• Melanie Notaras

What is a good school fundraiser?

Updated: Aug 13


Wow, what a question. While you're asking, do you mind first holding this piece of string for me? Now tell me how long it is and what you want to tie?

I'm trying to say that a good school fundraiser depends on that you want to get from it. Are you looking for:

  1. Enough profit so you only have to run one fundraiser per year?

  2. A good amount of profit with several events that can contribute to your overall school fundraising?

  3. A fundraiser that can complement or take advantage of an existing school event or community holiday celebration?

  4. A fundraiser that’s easy to organise?

  5. A fundraiser that is healthy, educational, ethical or environmentally responsible?

  6. A fundraiser that focuses on community engagement or teaching something valuable as the main profit (but makes enough money to cover the costs of running the event)?

Let’s take a look at the styles and generate some ideas about what might suit your school.

Category 1: Enough profit so you only have to do one fundraiser per year.

What’s your fundraising goal? Most public schools are happy with $20,000-$30,000 in one year, so you’d need to generate that much profit in one event. Is it possible? Yes! You can do this by running:

a) A large fun fair with many stalls and mechanised rides, which can bring in a turnover of $60,000+ in one day. Sounds great, but can your school do it? Items to consider:

  • the start-up costs are high – check prices but when our school looked at it a couple of years ago the upfront costs were at least $10,000 to $15,000 to hire the rides plus insurance;

  • your school is likely to need planning approval from your Council, due to the heavy traffic generation on the event day;

  • profitability depends on pre-selling a determined amount of high cost ride tickets which can usually only be achieved by schools in wealthy socio-economic areas.

  • huge numbers of volunteers are required – generally the entire school parent body and maybe even the older kids – working for months before the day (organization, plus making and donating handicrafts to sell at stalls) as well as on the day itself (stall hands, games controllers, traffic/parking management, cashiers, safety, clean up etc);

  • you might not get parents volunteering if they can’t afford to bring their kids along for the day too – ie can’t afford to purchase high cost ride tickets for all their kids, or can't afford/unable to organise babysitting as both parents will need to attend. Other parents might work shift/weekends so can't take time off work;

  • they’re often only run every 2 years because everyone is so burned out (and everyone needs a year to recover from the stress). So that means your fair has to make 2 years’ worth of profit in one day.

b) Hold a professional artists’ art fair, charging a commission on sales. This is an interesting option some tiny schools in non-metro areas have been using in recent years, achieving up to $25,000 profit for the day. Less work and upfront cost than a mechanised fair, these tend to be run on an annual basis. Items to consider:

  • It depends on your ability to source and establish connections with a network of professional artists who will be willing to participate;

  • Profitability depends on being able to draw in large numbers of high wealth patrons to your art show who are eager to spend;

  • You will need someone good at marketing (including network promotion throughout the year) to be involved;

  • Your school would need to be situated close to or inside an area where high wealth (upper middle class) patrons live (usually a metropolitan area), will need to have a nice venue (a hall), and ample car parking;

  • Because of the complexity of organisation required and the importance of networking, it would be advantageous to have a stable art committee membership, who can serve for several years;

  • It will probably take several years for your event to establish enough of a reputation to scale up to draw enough good artists and patrons to generate a large profit amount;

  • It might be difficult to establish a new art fair if there are others competing in your area;

  • It requires high levels of organisation by a committee and volunteers to set up/dismantle the venue, plus run the day, as well as electronic payment facilities.

c) Silent Auction – very wealthy schools might raise $50,000 or more in one night. Items to consider include:

  • you need a parent body and donation network of high wealth individuals. While any school can run a silent auction, it’s only likely that wealthy private schools are able to solicit parents or companies to donate expensive prizes that will push the total auction value up. They’re also likely to have the only parents who can afford to pay the bid amounts;

  • a large amount of organisation by a committee of volunteers is required. Given the ‘pedigree’ of the auction, a nice venue with ample parking will be required also.

Because of these high set up costs, most school fundraisers fall into categories (2) – (5). Fall into category (6) and you can probably charge a small upfront amount to cover the cost anyway.

