Back to School Fundraising: 21 Experts Share Ideas and Advice

back to school fundraising ideas

Fresh Back to School Fundraising Ideas

Are you ready to kick off your fundraising season?  Are looking for some fresh ideas and advice to help raise the bar in your fundraising efforts?

Yes, it is that time of year again when the kids are back in school and summer fun is a distant memory.  It is also time to get back to focusing on fundraising to meet the goals of your group or organization.  To assist you in getting your fundraising season off to a great start, we asked several experts from all areas of fundraising to share some of their best “Back to School” fundraising ideas, tips and advice.

Even if you are not a school organization or you have your fundraisers all planned out, you may want to continue reading to see what some of the fundraising professionals have to offer to help make your events the best they can be.  Know that a lot of nonprofit organizations are affected by the school calendar year and that many of the ideas included are not just geared towards schools.  Therefore, there may be more ideas that apply here and can benefit you than you think.  We have learned that even one great tip can result in additional generated funds, increased supporter satisfaction, happier volunteers and overall less work for you.  Sounds good, right?

So, let’s get this Back to School Fundraising class started and see what the experts have to say. Similar to roll call in school, we have listed our expert submissions by alpha based on their last names as many of these submissions fall into more than one fundraising component.

Kevin Baughen 

Kevin Baughen | Bottom Line Ideas

ADVICE: Successful School Fundraising

Key Principals that we know have underpinned all the successful school fundraising we’ve seen:

  • Let the students decide which cause to support – votes, competitions or even a debate with visits from the charities concerned. If the students own the project, they will nearly always be more successful.
  • Even, better, work on a charity program over a term or academic year that means everyone can really get involved with the cause.
  • Make sure the charity shares the outcomes directly in a way the students can understand so they “feel” that their efforts are going to make a difference.
  • Make sure you have enough activities to interest as wide a range of students as possible – it’s not all sport or art or jumble sales.
  • Celebrate success and publicly thank the biggest or most significant contributors in a meaningful way (whatever that is for the school concerned).
  • Make time in the school day if possible – even only occasionally still means the students take the project far more seriously.

If the school is fundraising for themselves, this is usually the purview of parents and families and whilst most of the above apply, there needs to be more to it than “the hockey team fancies a tour to Hong Kong so can we have some money please”.  Here it's key to get the students to own the activities and drive success themselves as they have a vested interest in the outcomes.

Kevin Baughen is the founder of Bottom Line Ideas and it’s his passion for ideas that actually work in the real world that underpins all of the services the team offers. Over the last 20 years he has worked with and for charities, large corporates, small enterprises and public-sector bodies and has held pretty much every relevant position from Marketing Assistant to Director.

Jessica Bernstein

 

Jessica Bernstein | Marketing Manager | MobileCause

IDEA: Hand Painted Bowl Fundraiser

I get excited when organizations and educational institutions seek new ideas for fundraising. The thing about fundraising is that–like the rest of the world–it is transitioning to mobile. Mobile fundraising is a new and improved approach to a traditional method of raising revenue and building relationships with supporters.

My greatest piece of advice for schools is to go mobile! Look for a mobile fundraising software plan that includes integrated cloud-based platforms with zero additional transaction fees and the lowest flat credit card processing rates to ensure you keep as much of your hard-earned money as possible.

A fun, multi-purpose event fundraising idea that we are loving is the ‘bowl fundraiser.’

  • Each attendee gets a hand-painted bowl (K12 students or Higher Ed ceramics classes can contribute these) to sample or choose from a variety of foods that one would normally eat in a bowl. The food selection can be customized to the season, event theme, cause, etc.

Some examples of food selection:

  • Cereal – easy and great for any age, but might appeal more to K12’s
  • Chili – have parents or school clubs hold a chili cook-off & let attendees use Text-to-Donate keywords with small suggested donation amounts for people to cast votes for their favorites. The person/group with the most donations wins!
  • Soup – get local eateries to donate soups for attendees to sample

This event pairs perfectly with a silent auction or school carnival (or both!). It is a low-cost event that has potential for big ROI for any size organization or school.

