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December 14, 2018

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Develop Next Year’s Fundraising Plan Now

by the AFRDS

Failure to plan is planning to fail. It's an old saying, but it holds true for just about any major project, including school fundraising. Now that spring is unfolding and summer vacation looms on the horizon, it's understandable that next year's fundraisers are not at the top of your list of priorities right now. You may have already signed a contract with a professional fundraising company for next fall's fundraiser. Hidden away in a file folder somewhere, you may even have a list of other fundraising ideas that you'll revisit sometime in the future. This is a start, but unfortunately it's not enough. Fundraising experts and experienced PTA leaders say spring is an ideal time to develop a solid game plan for the following year's fundraisers - and helps eliminate headaches down the road.

The latest research on school fundraising shows parent groups try a lot of different things to raise money. Eight out of 10 parent groups are collecting box tops and selling popular consumer items, such as gift wrap and cookie dough, each school year, according to an online poll of more than 300 parent groups. The research, conducted by the Association of Fund-Raising Distributors and Suppliers (AFRDS), also found that nearly half of all parent groups are collecting soup labels, running school carnivals and aligning themselves with well-known retailers for a share in profits. Other school-wide fundraisers include direct donations, restaurant family nights, raffles, auctions and "thons" (i.e., Read-a-Thon).

With so many fundraisers overlapping each other, school groups should have no problem raising all the money they need, right? Research suggests it's just the opposite. According to the AFRDS survey, parent groups that conduct fewer school-wide fundraisers raise more money. Among parent groups that raise more than $15,000 through school fundraising events, the majority (54%) limited the number of school-wide fundraisers to no more than four.

"The more fundraisers you do, the less participation you get on every one," said Ryan Cady, a fundraising professional in Florida. "Schools and communities would be better off if parent groups ran fewer fundraisers with better participation."

As you begin to plan for next year, it's important to take steps to prevent your PTA/PTO from getting stuck in the fundraising traffic jam and channel your energies toward projects that yield real results.

Choose the Best Fundraising Option

With so many fundraising options out there, how do you know which is the most effective? The AFRDS survey shows that selling popular consumer items consistently yields the best results compared to other types of fundraising drives. Among all parent groups polled, 64% said a product sale was the most profitable fundraising project, out-performing all other fundraising efforts. Furthermore, among those parent groups who conducted at least one product sale, 79% said it was the most profitable fundraising method employed by their organization.

"This new research confirmed our suspicions that product sales are still the best option for school groups looking to raise substantial funds in a short amount of time," said Vickie Mabry, executive director of AFRDS. According to AFRDS, schools earn nearly $2 billion each year through product sales.

Product sales are also one of the least labor-intensive ways to raise money. On average, product sales require only 7 volunteers, according to the AFRDS survey. By comparison, parent groups interested in organizing a carnival will need about 60 volunteers. Auctions and "thons" require more than two dozen volunteers each.

Spring Cleaning: Consider Tossing Some of Next Year's Fundraisers

Now that you know which type of fundraiser yields the best results, you can begin to cross off some of those other fundraising ideas that won't be worth your group's time and efforts. Perhaps more importantly, shortening the list of fundraising projects for next year will help prevent burnout and apathy among supporters and in the community.

"I counsel the parent groups I work with to take a long, hard look at each fundraising project they have planned for the coming year and encourage them to put their focus on the ones that do best for them," said Cindy Nicholson, a fundraising professional in Portland, OR. "I tell them they should cut out the 'little stuff - which helps avoid volunteer burnout - and urge them to focus on programs that make the most money. I always ask them 'why do four fundraisers when you can reach your goal with one?'"

Larry Grau, a PTO president at an Indianapolis middle school put it this way. "We have fewer volunteers than ever before, so we have to get the most bang for our buck by streamlining our fundraising efforts," he said. Grau's school conducts a product sale in the fall and a walk-a-thon in the spring. Grau said his school PTO funds multiple projects with the money raised during its two annual fundraising programs - including an outdoor ampitheatre and a nature trail.

Once you whittle down the total number of fundraising projects for next year, Nicholson recommends getting the word out early about the fundraisers you will conduct. "Encourage people to get involved," she said. "Get commitments from volunteers as soon as you can. This helps add life and energy to your program."

Mabry agrees and said, "By putting more effort behind those fundraisers that really work, parent groups will find that they can get better participation and stand a better chance of meeting their fundraising goals."

Springtime is the right time to plan for next fall's fundraising programs, according to industry professionals. There's no shortage of fundraising options to choose from, but research shows selling popular consumer items consistently yields the best results for parent-teacher groups in the U.S. Working with a professional fundraising company to conduct a product sale gives your group the best chance to reach its fundraising goals as long as you aren't creating your own fundraising traffic jam with a constant stream of "add-ons."

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About the Author:

This article is from the Spring 2008 issue of the Fundraising Edge, an online publication of the Association of Fund-Raising Distributors and Suppliers, and is reprinted with permission. Visit their web site at for more information and a look at the complete issues of the Fundraising Edge.

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