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The Importance of Setting Realistic Goals

by the AFRDS

Her son's school needed two new baseball fields and Kim Whittemore didn't have the patience to wait for the glacial pace typical for most school acquisitions. So her first move as the brand new PTA president for the Cumming, GA, elementary school was an obvious one. She went to the the local county parks and recreation department; found out how much money it would take to build the fields; and took her proposal to the school's PTA and principal.

"Everybody was behind it. The students. The teachers. The parents," says Whittemore. She didn't know it at the time, but Kim's "first move" was a masterstroke in fundraising according to professionals in the field.

"There's nothing more important to a fundraiser's success than a meaningful goal. If its something they believe in, parents and kids will always rise to the occasion," according to Russ Colombo, vice president of sales for a regional fundraising firm based in Houston, TX.

Jesse Kenney, owner of a fundraising company in Watkinsville, GA, agrees. "We can't really get started until we know more about the group's goals."

Indeed, Whittemore's school rallied behind the baseball field project netting $40,000 in school profits (instead of the required $30,000) leaving enough money to eliminate a spring fundraiser and still pay for the school's planned sock hop and tennis tournament.

"If you build it, they will come"

Jesse Kenney's company had the formidable task of working with Whittemore's school to raise the necessary funds to build the baseball fields. And they did their homework.

"One of the first things we try to do is keep everybody focused on the Big Picture. How much money do you need and what kind of program and service mix is going to get you there?" reports Kenney. He knows before he arrives at any school, what the enrollment is and, has a good idea (based on experience) of the average number of items each family is likely to sell. Taking those numbers and the profits the school will make per item sold, Kenney can predict for the sponsor how much they can expect to put in the bank at the end of a fundraising sale.

"Do a few and do them well"

The key to fundraising success, according to Kenney and others, is participation -- a chronic problem in those schools where too many fundraisers have led to burnout. Colombo warns groups to make sure their goals are realistic and that people have time to "recover" before launching another fundraiser. "If people come to expect one fundraiser after another, they won't know which one to grab on to. They'll say 'I'll wait for the next one' and they never get it done."

It's a mantra heard among successful fundraising experts: Do a few and do them well. When faced with lofty fundraising goals, Colombo, a former coach, approaches his groups with a year-round plan featuring two major product sales - one in the fall and one in the spring - interspersed with only a couple of service projects that promote camaraderie, like a car wash and a spaghetti dinner. "That way volunteers still feel good about what they're doing without jeopardizing the overall impact of product sales which, frankly, are the bigger money makers."

Once a band director himself, Kenney, also knows how to build enthusiasm and motivate kids. According to Whittemore, "We gave Jesse a few minutes in an assembly with each grade level to explain the particulars," says Whittemore. "It was more like a pep rally for the school, the baseball fields, and what we were all going to do to make it happen." She reports that her "field of dreams fundraiser" had 95% participation with each family selling an average of 11 items each. Better yet, six weeks later the North Georgia school had two new baseball fields.

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About the Author:

This article is from the March 2000 issue of the Fundraising Edge, an online publication of the Association of Fund Raisers and Direct Sellers 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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