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The Ten Common School Fundraising Mistakes

School fundraising is important. We all know that. Few school projects can take flight without the critically funding provided by the various fundraising initiatives launched by school PTAs or school PTOs. There are many types of fundraising initiatives and can be differentiated between product and non-product fundraisers. This article focuses on product sale fundraisers.
The reason why I feel an article like this is so critical is that turnover is so high in PTAs. With membership turning over almost entirely every year, mistakes and the lessons learned are rarely passed along. In order to help make all our school fundraisers more successful and launch all our necessary projects, I hope in creating this list that schools will better achieve their goals. So enough blabbering, here is the top ten list on the mistakes you ought to avoid and be successful from knowing it.

1) Promotion or the lack thereof School fundraisers that are well planned and researched often fall short in promotion. Marketing is critical for all successful businesses and is preached to all those in the business community. Making something is worthless if no one knows what you are doing. The message here is you definitely have to make a plan to promote your school fundraiser. Choose not to and you may as well not run one at all. A few ideas are letters sent home to parents or an email blast.

2) No Goal Choosing a goal, a realistic one, is important. School fundraising PTA's often set goals that are far too unrealistic, often on the high side. If you need to raise $X, you need to get an idea of how much you need to sell. A simple formula is X = Profit Margin x Sales. If you have a profit margin of 40% and need to raise $10,000, you will need to have your community pay $25,000 to you, assuming there are no other fixed costs. Putting it this way may will make for more realistic goals, goal that are achievable.

3) Not Communicating What You Are Raising Money For One thing everyone who buys a product from a school fundraiser wants to know is what am I helping to accomplish. Fundraisers for a school PTA are good, but to build a school garden might be more attractive. Communicate this in your promotion. All you volunteers will be more motivated to sell products and communicate the project to their customers if they believe in it. This also fits into planning, plan this in advance. Talk to everyone involved. Set a goal everyone will work together to achieve.

4) Selling The Wrong Thing You could have done points 1 to 3 perfectly but are selling coal (or any other unattractive thing). With many schools moving away from chocolate, you will have to look to offer things that are in deman. For example, Green Students Fundraising (green fundraising) offers green products which are in demand today. You may also want to focus on products that are staples, such as coffee or cleaners, that people already need to buy in times when the economy is doing poorly.

5) Focusing On The Wrong Numbers One thing most PTA's preach is profit margin and they are right, high profit margins are better than lower ones. More money from what is sold that stays with the group is best for the group. But there is one big caveat and here it is; selling products that are overpriced are far less attractive than those priced affordably. If you buy a chocolate bar for $1 and sell it for $2, your profit margin is 50%. If you sell it for $3, your profit margin is 66.7%. But in order to boost that profit margin, you are likely to turn away a lot of potential purchasers. What is often better is to offer fairly priced products. Remember, raising money isn't about profit margins, its about profit. And profit has two elements, profit margin and quantity. Sell more. Raise more.

6) Selling At The Wrong Time Talk to any elementary school parent and they will tell you this. School fundraisers come far too frequently. So frequently that they won't support their school's fundraisers at all. Most fundraisers happen in the fall. Jamming in many fundraisers is most definitely a bad idea. I'd suggest spreading fundraisers out over the year or running more successful fundraisers each time. Very few fundraisers work well at the end of the school year because parents have already given up. Running a green fundraiser around Earth Day in April can lend to a better solution.

7) Not Enlisting Enough Volunteers Fundraising can take a lot of effort. When choosing a fundraiser, remember there are multiple points where work is involved. The first is distributing any order forms and selling the product. The more volunteers here the better. The second step is collecting payment. For online systems, the volunteer time here won't be needed and is clearly a benefit. I would recommend to shy away still from online only fundraisers as catalogs are tried and tested. Finally, when the products are sent, they can go straight to the customer or you will have to sort them. If you have to sort the fundraising products, plan on having many volunteers. If the fundraising company takes care of it, sit back and relax. But remember this one thing, the more the company does, the less profit you are likely to receive.

8) Forgetting The Hidden Costs High profit margins are great. Everyone loves 50% profit margins. They look so attractive. But if its too good to be true, it probably is. This common saying lends itself to fundraising just as all others. Many 40+% fundraisers do one of the following: charge for shipping, charge taxes on top rather than taxes included, charge for order forms, charge for prizes or charge for even the order forms themselves. Be sure to ask in advance! This makes a world of difference.

9) Not Being Organized This rule is simple but easily overlooked. Many volunteers have other projects and things on the go and its easy to forgot to stay organized. Make a list of everything that needs to be done, by whom and by when. Check the list as it becomes complete. Have a backup plan if someone is sick or if there is more work than what is expected. It makes a world of a difference.

10) Forgetting About The Media Are you raising money in a special way? May groups at Green Students Fundraising raise money for special charities. Send a press release to the local media. This will get the kids on TV and excited and garner a lot more visibility to what you are trying to do. Hey, you might even get a land a spot on Oprah!

This list doesn't cover all the mistakes that school fundraisers often make but I hope it will make your fundraiser that much more successful. Have any tips or want to ask a question, you can shoot me an email by visiting my website below.

Good Luck! Green Corey

About the Author
Corey Berman is a recent graduate of Economics with a passion for steady-state economics which focuses on sustainability in economic development. He currently runs Green Students Fundraising, a company dedicated to greening and improving the school fundraising industry.

by Green Corey - April 9, 2009

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