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If you work in a school or have school-aged kids, then you understand the importance of fundraising. The benefits of school fundraising go well beyond supplementing the school’s budget for things like field trips, enrichment programs, and facilities upgrades. When done right, school fundraisers also strengthen the bonds between schools, families, and the community, all while bringing in essential funds. Plus, they can be downright fun!

However, school fundraising can also be a major challenge when you don’t know where to turn. Successful fundraising takes a lot of planning, resources, communication, and buy-in from parents and community members.

At Booster, we’ve spent 19 years in the field, building a wealth of expertise about what kinds of fundraisers can bring the most success to your school community. We’ve compiled that expertise into this comprehensive guide. Keep reading to learn more about why school fundraising matters, our favorite school fundraising ideas, and some tips and best practices to get your fundraisers in shape.

What is school fundraising? 

As the name implies, school fundraising is the practice of raising funds to supplement a school’s budget. Fundraising activities are typically organized by volunteer groups such as PTAs and booster clubs and can range from product sales to community events to calls for direct donations. Schools use these funds to meet any school needs not covered by the school’s budget, including supplies and equipment, enrichment programs, extracurricular activities, and more.

Why is school fundraising important? 

Unfortunately, schools in the U.S. are vastly underfunded. Budget cuts after the Great Recession hit schools hard, and the trend has only continued. The truth is, most elementary and secondary schools today do not have enough funds to provide the educational experiences their students need. According to one study, schools are underfunded by nearly $150 billion annually! 

In light of this situation, school fundraising has become one of the most important ways to support a range of student needs, including:

  • Enrichment programs: Arts and STEM programs are crucial for providing students with a well-rounded education. Unfortunately, these programs can suffer when school budgets shrink. Fundraising helps make these programs a reality, providing invaluable enrichment to students’ academic experience.
  • Extracurricular activities: Extracurricular clubs like chess and debate teams need funds to participate in their activities, including funding for travel, materials, and more. Such activities are vital to students’ academic lives, social lives, and physical and mental health, and school fundraising is often what makes them possible.
  • The purchase of supplies and equipment: Funds raised by PTAs/PTOs often go toward purchasing the basic materials students need to learn, including books and new technology, such as computers.
  • Upgrades to school facilities: Fundraising can support new playground equipment, renovations, beautification efforts, and more to make the school property safer and more accommodating.

The list above represents only a fraction of the many ways school fundraisers help support student, school, and community needs.

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How does school fundraising work? 

School fundraising activities are typically orchestrated by parent teacher associations (PTAs), parent teacher organizations (PTOs), or school administration and leadership.  Many school fundraising bodies partner with school fundraising companies like Booster that can provide the expertise, infrastructure, and planning needed to kick off a great fundraiser.

But what exactly do these fundraisers entail? As we will explore below, school fundraising ideas can take many different forms depending on the needs and assets of your school.

What are the best school fundraisers?

There is a wide range of types of fundraisers to choose from. Every kind of fundraiser comes with its own strengths and challenges in terms of how to plan for it, how much staffing is needed, how long it will take to implement, and how much money it is likely to raise. Some low-end fundraisers can be accomplished with a hands-off approach, while others require careful management at every step. What works best for one school or fundraising organization might not work as well for another, so each school should assess its needs and assets carefully when considering the best school fundraisers.

Below are some of the most popular school fundraising ideas, along with their pros and cons.

Fun Runs/Jog-a-thons  

Fun runs and jog-a-thons are among the most popular fundraisers across many sectors, not just schools. One of the strengths of this type of fundraiser is that it centers on physical fitness. Participants get the chance to get outdoors and be active in a fun, non-competitive setting. 

Physical events do have drawbacks to be aware of. Because these events center on physical activity, organizers need to take extra precautions to protect the safety of participants. This may mean providing water or food, setting up nurse stations, and/or having medical staff on hand. And, of course, hosting a physical (in-person) event requires even more precautions while COVID-19 is a threat.

Fun runs and other physical activities also require space. You’ll need to carefully plan for the location of your event. Will it be held on school grounds, or will you need to get permits to hold the event off-campus?

