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Ten Tips for Choosing a Fundraiser

by Ralfie Blasius

It's early September, and you've just had your first Booster Club meeting. As Treasurer, you're in charge of fundraising. Your group needs to raise $5000 for band uniforms and equipment. This has to be accomplished by December. You have twenty-five other parents and students available to help. What are you going to do?

The details will vary, but at some time many of us are faced with the daunting prospect of raising funds. It may seem overwhelming at first, but if you break it down into a series of questions, you will discover the best project(s) to help you raise the funds you need.

  1. Begin by determining your budget. How much cash do you need to generate? In our scenario, it is $5000. You need to choose a fundraising project or projects that will bring in enough cash to cover your needs. For instance, a bake sale would probably generate $100 - $500. You'd have to do additional projects to bring in the needed funds. Selling candy or some other product through the school or door to door could generate more cash, depending on how hard your group is willing to work. If you offered cleaning or some other type of services for $10/hour, it would take 20 hours of work for each of your 25 volunteers to reach your desired goal of $5000. If everyone were willing to give two or three Saturdays to complete this project, you'd reach your goal.

  2. Determine your time frame. How soon do you need the money? In our example, the Boosters need the money by December. It's already September, so you have approximately ten weeks in which to generate the funds. If you decide to offer cleaning services, you'll need to get busy right away. Form a committee to design flyers and distribute them at your school, church, and local grocery stores. Have a phone number your "customers" can call to schedule the work. List several Saturdays they can choose from to allow for optimal scheduling. Let your volunteers and supporters know as soon as you have your dates set. The earlier you get the word out, the better chances of maximum participation.

  3. Analyze your volunteer base. Question your volunteers honestly and openly. How many of them are willing to give the necessary 20 hours to help you realize your goal? Some may be able to give more time, some less. Get an estimated hour count from each person for how much time they will commit. You may need to tap into additional volunteer sources. Look for help outside of your immediate group. Are there brothers, sisters, or friends your group can contact to help expand your volunteer base? Get a firm commitment from everyone as to what they can do. Allow some flexibility for unforeseen changes and snags in schedules.

  4. Examine your resources and needs. What kinds of supplies and equipment will you need to perform this project? For a cleaning service, you will need cleaning products, rags, vacuums, and a lot of elbow grease. Let your customers know if you will be using their vacuum cleaners and brooms. This will keep your costs at a minimum. It would be wise to have some equipment of your own on hand for backup. Keep in mind that you need not buy all the equipment and supplies necessary for any event. When possible, arrange to borrow the items you need. Be considerate and return all equipment promptly and in good repair. You can also approach sponsors to donate, rent, or sell supplies to you at cost (see tip # 9).

  5. Check your community calendar for optimal timing of your event. Ask around. Do you have any competition for your project? If someone else in your area is offering the same project at the same time, make sure there is enough of a market to support both groups. Generally speaking, you will be approaching your "extended supporters" (i.e. your school, your church, your friends and neighbors). This should minimize overlapping with your competition. How is your timing in regards to your "customers"? A lot of people like to clean their homes in the fall in preparation for the winter months. This will work in your favor as you plan your fall cleaning services.

  6. Is this project consistent with your group's mission? Does your group have a mission statement? If not, take some time to examine your group's purpose. Why are you a group? What do you want to do? For instance, as the Booster Club for the School Band, your purpose is to support (both morally and financially) your school band. Cleaning homes to generate cash for the band seems to be consistent with your goals and intent. Areas to be careful about are those which may be inconsistent with your mission. (For instance, some groups are against gambling of any type, and may not allow Bingo, raffles, or lotteries).

  7. Are there any legal concerns or special permits necessary to perform your project? Check with your local ordinances to see if you have to get any kind of permit for your event. Most officials are happy to help a volunteer organization, and will give you the information you need. To be on the safe side, it would be wise to check with legal counsel to determine what your liability is in the event of a catastrophe. For instance, if someone is injured while cleaning a customer's house, who is responsible? Granted, this seems far-fetched, but it would behoove you to be aware of your liabilities so you can minimize your risks.

  8. Does your project lend itself to combination with another community event? For a cleaning service, this is probably not the case. Unless, of course, your community is sponsoring a "Fall Clean Up Day", and you can list your project as part of the citywide cleanup program. Community support is most critical when you need a lot of customers to generate sales, such as when you have a food or beverage stand. These fundraisers work best in conjunction with a festival, carnival, sporting event, fireworks, or similar event. In these instances, dovetailing with another event will increase your exposure and your sales, with little or no advertising on your part.

  9. Are there sponsors you could contact who would help to underwrite some or all of your expenses? You may want to approach a local cleaning supply company, tell them about your project, and ask them if they can donate the needed supplies, or at least sell them to you at a wholesale price. Let your sponsors know you appreciate them by giving them public recognition for their assistance. List them prominently on your flyer or on the receipts you give each customer for services rendered. Sponsorships help keep your overhead at a minimum and your profits at a maximum. Be sure to encourage your members and supporters to patronize your sponsors' businesses.

  10. Is there advertising you could sell to help offset expenses? In the cleaning service fundraiser, the advertising opportunities would be primarily in the form of small ads on your flyers or your sales receipts. You can easily sell advertising if you are providing any type of written product in connection with your event (flyers, sales receipts, programs, cookbook, yearbook, community calendar, address books, etc.) For big events, banners and signs are good advertising. As with the sponsors, let your advertisers know that you appreciate their support, and encourage people to patronize their businesses.

So there it is in a nutshell. With forethought and planning you can take the guesswork out of choosing a successful fundraiser. Think ahead, plan carefully, and reach for the stars! May your fundraising efforts succeed beyond your wildest dreams.

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About the Author:

As an office manager and active volunteer/fundraiser for over 20 years, Ralfie Blasius knows the importance of keen organizational skills. She and her husband Chip have a long history of activity in non-profit organizations including scouts, churches and other clubs.

Combining their business knowledge with their fundraising experiences, Chip and Ralfie have condensed the essence of many practical lessons on business, time, volunteer, and project management in their book, Fundraise Painlessly. The book is available through, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite bookstore.

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