Clay Boggess 

Clay Boggess | Big Fundraising Ideas

ADVICE: Setting Goals and Tracking Product Fundraising

Our focus is on encouraging small groups to use the fundraising ideas that they feel will be most successful.  For the most part, sponsors already come to us with an idea of what they think will work best based on the programs that they’ve discovered on our site.  This may be based on what’s already worked for them, or someone else’s experience with a similar fundraiser.  If we can help them take ownership of their fundraising program then we’ve done our job.

Our goal then becomes helping them take their fundraiser to the next level. For example, implementing tools that allow them to track their sale so they can know how their sale is progressing instead of waiting until the orders are turned in. This also allows them to hold their students accountable to reaching their sales goal as well as incorporate additional incentives designed to increase participation and sales made per student.

Clay Boggess is an owner of Big Fundraising Ideas which has helped schools raise millions since 1999. 

 Karen Brooks 

Karen Brooks | Former Parents Council President, Manhattan Day School

IDEAS: Successful fundraising ideas from Manhattan Day School in NYC.

  • Used Book Fair: Everyone brought in used books, we had a sale in the lobby
    and made $1,700 on merchandise that would have otherwise been thrown out
  • Soul Cycle ride: About 25 people did the ride and raised $700. We gave our
    t-shirts and soul cycle hats/bags to those who participated.
  • School-wide raffle: We wrapped 75 small gift items, anything from a
    donated necklace or bracelet to scratch off lottery tickets to comp tickets
    to a sporting event that were donated, to a $10 off coupon at a hair salon,
    etc, in small pretty bags. We had a box of numbers that corresponded to the
    numbers on the bags. People paid $10 a ticket and drew a number, not
    knowing what they'd get. Some got a lottery ticket and won nothing but the
    person next to them might have won tickets to a baseball game so they were
    encouraged to play again. We made $750 as all of the tickets were purchased.

John Chase

 

John Chase | Greater Giving

TIPS: School Auction Sponsorships

 With many PTA or School auction groups it’s common to put a large percent of focus on item procurement and event night logistics. Gathering the best possible items and creatively packaging them leaves a lasting impression on guests and helps keep winning bidders happy. However; this strategy of mainly targeting your auction can push the revenue section of sponsorship to the back burner where it becomes easily overlooked. Sponsorships can account for a large percentage of dollars raised at a fundraising event and in many cases help underwrite event night costs.

Giving local companies the chance to showcase their support in front of your donors is a win-win opportunity. Many local businesses, like insurance agents and real estate brokers, love the opportunity to showcase their brand with a school-based organization they care strongly about.

Here are tips for creating extra sponsorship value:

  • Use paddles for your live auction. Put the bidder number on one side and the local sponsor’s logo on the other. When a bid is made in your live event, the auctioneer sees the bid number but the rest of the room sees the sponsor’s logo. Take this idea to the next level by asking the local sponsor if they will make an extra donation to your cause for every person at the event who brings their paddle into the store.
  • Have a bar at your event. Sell the naming rights to the bar or a signature cocktail. Each time you reference the “Valley Car Dealer Wine Bar” or “Arbor Credit Union Cosmo” use the name to keep the sponsors happy and their brand in front of event guests.
  • What’s the password. Sell your tickets online pre-event and add in your confirmation receipt show a sponsor logo and include a secret password or phase specific to that sponsor. Each person who says the password at check in gets an extra raffle ticket or free drink. Example: “Do you have the password?” “West Value Credit Union where you are always #1”.

Here are some ideas of school auction sponsors:

  • Local restaurants
  • Car Dealerships
  • Real Estate Agents
  • Insurance Agents
  • Credit Unions
  • Law Firms
  • Businesses of parents at your school

 Auction Planner

An essential resource for fundraisers, event planners and auction chairs, our Auction Planner checklist that pulls together knowledge gained from thousands of events. With a 12-month task list and annually updated tips and tricks, you can use our planner to make your event the most successful yet. Check out the Greater Giving Auction Planner.

John Chase is the Manager of Business Operations and Strategic Accounts Team at Greater Giving. Greater Giving provides solutions to the nonprofit community to help them with all of their fundraising initiatives from events to online fundraising.