Finally, you’ll need to make sure you have enough volunteers on hand the day of the event, including people to set up, supervise, and tear down any physical materials. 

Auctions

Charity auctions are another tried-and-true fundraising option that can work great for schools—with this type of fundraiser, schools auction off donated items or experiences, using the participants’ bids to supplement the school’s budget. An auction night can help schools raise a lot of money at once while also providing a fun experience for guests (i.e., parents and community members). Schools can choose to host live auctions or silent auctions, in which bidders use bidding sheets or apps to make bids.

One advantage of this school fundraising idea is that auctions can easily be adapted to a virtual format, so fundraising bodies don’t have to worry about finding a space to host the event. Or, organizations can choose to implement auction software at a live event to make the process more efficient and convenient.

The biggest challenge of hosting an auction for school fundraising is making sure the items or experiences you’re auctioning are enticing enough to get significant bids. If you’re hosting a live event, you’ll need lots of resources to both plan and host the event, including finding an auctioneer. Finally, if any part of your auction will occur online, you’ll need to choose the right software and carefully check all technical equipment to make sure the event runs smoothly.

Bake Sales

Bake sales have long been one of the most popular fundraising ideas for schools because, like auctions, they rely on donated products. Bake sales work by having volunteers - usually parents or other community members - provide baked goods to then be sold at a community event. A bake sale can be a great opportunity for community bonding, and everyone loves a good brownie or cookie.

However, there are several important considerations to make when planning a school bake sale. You’ll need to organize a sign-up stage and provide clear guidance on what kinds of baked goods you need, that way you end up with a good amount and variety of items. You’ll also need to staff the event and carefully plan your location. Finally, you’ll need to check your local health codes to make sure your bake sale doesn’t break any laws or make anyone sick.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding has exploded in popularity and can be a great fundraising option for schools. This is because crowdfunding works by collecting relatively small donations from large numbers of donors. Since crowdfunding typically happens online, the potential reach is much higher than an in-person event.

One of the most important factors in the success of a crowdfunding campaign is the platform you use to host and share the fundraiser. Countless websites and platforms exist to help the public set up crowdfunding for all kinds of purposes beyond schools, so it’s important to consider the pros and cons of each. Some schools may want to use a platform specifically designed for school fundraisers, like Booster’s Booster Tech, to streamline and enrich the pledge process.

It’s also a good idea to use crowdfunding for specific projects rather than general funding. Donors are more likely to pledge when they know exactly where their money is going.

Spirit Wear Fundraiser

School spirit wear is one of the best ways to raise funds for schools and classrooms since participants get something in return for their contribution. Selling shirts and other spirit wear featuring school colors and fun designs allow parents and community members to show off their support. Booster makes selling spirit wear easy by helping you design and set up your online school store, processing and shipping orders, and making sure you don’t pay for leftover inventory.

Restaurant Nights

Restaurant nights are a great school fundraising idea for bringing people together and involving the community while raising a lot of money for your school. Also called dine-to-donate, restaurant give-back nights, or spirit nights, these fundraising events work by having a group of people with a goal or cause dine at a restaurant on the same night, then the restaurant donates a portion of the proceeds to support the cause.

Because restaurant nights are so popular, there are countless restaurants that will partner with schools to host such events. Some schools establish long-standing relationships with restaurants to host such events annually or multiple times per year. If you’re considering this school fundraising idea, make sure your fundraising group establishes good communication with the partner restaurant.

Car Wash

A car wash is a win-win for the school and the community since donors receive a service in exchange for their donations. It can also be a fun social event for participants, often students, while getting them outside and moving.

While a car wash is relatively inexpensive and easy to organize, it does still require careful planning. You’ll need to promote the event, choose a location that will draw in customers, provide cleaning supplies, enlist enough volunteers to wash the cars, and make sure you have access to a hose or water system.

