The ABCs of Fundraising

11/20/2009  |  LESLIE MARSHALL

The truth is, no one knows for sure how fundraising originated, but its roots can be traced back to the late 19th century, a time when bake sales, barn dances and book peddling were popular ways to raise money for schools and churches.

Once the Fuller Brush Company perfected the art of direct selling in the early 1900s, christmas cards, Girl Scout cookies and magazine subscription sales soon followed as innovations in product fundraising.

Over the next 80 years, wrapping paper, planners, and countless food and household products would emerge as ways to fund classroom equipment, field trips and band uniforms. In 2002, a powerful new way to fundraise was introduced to schools by Interstate Batteries with a simple approach. Sell something every household needs: alkaline batteries.

Today, fundraising is a $2 billion industry for schools across the nation, and according to the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), 94 percent of U.S. schools raise funds to supplement budgets. In fact, student enrollment can greatly influence budgetary considerations and will determine school needs in terms of supplies and materials.

If you find that your costs surpass your existing funds, a great solution is to consider a fundraiser.While some principals would rather pass this responsibility off to someone else, this approach can actually hinder a fundraiser’s success.The principal’s support is crucial in rallying all staff and parents to ensure a profitable fundraiser.

Choosing the Right Fundraiser

Parents are getting more fundraising requests than ever, according to a recent NAESP survey.As an educator, how do you eliminate the deluge of flyers sent home with students, endless volunteer hours and unnecessary check writing for parents? The answer can be as easy as choosing a company with a proven track record that offers a practical product.

With countless fundraising options to choose from, timing is another factor to consider when zeroing in on your school’s fundraising efforts. Back-to school and pre-holiday times are notorious for frozen cookie dough, pies and cheesecakes. For groups looking for the least labor-intensive way to raise money during these high traffic months, choosing a company whose products are backed by students is the way to go. Personalized pens and accessories fall under this category and make great holiday gifts.And don’t forget the batteries for those toys and gadgets under the tree!

On top of practicality and timing, quality of a product and age of students should be focal points.What makes sense for a third grader to sell may not be conducive for a high school junior.

Larry Bruner, vice president of sales at IMARK agrees.“It’s important to focus on quality because the product is a representation of your school, students and PTA,” says Bruner.“Selling a useful, everyday product increases the perception of the customer. Everyone uses a writing instrument, everyone has to eat and everyone relies on battery power. Keep in mind that parents do the majority of fundraising, and they want something to stand behind when selling to friends and co-workers.”

On average, product sales typically require seven volunteers in comparison to 60 volunteers when organizing a carnival, and auctions can require upwards of two dozen volunteers.These numbers show what many fundraising experts have known for years: product sales are the most viable option for schools wanting to raise funds in the least amount of time.

Keep Fundraising Efforts on Track

No one ever said choosing the right school fundraiser was a piece of cake, but the harsh reality is that schools need extra funding now more than ever

Getting involved in setting financial goals for your school’s fundraiser enables you to educate parents on the ultimate payoff. More fundraisers don’t always mean more money. Statistics prove that fewer fundraisers will help you and your personnel maintain focus while yielding real results.

The Payoff

When Jack Parke started fundraising in 1997, he stumbled on a product he couldn’t resist — gourmet cookie dough. Since then, Parke Fundraising has offered schools a popular way to sell a product people want to sink their teeth into.

“I’m a proponent of one fundraiser in the fall and one in the spring,”says Parke.“Money is tight these days and there is only a certain amount of dollars free to support a school.We will actually turn down schools if we know they’ve done three fundraisers in a row because the focus becomes diluted. Multiple fundraisers give parents an excuse to say no even if they only paid five dollars for an item the first time around.”

The days of principals kissing pigs or staging other outlandish stunts are fizzling out and quality programs that everyone can feel good about are taking ground. Regardless of what your school is raising funds for, ask yourself why are you holding a fundraiser?

Leslie Marshall is the Director of Fundraising for Interstate Batteries. For more information visit
Comments & Ratings

  11/30/2009 9:29:43 AM

I must say, in my 19 years of teaching, I have finally read about a fundraiser that makes sense. Thank you SEEN for a refeshing idea.