Fewer is Better

12/18/2013  |  Laurel Sprague

Principal Brian Burkett had heard the occasional complaints about his school’s worn-out playground — but he also knew money was tight. The current year’s budget was already stretched thin, but Burkett had a plan. Past experience told him that families in the community would support the school financially if they understood clearly the goal and knew they wouldn’t be nickeled-and-dimed again and again throughout the year.

Following a two week fund raiser, in which students sold consumer items from a brochure to their families and moms and dads drummed up support from neighbors and co-workers, about $25,000 was raised to help fund a new playground. “We do just one product fund raiser a year, and this sale alone averages $25,000 of profit in just two weeks,” Burkett said. “That’s half our fund-raising earnings for the year.”

Each year $1.4 billion is raised by schools and other non-profits by selling popular consumer items, such as gift wrap, magazine subscriptions, food, gift items, candles, etc., according to the non-profit Association of Fund-Raising Distributors and Suppliers (AFRDS).

“In today’s economy, many schools are facing the possibility of needing to cut extracurricular school activities to accommodate a new budget,” says Jon Krueger, executive director of AFRDS. “Schools are relying on fund-raising more than ever before to keep their programs running, which highlights the importance of bringing every fund raiser to its full potential.”

Fund-raising experts agree that the law of diminishing returns is very much a reality when it comes to raising money. Too many fund-raising pleas lead to burnout among the support base, including volunteers and families. Instead, focus on those programs that are most effective — both in terms of dollars earned and workload (or lack thereof) for your volunteers.

So how do schools get the biggest “bang for their buck” out of a fund raiser? Fund-raising experts advise that sometimes all you need is a small tweak to see significant improvements in the next fund-raising. Here are some small, yet sometimes overlooked, ways to improve fund-raising efforts.

Evaluate What Really Matters By Digging In

Meet with your fund-raising committee to review the entire program and any notes taken along the way. Provide an overall report to the school principal in a brief meeting. And provide your fund-raising company representative with your feedback.

Out With The Old And In With What Works

Cross off the list some of those other fund-raising ideas that won’t be worth your group’s time and effort again next year. Parent-teacher groups that conduct fewer overall school-wide fund raisers raise more money. Among parent-teacher groups who raised more than $15,000 through school fund-raising events, most (54 percent) limited the number of school-wide fund raisers to no more than four during the school year, according to statistics from AFRDS. Perhaps more importantly, by eliminating extra fund raisers you lesson the likelihood of burnout and apathy among supporters and in the community.

Reward Achievements As Advertised

Too often, fund-raising rewards to volunteers, students, or teachers are under-whelming or do not live up to expectations. After weeks of hard work and effort, it is extremely important for rewards to not only be fulfilled but to leave a sense of excitement behind for future motivation.

For example, a pair of Florida principals recently got in on the action to help motivate their students. Principal Lacy Healy and Assistant Principal Jennifer Collins knew their school needed to raise at least $20,000 for campus beautification and special education programming. Getting creative, Healy and Collins announced that if students met or exceeded the goal, they would spend a day on the school’s roof. The students went on to raise over $21,000 by selling cookie dough in the community. Healy and Collins upheld their end of the bargain, and spent a day atop the school to reward their students.

After The Event, Don’t Forget About The Media ...

Remember to tell the local media about your success. Not only can you raise further awareness about the school’s fund-raising efforts but you can garner the community’s support in future events. Tap a volunteer with good writing skills to craft a short press release or if you have a strong relationship with media local reporter or editor, send them an email or give them a call. Be sure to emphasize the goal of the fund raiser and thank key volunteers for their efforts.

Additionally, don’t forget about social media! It’s the most cost-effective way to get your messages and news across to an audience that is already committed to receiving your content. These avenues are the most under-utilized by schools when promoting not only the successes but status updates of current fund raisers. Plus, it is incredibly easy for followers and fans to spread the word about school activities through social media.

... And Don’t Forget the Evaluation Step

Encourage school administrators, parent organizations, and principals to resist the urge to wrap up the program and move on to another project immediately. Like any other business project, it’s best to evaluate results and determine where to make positive changes for next time. Remember that your fund-raising professional can help with this process too!

Schools and other non-profits earn $1.4 billion annually through fund raisers, but the most effective programs are those that are focused, well-planned and limited. Experts agree that cutting back on the number of times your school asks for financial support reduces the risk of burnout among volunteers and supporters. Work with your fund-raising professional to plan ahead, clearly communicate goals to the community and evaluate what works and what doesn’t when the fund raiser is over.

Laurel Sprague is an Atlanta-based writer for Association of Fund-raising Distributors and Suppliers, a non-profit trade association dedicated to promoting professionalism and integrity in the product fund-raising industry. For more information on how to find a professional fund-raising company and run an effective fund-raising program, visit
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