Vanessa Chase

 

Vanessa Chase| The Storytelling Nonprofit

ADVICE: Donor Stewardship

Donor stewardship is a great way to engage donors before your start asking for new gifts. Since it's the beginning of the school year, remind donors of all the great things they helped make possible last year. Celebrate those accomplishments and provide them with a vision for the next school year. Get your volunteers together and make thank you calls to last year's donors to reconnect with them and say thank you. This is a terrific way to show your gratitude and engage volunteers

Vanessa Chase is an international non-profit consultant, thought leader, trainer, and speaker. She’s part of the next generation of professionals bringing change to the non-profit sector and challenging conventions. Vanessa founded The Storytelling Non-Profit in 2012 to help not-for-profit organizations articulate their impact to donors in a new way, using narrative techniques to generate greater personal interest and accountability, thereby improving their fundraising success.

  erin dennis

Erin Dennis | Verizon App Challenge

IDEA: Build a Mobile App for Verizon

I wanted to throw something “out of the box” your way – the Verizon Innovative App Challenge, which just opened for new entries.

It's open to middle and high school students (teams of 5-7, and a teacher/advisor) and the challenge is simple: dream up an idea and create a concept for a mobile app that could solve a problem in your school or community. Teams simply submit entries through a short video and essay questions – no coding skills needed.

Here's the fundraising part: kids win grants that go directly to their schools or clubs, making it an excellent way to give back to the community. Two teams from each state and D.C. – over 100 teams – each win $5,000 in grants and tablets for every team member. Eight of those teams will go on to receive an additional $15,000 in grants for their school as well as hands-on and virtual training from MIT Media Lab experts to turn their concepts into working apps available for download in the Google Play Store!

Not only is it an amazing way to get kids interested in technology, the best part is that students don't need any coding skills at all – just a life-changing idea, and their “prize” goes towards benefiting the education of ALL students.

Heather Mayes Gleason

 Heather Mayes Gleason | Local PTA VP Fundraising,

Director of Development the Barker Adoption Foundation

IDEA: No Guilt Bake Sale

I've just joined the board of my daughter's elementary school PTA – Piney Branch Elementary School in Takoma Park, MD — as the VP of Fundraising. I am going to take my “day job” skills as the Director of Development at The Barker Adoption Foundation and apply them to the school. The school is very diverse — racially as well as socio-economically — so fundraising is really important to make sure all kids have access to the wonderful activities, field trips, supplies, etc. that the PTA helps provide.

The main refrain I hear from other working parents is that they do not have any time for Bake Sales! And we all get it! Most parents want to be able to help, but as always, TIME is of the essence — particularly for the busy, professional parents in this community that abuts the District of Columbia. This year, I hope to implement an option to allow parents to write a donation check at the outset of the year. Something like a “NO GUILT Bake Sale Donation” — recommending at least $25 – $100/donation.

Rather than “nickeling and diming” families throughout the year, I will ask for upfront donations. Of course, the ongoing fundraisers are an important part of the school fabric and community building. But when it comes to building up the budget and getting fundraising up, it's my hope that the “No Guilt Bake Sale” checks will be an attractive option.

Louise Hodges

 

Louise Hodges | Green Bug Inc.

IDEA: Stop the Bugs – Selling Spray at School Events

Where we live, the bugs are bad. Especially the sand gnats, also known as no-see-ems that will drive you nuts. They burrow in your hair and bite you and instantly create itchy welts. But Fall season is sports season for Football, Soccer and Tennis. Parents and friends come to watch sports and are miserable due to the no-see-ems (and leftover mosquitoes, fire ants, etc.).

We at Greenbug manufacture pest control products made with the active ingredient of cedar. They are EPA exempt and do not require any pesticide license to use or sell them. Our products use food-grade safe ingredients that are safe for humans, animals, beneficial (honey bees and butterflies) as well as the environment.

Greenbug is also very effective against Head Lice. This is not selling telephone book covers, trash cans or candy bars that people do not need. It is a timely and safe product that people can use.

Louise Hodges created Greenbug to offer safe and effective pest control products that use cedar as the active ingredient.

 

Kathy Kingston Kathy Kingston | Kingston Auction Company

 TIPS: Kathy Kingstons Top Tips for Fundraising Success

Fundraising Auctions today are one of the most lucrative and exciting ways to raise more money for schools and nonprofit organizations. I am passionate about auctions since these benefit events offer an outstanding way to involve your whole community, increase awareness about your cause, engage parents, alumni and donors and to have more fun!

