Practical ways to engage parents and improve your bottom line
All schools need money right? It’s hard enough to cover the basic essentials with the tax dollars that have been allocated. But to pay for things such as computer equipment, informative school marquees or educational field trips with conventional funding is probably not going to happen. And the economic landscape is getting worse, not better. Add in the well-known struggle of ongoing budget cuts and the need for money has never been greater.
In some areas, it’s not just about using fundraisers to pay for extracurricular activities. Some schools end up fundraising just to stay open. For example, school officials in Mount Vernon, New York planned to eliminate all high school sports teams.
It’s been said that raising money is a ‘necessary evil’, but does it really have to be that way? Successful school fundraising requires an “all hands on deck” approach and a lot of hard work, not only from the people behind the scenes, but from those are expected to do the actual selling as well. Wouldn’t it be nice if schools had endless budgets? Wishful thinking indeed.
It’s obvious that schools need money. Most people understand that. So what frustrates parents about school fundraisers so much? Everyone has their own reasons but here are 2.
- Unannounced Fundraisers: Any parent of a student can relate. Getting bombarded with overly excited children who come home from school with their fundraising packets expectant to win prizes is a common occurrence. Now you’re expected to drive them around and try to sell to all of your family, neighbors and friends. And if that’s not enough, then you’ll need to take the catalog to work and approach your coworkers. What a joy! This is analogous to receiving an unexpected bill in the mail. Who has the time for this? Anything that arrives unannounced is an added burden unless it’s Ed McMahon showing up with a large check.
- The Same Overpriced Items: You’ve heard it said many times. People are tired of the same old cheap brochure items. These items look appealing in the brochure but the actual products are usually much smaller than expected. What's worse is that we feel guilty approaching friends, family and neighbors with the same brochure every year. People who do end up purchasing, either buy items out of obligation, return a favor to another parent, or simply help someone they know win a prize.
So how can we get parents to better tolerate fundraisers? According to a Wikipedia article, schools and other non-profits raise $1.7 billion annually selling popular consumer-based items. This same article states that 8 out of 10 people support these types of programs. The results speak for themselves. The bottom line is that catalog fundraisers work, and that’s why schools use them.
Here are 5 school fundraising ideas that will get more parents to participate:
1. Provide Advanced Notice
- Send home a courtesy notice before the date of the sale that informs parents of what's coming. This does 2 things: 1) It gives parents a courtesy notice, and 2) It helps promote your sale.
- In your notice, discuss your purpose and exactly what the money will be used for. This will help justify the sale and add credibility.
- You may also want to talk about your sales goal and how many items each student will need to sell to reach it. This shows that you have a plan that’s well thought out. Plus, many parents are more apt to participate if they know there’s a present goal that’s reasonable.
- Why not also talk about your prize program? Often times, parents will want to know what their children will earn for selling. This can be particularly effective if you’re offering a different type of incentive that you haven’t previously offered.
- Many schools introduce their sale first at back to school night. This is a tremendous opportunity to get the word out to a large group of people.
2. Present a Compelling Reason to Fundraise
Why do you need your parents to participate in your fundraiser? Many schools expect them to help simply because:
- Everyone knows that schools needs money.
- Parents will feel obligated to improve their child’s school.
- It’s back to school time and everyone expects a fundraiser (We call this zombie fundraising).
On the other hand, to get parents more involved, and even motivated, you must appeal to their emotion. If you can get them to believe in your cause, you would be amazed at what can happen with your sale. To do that, your fundraiser must be able to meet a need that everyone can see and relate to. In other words, your purpose must be legitimate. When was the last time you polled your parents about what problems exist at your school and how to solve them?
3. Have Fewer School Fundraisers
There’s a reason schools end up having so many fundraisers. When that first sales packet comes home, they already know that it’s only the first of many. Many parents will choose which one they'll participate in, or not sell at all. What are the solutions?
- Promise your parents that there will be one, or at most, two sales a year. Think quality, not quantity. Fewer highly profitable fundraisers are better than several smaller ones. Commit to it in writing in a notice that goes home with your students. In addition, announce it at the beginning of the school year at you first parent night meeting.
- Plan to put extra time and work into the one or two campaigns that you commit to. The additional effort will pay off in the end, and the entire process will be over before you know it. See 7 Easy Steps to Successful Brochure Fundraising
- Stick to your initial commitment no matter what. It may take a year or two to gain parental trust that you really plan to limit the number of sales. You will find that more parents will jump on board as time goes on. They'll realize that they're not being overwhelmed with lots of fundraisers.
- Continue to make it clear that you’ll stop after 1 or 2 sales campaigns, no matter how much money you make. Everyone must learn to live with what’s brought in. If some people aren't satisfied, they can push the sale harder next year.
4. Offer a New Catalog with Better Quality Merchandise
- Promote a catalog that actually offers high-quality products that people ordinarily buy from a retail store.
- Sell something that will get people’s attention that’s completely new and different.
5. Motivate Sellers with a Unique Prize Program Idea
Every parent has the same reaction when they see the prize program. We roll our eyes, at least in our minds, once we see the prize program that our children are so excited about. Let’s face it; you can get better prizes at the dollar store. In fact, many parents end up doing that anyway so they can get out of having to sell. It’s obvious that people are tired of the same prize programs every year.
So are there viable options? Many schools have been using our big event fundraising prize programs and have learned that sending their children to a fun, and even educational, event is much more exciting than winning a cheap plastic toy.