Category 2: A good amount of profit with several events that can contribute to your overall school fundraising.

You would probably hold four or five of these fundraisers and expect to make between $2000-$6000 on each. Ideas include:

a) Trivia Nights – not just a ticket to enter the night to answer trivia questions, but you can make extra profit such as winning clues (by making donations), playing coin related games (toss coins into cup, best table wins a clue), running a raffle on the night or offering higher value donated prizes for a lower sale price (eg buy a $25 donated prize for $10). We ran a few of these with 60-80 parents attending and would generate $2000-$3500 profit. Profit will vary depending on ability of parents to afford to spend. Items to consider:

  • you need a hall, tables and chairs to run it;

  • whether to allow alcohol on the night or not (and whether to supply it at a charge, or allow BYO. If you supply, will you need a liquor licence or a licenced person to serve?);

  • you will need volunteers to seek raffle prize donations;

  • you will have more success with a school body that is already social, because people tend to buy tickets only if their friends do too.

b) Car Boot Sale / Rummage Sale - These are great because it’s a chance to get money from the general public, rather than from your school parents. It’s also a great way to recycle unwanted items! Schools that run these charge between $30-$50 per car space/stall. In my school’s experience of running these (we’d run them twice a year), about half our profit was from stallholder charges, the other half from stalls the school ran (mostly the barbecue, cake stall and a raffle; we also ran a jumping castle, face painting, our own bric-a-brac stall and some games). Our profit: $4,500- $5,800. Items to consider:

  • this takes A LOT of organisation by a small committee, with many volunteers needed on the day;

  • you may need Council permission if the event will generate a lot of traffic; you may need special insurance for the event;

  • there are upfront costs associated with buying food for the barbecue, and you need a cool area (refrigerator) to store your meat, eggs, onions etc;

  • what will you do with excess stock (food, goods)? Do you have a place to store them until they can be used for another event? If not, you might make a loss;

  • you need to mobilise your army of school bakers to ensure you have a good cake supply on the day (and instruct them on what type of cakes sell best);

  • needs about 3 months’ preparation, mostly to get the word out to stallholders so they book the date in;

  • you need a large outdoor area to run it, as people drive their cars in (to bring their goods). Do you have space? Will the wear and tear be too great?

  • you need good weather (difficult to predict when you first decide on the date). Stallholders and customers don’t turn up (or quickly pack away) in a downpour.

Category 3: A fundraiser that can complement or take advantage of an existing school event or community holiday celebration.

These might be holidays like Easter, Christmas, Halloween; culturally significant days such as Mothers’ or Fathers’ Day, Thanksgiving or NAIDOC Week; existing school events like art shows, talent shows, end of year ceremonies; or cultural education events such as Book Week and Science Week, or a regional festival (often centered around art) like the Adelaide Arts Festival.

What fundraising events can be run? Here's what you could consider:

  • Chocolate Easter egg raffles - raffle baskets are often excessively filled to the brim with chocolate so therefore are unhealthy. It's dangerous to and excludes kids with food allergies, and parents are increasingly disgruntled by the unhealthy food messages. But they are easy to organise and profitable to run - eggs are usually donated by students;

  • Easter Hat Parade with nominal entry fee - low profit, easy to organise – except perhaps for time-pressed parents who might end up making the hats;

  • Halloween fun house - hard to organise, lots of fun for students and generally inclusive, can be scary for younger students, can advocate it as a candy free event so is inclusive to food allergic children, may not make much profit;

  • Halloween Disco - moderate organisation, loud noise and after-school hours might not suit everyone, it's fun to dress up for most kids and a safe Halloween party location;

  • Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day breakfasts, afternoon teas or even lunches - lots of organisation, may not have a good turnout, standard of food should be high or will result in parent dissatisfaction (people think with their stomachs!);

  • NAIDOC Week – opportunity for Indigenous cultural events, crafts or incursions, charging a ticket price.