As professional benefit auctioneer and consultant, I’ve raised millions of dollars across the country for schools and nonprofits using auctions for over 29 years. Use my top five strategies to take your school auction to the next level.

# 1: Fill Your Venue With Power Bidders and New Donors

First, fill your venue with guests who have the capacity to bid and give generously at your auction beyond just buying a ticket to your gala. Create an “Audience Development Team” whose sole purpose is to identify, invite and cultivate guests who have means and influence to generously support you before, during and even after your benefit auction. Remember the first rule of fundraising: “People give to people – not causes.” So be sure to personally invite and follow up!

#2. Focus on Fundraising First

An often overlooked mistake is to plan your auction fundraiser like it’s your party, business function or even worst a wedding. Remember, your school auction is often one of your biggest fundraisers of the year. Show how your guests can make a difference for students and learning. Showcase your school mission throughout your auction. Using compelling video, brief inspiring remarks and other communications, envelop your audience in the cause and show how their bidding and contributions transforms your students and your community.

#3: Add an Inspiring Fund A Need Special Appeal

In addition to your Silent and Live Auction, include a Fund a Need Special Appeal. Let’s face it, not everyone wants or needs a live or silent auction item. Create this opportunity for everyone to contribute to your great cause at a level that is meaningful to them. Ignite generosity with a well conducted, inspiring Fund A Need that that can literally double your live auction profits in just 10 minutes!

#4: Match Your Auction Items to Your Audience

First, be sure to match your auction items to the unique profile of what your auction guests really want. Second, LESS is more. Reduce the number of auction items and focus on fewer unique items that produce bigger results. Make sure your organization procures hot auction items that keep driving excitement and interest – items that fulfill fantasies and dream vacations and experiences that are unique to your supporters. And remember to consider adding consignment items to complement your donated items to add excitement and dollars.

#5 Dont Leave Money in the Room

By far THE most expensive mistake you can make is using a volunteer amateur auctioneer. Why risk it? Retaining an experienced professional fundraising auctioneer can increase your net auction profits from 20% to over 500% immediately. Uniquely experienced and dedicated to maximizing fundraising, a professional benefit auctioneer does not cost — it pays!

Special Free Bonus Gift from Kathy

Get your free chapter of my Amazon best-selling book “A Higher Bid.” You’ll learn my top eight strategies for fundraising success.  Click here to download your free book chapter: www.HowToPlanASchoolAuction.com

 Kathy Kingston is a national leader and award-winning benefit auctioneer and consultant, Kathy has raised millions of dollars across the country for nonprofits for nearly three decades. Author of the Amazon best-selling book A Higher Bid: How to Transform Special Event Fundraising with Strategic Benefit Auctions.

Hailey Lanier

Hailey Lanier | Former President of ISU PRSSA

IDEA: Custom T-Shirt Quilt

We decided that we wanted to do a very unique fundraiser, and ended up making a t-shirt quilt to raffle off. We had t-shirts donated from students in our group and local businesses, and since a few of us in the group knew how to sew, we made the quilt ourselves instead of paying to have it made.

The finished product turned out great, and we ended up raising around $500 for our group at the start of the year.

Johnathan Milam

Johnathan Milam | Fundraising Mix

IDEA: Dance Party

One of our most successful school fundraising events I was involved with was a “back to school” dance party ae a college.  It quickly became one of my favorite fundraising projects because the majority of the money raised did NOT come from ticket sales, but surprisingly, by selling water to the students during the event!

We were able to market the event at virtually no cost using word-of-mouth and the fact that we were the FIRST social event held at the school that semester.  My advice to groups hosting similar events is to incorporate more than one way of raising money into your fundraisers.  Also, use social media and word-of-mouth marketing to cut promotion costs, which will ultimately allow you to raise even more money!

Jonathan Milam is the owner of the Fundraising Mix, a fundraising ideas blog with over 170 creative ideas for fundraisers!

 Marc A. PitmanMarc A. Pitman | The Fundraising Coach

TIPS: 6 tips to help board members work a room at a fundraising event

Money is raised when board members act as ambassadors and hosts.

