3 Reasons School Fundraising Prizes Decrease Participation

Learn 3 consequences of using school fundraiser prize programs and the often lower participation that ensues

Doesn’t it seem contradictory that school fundraising prizes can actually decrease student participation? They’re supposed to do the opposite. Students should be excited to have the opportunity to win a prize in exchange for selling items out of a sales catalog.

If you’ve ever seen elementary students at a kickoff assembly, what are they most thrilled about? Of course, the prizes.

Now, to be clear, top seller rewards are exempt from this article. We’re not focusing on these types of incentives. Normally these are carefully picked out by the sponsor who understands the latest toy or gadget that everyone’s talking about. The top seller prize is usually higher in quality has to be good.

We’re talking about the prize programs provided by most fundraiser companies. These are prizes that are displayed at the kickoff rally and that appear in the prize flyer that goes home in the student’s packet.

Experienced company reps that show up to do the kickoff know exactly how to present the prizes. The bigger prizes are on display on a table. To add suspense, they may even be covered up. The rep initially demonstrates how the smaller prizes work. The prizes that show best are the ones that move. For example, a toy may be able to fly around the room. This puts everyone into a tizzy.

It seems that everyone wants it by all of the yelling and screaming in the room. And once the bigger prizes are revealed, the students are besides themselves. The screaming turns into a roar. They can’t wait to get started.

Everyone’s eager to check out the prize flyer inside their sales packet. They can’t wait to get home so they can tell their parents that they need to help them sell.

So what’s the big deal? It seems on the surface that these prize programs should be able to get everyone to join in. So how can school fundraising prizes possibly decrease student participation?

To help answer that question, we’ve compiled 3 reasons that we feel many schools have been questioning them.

1. Few Sellers Get the Big Prizes

The harder you work, the better the reward. That’s the way it should be, right? Everyone leaves the fundraiser assembly excited because of the big prizes. There’s not a student in the school that doesn’t want one. Optimism is high and the students are eager, at least initially.

However, once they get home and actually have a chance to see how much they need to sell to get the big prizes, things change in a hurry. Excitement and optimism soon turns to disillusionment and disappointment. Johnny’s going to have to sell to everyone at church on Sunday, let alone all of his friends and family.

For the perseverant, this can teach important lessons about staying the course, but for most, it’s simply not worth it. Many students will start off strong, but most will fade and end up selling far less than they thought they would. However, most won’t even get off the fence and sell at all once they see the requirements.

As it turns out, out of those who do sell, the vast majority only end up selling enough to win the lowest level prizes.

Discover ways to improve school fundraiser participation

2. Seller Apathy in Older Students

It’s not the first-timers who are apathetic. They haven’t experienced the disappointment yet. It’s the older students. They can remember their experience from last year. Frustrated and disappointed about winning a cheap and junky prize, it’s just not worth it to them. Many older students are just not willing to sell again.

It’s been proven that the younger primary grades carry the sales load for any given elementary school fundraiser. This equates to thousands in lost profit potential for the school. Because of the drop off in selling with older students, overall participation can be as low as 10-15% for many schools.

Many schools are grateful with a $15,000 sale. But if they truly understood the math and how much they could really make; they would be disappointed.

Learn about supplemental fundraising incentive strategies

3. Cheap Prize Complaints

What’s the biggest complaint schools hear about the prizes? They’re cheap and they break after the first use. Many toys don’t even work to begin with. Some parents laugh it off as something to be expected. The novelty wears off so quickly that even if a prize breaks, it's quickly thrown in the trash regardless. The good thing is, sponsors never hear from those people.

Others take it a little more seriously. Because the majority of students who end up participating win these prizes, schools are likely to hear at least a few complaints. This becomes a hassle for the school because they have to deal with the grievances. The last thing sponsors want to deal with is having to replace prizes. But worse, many of these parents will choose not to participate next time and the school will never know why.

So how is this justified? Many companies say that the prizes are designed to get the students excited, which will generate the momentum needed to make sales. The results are ultimately up to the school to keep the students motivated and the students to get out and sell.

This same justification about cheap prizes is often used to explain away objections about higher-priced, low-quality merchandise found in sales brochures. Why should people have to pay more when they can pay less for something similar at the store? The truth is, most prizes found in traditional prize programs can be purchased at the local dollar store.

Unfortunately most company prizes are low quality for a reason. After accounting for the school’s profit along with other business expenses, companies have to make money as well. That only leaves so much in the budget for prizes.

The bottom line is that many schools are tired of having to deal with complaints from parents and students who receive cheap prizes. But the real damage is the consequence of using this type of prize program and the often low participation that ensues.

So do company fundraiser prize programs work? To answer that question you should probably take a poll from the schools that have used them. Schools that select them typically make a higher profit percentage and end up compromising on the quality of the prizes. But does this strategy end up raising them more money?

What many don't realize is that there are better prize programs available that have been proven to motivate more students to participate in school fundraisers.

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