  • Art Shows, Talent Shows – can charge entry tickets or a charge-back to buy your child’s artwork (both of these can upset parents; you might have less parent participation). You can add value by including an adult buffet, art kits for students, or My School Adventure’s customised adventure novel for schools (“The Art Show That Came To Life At [Your School Name Here]” including 4 real teachers as characters and 22 different endings).

  • End of Year Celebrations / Graduations – it's not usually considered good manners to charge a ticket price to watch your child win a prize, but raffles are very acceptable to organise prior, and to draw the winners on the day (consider that you need volunteers to seek donations as prizes and to sell tickets, so at least two months’ lead time required);

  • Book Week – sponsored readathons, My School Adventure’s customised adventure novel for schools, paid author incursions, create and publish a class book of stories.

  • Science Week – hold a science fair, science Q&A competions; and shortly to be released, My School Adventure’s newest adventure novel “The Science Fair That Went Berserk At [Your School Name Here]”.

  • Other cultural significant events – hold a minor version of significant regional or cultural events at your school at the same time as the major one! Or provide your hall as a venue (receive rent or a commission in return).

Category 4: A fundraiser that’s easy to organise.

Does your school have an active school-parent body, and is your Principal / Head Teacher enthusiastic about their ideas? If not, these are probably the biggest organisational delays as your fundraising ideas will probably be met with hesitation, hair-splitting or a flat-out NO. You also need to consider whether you will be required to seek town/council/local government planning and additional insurance which will take weeks to be approved. Thirdly, if your event requires a large amount of volunteers (both people and hours) to get the project done, or if you need to market to participants outside of the school community, this will also usually require more organisation and a longer lead time, maybe months.

Easier fundraisers could be a night out at a restaurant for families / mums / dads (with a commission back to the school), coupon collections (if available in your area), movie/popcorn nights, sleepover at school, walkathons / lapathons / danceathons in the school yard, selling cute stationery that kids will use and love, and lots more. Okay, yes, cupcake sales and sausage sizzles are pretty easy to organize too, but barbecues in particular require a lot of clean up and cupcake sales … and, do we really want to be putting more sugar regularly into our children’s mouths?

Oh and I nearly forgot ... My School Adventure’s customised adventure novel is super easy to organise by 1 volunteer in just 2 – 4 hours, just sayin'. And you’ll make a great profit without any risk from it too.

Category 5: A fundraiser that is healthy, educational, ethical or environmentally responsible.

There are more of these than you think – in fact, I’ve thought of 121! Too many to write here, but if you’d like the list I've written a post about it - CLICK HERE and get the download.

Why do we want healthy, educational or environmentally responsible fundraisers? Maybe it’s not obvious, but for many people fundraising is more than just about money. It’s about :

  • setting good examples for children,

  • teaching children ethics,

  • teaching children to value their environment,

  • not spending hard earned family money on rubbish (or filling your house with the same),

  • not encouraging sugar addiction or poor food values,

  • showing inclusiveness by not discriminating against children from less wealthy families,

  • showing inclusiveness by not placing in danger children with food allergies, or alienating children with religious restrictions or children from healthy families,

  • benefiting children in terms of education, health or physically (actually, all three are intertwined), and

  • attracting a new membership to your parent body community who feel that the school and parent body is synchronised with their personal health and educational beliefs - and these people are motivated to help!

Can you think of any school fundraiser that fills all these goals? I know a great fundraiser that reinforces education and is well produced. It's a long lasting product with many hours of enjoyment that can be easily recycled when your child is finally tired of it. It doesn’t discriminate against the wealth levels of student families because everyone pays the same price, and it inspires community and fun in your school. Oh, and it's super easy to run with only 1 volunteer! Can you guess which fundraiser I'm talking about?

My School Adventure customises gamebook adventure novel The Art Show That Came To Life At [Your School Name Here] to schools including 4 real teachers as characters and 22 different endings, as a unique and exciting reading fundraiser for schools. Stay tuned for our second novel, The Science Fair That Went Berserk At [Your School Name Here]. For more information on how we can assist your school please visit www.myschooladventure.com.

Interested in more? You can connect with My School Adventure on Facebook and Pinterest, or with author Melanie Notaras on LinkedIn or Twitter.