Tips on Working the Room

  1. Remind yourself why you're there

As a board member, you're not there to hang out with friends. You're there to be a host. So meet new people and make others feel welcome.

  1. Look for “centers of influence” you haven't met

As you look over the room, notice the people that seem to have a crowd around them. Go up and introduce yourself to those people you haven't met.

  1. Look for stragglers

It's also helpful to look for people feeling lost. Some people simply are uncomfortable. Do your best to make them welcome but don't let them become a time suck. It can be great to introduce them to someone else who has something in common. That makes them feel more connected and allows you to walk away.

Here are some questions to help get conversation going

  1. “What do you do when you're not at an anti-trafficking dinner?”

This will get a chuckle. But it also gets at “where do you work” without insulting at home parents and retired people.

  1. “How did you get into that?”

People love to tell their story. So be a person who'll listen. They love you for asking, and you don't have to carry the conversation all on your own! Don't try to fill them up with facts about Amirah. The dinner program will do that. Just take the time to get to know the guests.

  1. “How did you first hear about Amirah?”

It's nice knowing how people connect with us. It'll show us what messaging is working, as well as who are our most effective evangelists.

Marc A. Pitman is an international leadership coach and fundraising trainer, he helps nonprofit board members and staff get excited about asking for money. He is the founder of FundraisingCoach.com – recognized by The Atlantic as “1 of 5 Philanthropic blogs fundraisers need to read.” He is also the author of Ask Without Fear! and the executive director of the affordable fundraising training program The Nonprofit Academy.

Dan Quirk

 Dan Quirk | Salsa Labs

ADVICE: Donor Tracking

As fundraising entities, schools are presented with the unique challenge of handling the revolving door of students and parents on a yearly basis. The sheer data that comes with that can feel uncontrollable. Schools have to be vigilant in tracking and updating donor data. Be consistent with cleaning the data in your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system and you’ll see all aspects of the fundraising process improve.

Meg Ragland

  Meg Ragland | Co-Founder | Plum Print

IDEA: Custom Books of Child's Artwork

Did You Know: The average child brings home 800 pieces of artwork by the end of the elementary school years!

How It Works:

  1. Parents pack their children's treasures into a pre-paid Plum Parcel (that Plum Print delivers right to your door).
  2. Professional photographers digitize the artwork (of all shapes and sizes, including clay figures, report cards, murals and more) and graphic designers work their magic.
  3. Parents approve a digital proof and the beautiful bound book is shipped directly to the family (with the original artwork, if so desired).

Your Piece of The Pie: With this “Easier Than A Bake Sale” fundraiser, your school receives a nice percentage of every order. And our brand ambassadors take care of everything (digital and paper fliers, sample books, taking orders, etc.), so absolutely no work is required of your staff, teachers or parents.

Know Now: With our new brand ambassador program, we are making it even EASIER for parents. An ambassador comes to your school, so parents can touch and feel our sample books and drop off their child's artwork with the ambassador right then and there. Easy-peasy.

Why Parents Love It: Isn't it obvious? It's a clutter-clearing, memory-preserving, happy-making product that starts and ends with stylish ease.

Why I Love It: Seeing the bursting pride of the children, when they start flipping through a published book of their art, is beyond compare. Plum Print gives parents a tangible object to show their children and the catalyst to say, “You are someone special. Your art is amazing. Keep creating!”

 Devon ReeserDevon Reeser | FundraisingIP

IDEA: Restaurant Fundraiser

One of the best ways for a small group, especially a school group, to fundraise for back to school is a restaurant fundraiser.  You can make thousands of dollars if you plan a bit and use your social media networks for free advertising!  Not to mention it gets families and parents together again for the first time after a long summer break and can be useful as an informal meeting.  Here is a Step-By-Step Guide to Making a Restaurant Fundraiser a Success, restaurant-fundraiser-guide.

Devon Reeser is a regular contributor at FundraisingIP.com  and has helped more than 40 non-profits, community groups, and government agencies throughout the US and abroad design and fund sustainable programs for economic and social development.