Box Tops Campaign

The Box Tops for Education program has been helping schools raise funds for many years. Traditionally, schools enroll in a Box Tops campaign to receive ten cents for every participating product shoppers buy. Now, they’ve adapted to the digital age by allowing shoppers to scan their receipts with an app or submit digital receipts rather than saving and sending in physical Box Top labels. A Box Tops campaign is an easy, convenient way to supplement your school’s budget with virtually no planning or work required beyond the initial enrollment stage.

Schools can typically make the most money by diversifying their fundraising efforts and pursuing a combination of school fundraising ideas. For example, a school might host a few resource-intensive events, such as fun runs and restaurant nights, while also maintaining lower effort crowdfunding campaigns through a hands-off platform such as Booster’s Booster Tech.

School fundraising best practices 

Making the most of a school fundraiser requires careful planning and execution. Below are some best practices for any school fundraising idea:

  1. Identify specific goals. As mentioned above, donors like to know where their money is going. It’s also important to align your fundraising methods with the amount of funds you need. Start by identifying the specific needs the fundraiser will be supporting, whether it’s buying new computers or funding a school trip. If your school is looking to bring in major funds to support a large initiative or fund your entire budget, Boosterthon might be for you! 
  2. Align school fundraising ideas with your goals. Once you’ve determined your fundraising goals, choose school fundraising ideas that will help you best meet those goals. For example, a DIY crowdfunding campaign generally works best for specific projects, whereas you may be able to use a spirit wear store for general funds. 
  3. Form a planning committee. Your fundraising body, such as the PTA/PTO, likely has many fundraising projects to manage throughout the year. It’s important to decide who will be working on what project and when. Within each committee, assign roles and responsibilities carefully so that everyone knows their part
  4. Determine how you will promote the fundraiser. With all the volunteer hours and resources that go into a successful school fundraiser, it’s crucial to make sure people know about it so that you can actually reap the benefits. Have a plan in place for how you will get the word out about your campaign or even, including brochures, social media, etc.
  5. Evaluate the success of the fundraiser. The best way to improve your school fundraisers is to evaluate the successes and failures of past campaigns. After each fundraiser, have the planning committee discuss what worked well and what didn’t and record these discussions for future planning.

How to promote a school fundraiser

Even the best-planned fundraiser can’t succeed if people don’t know about it. Today, getting the word out about school fundraisers means taking advantage of all the communication channels available, especially the internet. The following tips can help you spread the word and maximize donations:

  • Assign someone to head promotion efforts. It’s a good idea to have someone or a group of people in charge of promotion, i.e., planning the promotion efforts, drafting and producing promotional materials, sharing information to social media, etc.
  • Have a promotional plan. It’s not enough to simply share a few posts the week of an event. Part of the planning process of your fundraiser should include a specific timeline of your promotional efforts, such as how far in advance you will begin promotion, how often you will post on social media or send emails, etc.
  • Share on social media. Social media is a must when it comes to promoting events these days. Use multiple social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, to gain a wider reach.
  • Utilize hashtags. When sharing on social media, maximize your reach by using hashtags related to your school, community, or event.
  • Make promotional campaigns personal. Don’t just share the details and goals of your event - share photos and videos to let donors see who or what they’re supporting.
  • Reach donors where they are. It’s best to use a variety of communication channels to get the widest reach. Take time to understand who your potential donors are and how they prefer to receive information. You will likely end up combining efforts such as email newsletters, social media posts, brochures, and/or a campaign website, depending on the type of fundraiser.

building blocks of fundraising

The benefits of working with a school fundraising company 

Traditional school fundraising requires hundreds of volunteer hours, from planning to execution to evaluation. Different school fundraising ideas require different planning and organization steps, and schools typically rely on multiple fundraising efforts at once to meet all their fundraising goals. All of this can put immense strain on volunteers who may be balancing other responsibilities.

By partnering with a fundraising company like Booster, you can let the experts handle some of the more time-consuming aspects of your fundraiser, such as planning and execution, so that you can focus on the most important thing: your fundraising goals. In fact, Booster’s fundraising options can help you combine multiple goals into one fundraiser to maximize your efforts. Learn more about how Booster can help take your school fundraising to the next level.

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