What to do when your sale doesn’t go as planned
It’s no secret that school fundraisers demands energy and persistence on the front end. But what qualities will carry you through if things either go exceedingly well or veer far off from what you expected? In this article, we’ve got some tips on reacting and responding to the possibility that your school fundraiser may not meet its goal. Responding well in this moment of disappointment may pay dividends in future fundraisers and keep students, volunteers and your community engaged.
You know the adage: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” It’s the truism that sometimes, no matter how perfectly your map is made, you still may not reach your desired destination. This can be a particularly challenging reality in school fundraisers where the success impacts students’ educational experience. But, with varying economic conditions, unforeseen circumstances, and even changes in administration, you may be up against extenuating factors that nobody can prepare for.
If you’re faced with a fundraising result that doesn’t call for confetti, consider these strategies for responding in a way that is healthy and productive.
- Evaluate Your Fundraiser Immediately
- Consider Gap-Filling Fundraisers
- Confront Failures and Celebrate Successes
Evaluate Your Fundraiser Immediately
When you school fundraiser is over, no matter what the result, your reflex may be to take a break and a breath. Persevere a little longer, and take a candid look at your overall performance as soon as you can.
Admittedly, it can be hard to look at something disappointing immediately, but debriefing can be a therapeutic way to discover what was and was not preventable. The process of dissecting the fundraiser by looking first at the numbers and data, and then at qualitative factors, like theme and morale, can help you internalize and regain a sense of control if you feel like your fundraiser got off track.
Evaluating immediately can also help you balance your perspective. You may be focusing on the $10,000 deficit on the fundraising spreadsheet. School fundraising volunteers should balance this fixation by also considering the impact that the $30,000 you did raise will have. Remember that any progress in fundraising makes a difference in the quality of the education students are receiving, because it’s money that wouldn’t have been available for critical resources otherwise.
At the end of your evaluation, prepare a final report that includes:
- A numbers-based bottom line regarding profits, participation, and year-over-year changes.
- Qualitative feedback received over the course of the fundraiser.
- Internal and external factors that had bearing on the outcome.
- Goals for the next school fundraiser.
- A list of best practices.
This process may not make you feel positively about the results, but it will help you make sense of an outcome that can initially be overwhelming—especially if you’re passionate about education. That internalization can be valuable in being a resilient and proactive fundraiser.
Consider Gap-Filling Fundraisers
School fundraisers are often confined by somewhat arbitrary deadlines. Though the needs school fundraisers meet may be constantly there, the urgency varies over time. Discuss the possibility of hosting some other fundraiser to fill in the gaps that remain.
You have a variety of options when it comes to gap-filling fundraisers. For example, you may seek a corporate sponsorship of a lump-sum amount. Making a proposal to a local business or regional office of a large corporation can actually be easier when you have something to show for what you’ve done. An appeal that begins by telling the story of how your students raised tens of thousands of dollars through their own hard work can appeal to corporate donors who want to reward industrious students.
Additionally, you can also employee some old-fashioned, grassroots fundraisers—like car washes and bake sales—if your gaps are smaller. Or, if time allows, you can hold a series of these fundraisers that may add up to fill a bigger gap.
Channel any feelings of frustration or disappointment into positive productivity by taking actions that minimize the sense of loss and reduce the distance between your results and your goal. You might be surprised at how responsive students and your community are if you demonstrate redoubled commitment to meeting a goal.
Confront Failures and Celebrate Successes
A productive reaction is one that builds from successes and failures, making every outcome a useful one. This involves being able to identify what went well and what went wrong, and responding to each category accordingly. Good fundraisers know that this is an essential part of creating a culture of fundraising that improves consistently over time.
First, confront any failures in the school fundraiser. Casting these as “areas of growth” or “opportunities” puts a positive spin on shortcomings, but acknowledging that a tactic or strategy didn’t work is the critical lesson. For example, perhaps your school tried a new product in place of your tried and true cookie dough fundraiser, and it flopped. You’ve learned something important: people look forward to purchasing cookie dough, and the tradition and dependability work in your favor. Next year, don’t shake things up as dramatically.
It’s important not to fixate on failures, especially those that are easily mitigated. Your fundraising volunteers, as well as faculty and staff, need to know that they have a safe place to fall if an idea doesn’t work out. Spaces like these are where ingenuity and commitment thrive.
Finish off on a high note by celebrating successes. Even if you’ve lauded the same tactic or component of your fundraiser a hundred times, the 101st time certainly won’t hurt. Reinforcing good practices and capturing positive responses to an idea will ensure that beneficial strategies are retained year after year.
All in all, failure is rarely final, and you have the chance to set the tone for how a less-than-ideal outcome affects school fundraisers going forward. Respond productively and proactively, and you may be surprised by what comes from it.
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Clay Boggess has been designing fundraising programs for schools and various nonprofit organizations throughout the US since 1999. He’s helped administrators, teachers, and outside support entities such as PTAs and PTOs raise millions of dollars. Clay is an owner and partner at Big Fundraising Ideas.