Jessica Sanders


Jessica Sanders | Director of Social Outreach |Learn2Earn

IDEA: Online Read-A-Thon – Motivate Kids to Read and Help Schools Earn Money

We consider ourselves to be the fundraiser of the future, where students are focused on education, while helping the school do something that has become a necessary evil—fundraising.

  1. Children read whatever they're interested in during a Read-A-Thon.
  2. Children keep track of everything they read during the fundraiser on their secure and fun online reading profiles.
  3. Parents reach out to family and friends through email and Facebook messages to sponsor their children in the fundraiser.
  4. Your School Keeps 80%!

Our platform is completely online, making it easy for schools to run our fundraiser with just one or two volunteers.

Casey J. Schad

 

Casey J. Schad | Marketing Associate | Fan Hands

IDEA: Fan Hands – Enhance Your School Sporting Events

We sell our Fan Hands wholesale to fundraising groups, schools, etc. to resell as fundraisers (obviously). It's something different than the usual magazines, cookie dough, etc. and still affordable.

Fan Hands are clap-enhancing gloves that you would use at sporting events, concerts, fun runs/walks to cheer on the participants. For more info, feel free to check out our website – FanHands.com!

Sarah Tedesco

 

Sarah Tedesco – DonorSearch  

ADVICE: Donor Prospect Screening

As a K-12 school, parents are the core of your donor base. With older students graduating and a new stream of younger children arriving yearly, it is difficult to keep track of all the parent changeover. Performing regular prospect screenings (annually or semiannually) can fill in valuable information gaps and seat your fundraisers in a better position to bring in donations.

Sherry Truhlar 

 Sherry Truhlar | Red Apple Auctions

IDEA: Implement a thoughtful “Fund A Need”

If your school has a back-to school parents-only social or similar activity, incorporating a well-crafted Fund A Need in to the event is one of the easiest ways to raise cash for a specific need.
Though this activity originated as a component of school auctions, today’s Fund A Needs are often stand –alone activities.  If guests can be gathered and focused, a Fund a Need can be used to educate and generate money.

A Few Fund A Need Tips:

  • Determine a singular need.  Technology, theater curtains, gym lights, and even re-grading the football field have all been successful school Fund A Needs.
  • Nail the messaging; why does this need require funding?
  • Get a Great Auctioneer who can articulate the need and seamlessly ask for the cash. (Or manage this in-house. But PLEASE bone up on the entire process, lest your guests feel “icky” about the approach.)
  • You’ll raise the most cash by offering different pledge levels for guests.
  • Start by asking for the highest pledge level.
  • Make the support appeal public.

Sherry Truhlar of Red Apple Auctions is a thought-leader in the world of benefit auctions, regularly espousing battle-tested advice via magazines, radio programs, and her own popular blog. Check out their Free Auction Item Guide and other great resources. 

Adam Weinger

 

 Adam Weinger – Double the Donation

IDEA: Promote Matching Gifts

Regardless of the fundraising channel, it never hurts to promote matching gifts. Include a matching gift call-to-action during your next school fundraiser. Don’t be shocked by how many donating parents work for companies with employee matching gift programs! You’ll see your funds double in no time.

 

The school bell is about to ring and class is about to let out.  No homework assigned, however we hope that you are leaving with new ideas, tips and strategies to consider to help enhance your fundraising efforts and raise its bottom line.  Before you leave we would like you to join us in thanking our guest writers for their noteworthy submissions.  We along with our writers would also like to wish you the very best in your fundraising efforts this academic year!

Class dismissed!

Comments

  1. Lora says:

    What great ideas! Pinning. I especially like the book donations idea.

  2. Kapraun says:

    I would say this “sweepstakes” is more of a private gift that only those “in the know” would be involved with. I’m not sure the exact definition of a sweepstakes but I guess technically you could call it a family sweepstakes since that is the determining factor to allow eligibility! If you are curious as to whether or not this could be done to avoid having family members on the receiving end pay taxes on the value of money or trips etc received I’m not sure. Are you thinking of like mailing homemade postcards to these family members and then draw their names out of a hat? How big is this family of yours … are you Italian haha? Whats your last name maybe I’m related and can be thrown in the mix as a long lost cousin if you choose to allow me as an exception? I’d enjoy participating!

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