It can be overwhelming to sift through all the fundraising options for private and independent schools.
There are dozens and even hundreds of companies that would love for your students to buy and re-sell their merchandise. There are also seemingly unlimited options for event-based fundraisers for your staff to consider, from walk-a-thons to carnivals to fancy galas.
Fundraisers need to be chosen and scheduled carefully. Failed fundraisers don’t just waste your volunteers’ time, they can also damage your school community’s willingness to participate in fundraisers overall.
To decide which types of fundraiser will best help your private or independent school meet its financial goals, get specific about what you want to achieve, assess what you can reasonably accomplish, and make sure there are no conflicts with your school’s schedule or character.
Identify Your Financial Goals
First, figure out exactly how much money you need and can reasonably expect to raise. Starting without a fundraising goal in mind is like starting a roadtrip with no access to a map. Concrete numbers give you a measure for success and a sense of purpose.
Most schools divide their fundraising into three distinct efforts: An annual campaign for general operating needs, an endowment fund for long-term financial stability, and capital campaigns for specific one-time needs, such as new infrastructure.
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There are no hard and fast rules about how money from each type of fund is used or how to raise money for each one, but each of these types of funds might benefit from certain types of fundraisers more than others.
For example, endowment funds are often funded by bequeathments, and annual funds often benefit from annual letters or other annual traditions. Capital funds, on the other hand, may be better served by special one-time events.
Understand which type of funding you’re trying to get, what it’s for, and how much your school needs to meet. But what’s realistic based on the success of past successful fundraisers and on the estimated financial giving capacity of your school community?
You may even want to take advantage of wealth screening software to start “prospect research” that will help you figure out how much money the families in your school community are likely to give on a family-to-family basis.
Assess Your Volunteers’ Capacity
Once you know how much you need and can reasonably expect to earn, it’s time to decide exactly how you’ll raise the funds. The biggest factor in choosing a fundraiser will be how much help — and what kind of help — you expect to get from volunteers.
Events like galas and festivals can bring the most money, but they require a lot more time and effort. In particular, the process of chairing one of these events is very time-consuming and requires an enthusiastic volunteer who is willing to bear a heavy workload and plenty of responsibility.
If you don’t have the volunteer resources for a huge event, a product-based or coupon-based fundraiser can be a good option. There’s usually a significant overhead cost, as a high percentage of each sale will go toward paying for the product itself. However, this overhead cost will also pay for other work that makes the fundraiser simpler for your volunteers and staff. The fundraising company will take care of processing payments, fulfilling orders, tracking overall fundraising progress toward your financial goals, issuing out prizes, and more.
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Other low-commitment options include encouraging your students’ parents to sync their existing loyalty programs or shopping habits to benefit your school. These kinds of efforts may include linked grocery store loyalty cards, linked Amazon Smile accounts, or simply collecting box tops from the boxes of their grocery products.
However, these lower-yield fundraisers may not bring in enough money to meet your financial goals. Expecting parents to participate in too many fundraisers can start to annoy them, even when the costs are pretty low and the volunteer work is relatively simple.
That’s why before you make the final decision on which fundraisers to host, take a close look at your school community’s priorities and values.
Consider Your School’s “Personality”
Fundraising experts agree that great fundraisers aren’t just a way to collect money for your school. They’re also an opportunity to cultivate relationships with students, their families, and other sponsors and members of the community. These relationships are the most valuable assets your school has. When they are cultivated for the long-term, fundraising gets easier year after year.
The only way to establish this kind of community connection is to hold fundraisers that are in line with the bigger mission of your school. Ideally, use the opportunity of your fundraiser to create great memories and wonderful feelings, either with a fun event or with unique products that the community can regularly come to expect from you.
If your school is religious, for example, you can incorporate spiritual elements into your events or plan holiday celebrations around religious holidays. If environmental stewardship is a big part of your school’s mission, your fundraiser could include selling plants or other environmentally-friendly alternatives to traditional products.
Similarly, of course, avoid any fundraisers that conflict with your school’s mission. If personal health or clean eating is central to your school’s values, a frozen cookie dough fundraiser is not a good choice — regardless of how much sense it might make financially.
Some donors will gladly give cash out of their pockets for your annual fund, expecting nothing in return except some acknowledgement in the school’s newsletters or in plaques or other displays.
But many other donors are more likely to support your school if it conveniently fits into the course of purchases they would already be making — from physical products like wrapping paper to admission to a fun family event. The key is to find something that your school community is already willing to spend their money on, and offer it in with extra convenience and value.
Check Your School’s Schedule
The timing of your fundraiser is one of the most important factors to its success.
Before putting anything into motion on a potential fundraiser, consult with the rest of the teaching staff and administrators on which times will be ideal for them. Get a good handle on which times of year parents will be preoccupied with other big school-related tasks (such as science fairs, exams, tournaments, or state testing).
Also, consider whether the timing you choose for your current school year would continue to work in the future. Starting annual fundraising traditions with your staff can make it easier to plan and market these efforts every year.
Seasonal events held each year can be especially effective at capturing a sense of fun and community, and they lend themselves particularly well to a blend of event-based fundraising and product sales.
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Take steps each year to increase these fundraisers’ earning potential. For example, selling flowers in advance of Mother’s Day is a great idea, but you could eventually combine it with a Mother’s Day brunch event. Or, why not step up your school’s Christmas tree sale this year by adding a hot cocoa booth? Next year, you can also sell popcorn and cookies.
With careful planning and dedicated volunteers, meeting your fundraising goals should get easier every year.