffee, games, toys, crafts, jewelry, furniture, and in kind donations like (for example) an Alaska Airlines travel bag.
We also handed out Service Coupons two months in advance, to members of our church and all the parents of the school children. These were a big hit, and included services such as: free babysitting, a gourmet dinner for two in your home, a homemade loaf of bread once a month for a year, a winter of free snow removal, a custom made screen door, two dozen homemade cookies, and so on. Some of these service coupons were great, and made a ton of money for our school.
Although many of our outdoor booths offered prizes that could be won instantly, but we also had a prize booth inside. This booth consisted of a wide variety of used, like new items that had been collected the previous few months. These were generously donated by school families and church members.
Each item had a ticket value, and children could exchange their prize tickets for items in the prize pool. We usually had more items donated that were redeemed for, but this booth allowed kids to redeem their award tickets for prizes of their choosing.
Keeping Track of Booth Sales
It's important to know which game booths made money and which ones didn't. I wrapped shoe boxes with paper, and cut a slit in the top. Each box had the name of the booth written on it, and all tickets went into the box (not in the booth helpers pockets, and yes that happened to us our first year!). Counting the tickets at the end of the day told me which booths were successful and which ones were not.
There are many ways to advertise your event. Aside from desiging posters which we displayed in store windows and bulletin boards, we also contacted any businesses (Real Estate, Building Supply, etc) that had large reader boards in front of their businesses. I asked them to display our event name, date and time. We had a lot of success with this, and businesses were glad to help.
If you contact your local newspaper early enough, you can get them to place free ads for you. I actually had a quarter page ad one year! This would have cost us hundreds of dollars that we could not afford. Other small, local papers also placed free ads in their classifieds.
Our festival was known in the community by our large balloon banner. We used large, thick helium balloons and blew up several hundred the night before. We tied them to a long, thick rope, and early in the morning of the day of our event we strung it across the end of the road. When people in the community saw the banner they came to see what was going on (we also had signs at the end of the road). We were told by many people that when they saw our balloon banner they knew it is "festival time"!
These types of ballons can get expensive, but do you know which types of businesses use these on a regular basis? Car dealers! Yes, I made many trips to car dealers, asked to speak to the manager, and we received all of our balloons at no cost to us. Realtors also use these types of balloons, and they also donated to our cause.
The Pepsi company really surprised me when they agreed to give us not one, but two large plastic banners! These are hand painted, and one of them had our event name, date and time on it, while the other advertised our Silent Auction.
Planning, Planning, Planning!
I won't kid you, this was a ton of work. Aside from the volunteers to pick up donations and work in the booths, I did everything else by myself. I started working in January, and worked several days a week until mid June when we had our event. It was, at times, exhausting. It is not fun or easy asking for donations. I went door to door for many of my donations, and for the most part our community was helpful and responsive.
I didn't want to ask for large donations, although I did get several for our auction. I figured if I could get a lot of small donations from a lot of businesses, it would all add up. And that is what happened. A doctors office might not want to give us a cash donation, but who wouldn't be willing to donate a bag of candy?
Between the financial donations and the material donations, we were able to pull off a festival that was 100% profit! We only had six hours to bring in as much as we could, the event started at 10 am and ended at 4 pm. We always had nice weather, but a back up plan should be in place just in case mother nature doesn't cooperate. We had party tents and canopies (which we borrowed) all over the lawn, with picnic tables placed inside. This all added to the festive decor, and made a nice place to get out of the hot sun when needed.
I headed up the Spring Festival for several years, and had to give it up as it was too demanding. Sadly, it only lasted for one year after I decided it was too much work. This would be so much easier if you were to have a committee of people dedicated to the planning and execution of your event. When it rests on one persons shoulders it can cause burn out, which is what happened in my case.
If you think your group could support a festival such as this, I encourage you to look into it as soon as possible. Now is the time to start planning and contacting your local businesses for any and all donations. Good luck!
Make A Banner with Balloons!
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