First Time Event

Dear Kim,

For 12 years our town has voted down bond proposals for school funding. In response, our elementary school has been asking for a $25 donation from each school family. This worked well until this year, when only 66% of parents gave. The Parents Activities Council wants to start fundraising door-to-door to make up for the shortfall. Other parents say that people want something back for the money they gave, such as wrapping paper, baked goods, or note cards, but we don’t see how we can offer things that only cost a dollar in town at the dollar store. Our Principal does not want to “nickel and dime” the same audience to death all year and suggested we have one large fundraiser. My suggestion was an auction in which we could appeal to the entire community to come out and enjoy an evening along with the families of our school. Do you have any “help” in place for such a first-timer’s event? Any input would be greatly appreciated.
—PTA President

Dear PTA Pres,

When I read your letter, I thought about a friend who says that PTA stands for Pretty Tired Already! I have three comments:

1. A 66% response from the parent body to your request for $25 is actually quite good. The first year of collecting money always has a higher participation than each subsequent year. Giving generally levels out at about 60%. You can bring the participation level up another 1525% by making follow-up calls or going door-to-door as the PAC wants to do. Fundraising experience tells us that most of the parents who didn’t give probably meant to and simply lost track of the form or put off sending the money till they felt they had a little extra. You could bring in more money if you offered people a range of giving-tell the parents how much money you need to raise in order to preserve the library or music program, or whatever you use the money for, then ask for a gift in the $25-$100 range. Some parents will be able to give more than $25 and you will make your goal without full participation, which may be hard to achieve year in and year out.

2. I think your plan of finding a way to involve the whole community is important. Though I don’t have children I always participate in public school fundraising because I think children are a community resource. Many people who have grown children or no children feel the same way and need to be invited to give. Whether you hold an auction or another kind of event will depend on how many other auctions go on in your community, your access to good auction items, and your ability to get people to the auction. An auction is a huge amount of work, but it can become a big fundraiser.

I would suggest contacting someone who has done an auction before for tips on how to make it successful. You may also want to read a couple of books about fundraising events to make sure an auction is the event you want to choose. There are many good books-two that come to mind are Alan Wendroff’s new book, “Special Events: Proven Strategies for Nonprofit Fundraising” (Wiley and Sons, Publishers) and “How to Produce Fabulous Fundraising Events: Reap Remarkable Returns with Minimal Effort” by Donna McMillion and Betty Stallings (Building Better Skills). Both of these can be ordered through your local independent bookstore or bought on-line.

3. The most important thing to remember about whatever fundraising strategy you choose is to be consistent. Parent groups tend to lurch from wrapping paper to garage sales to restaurant openings and back. Choose things that work and do them year after year. You can innovate, and you should abandon things that don’t work, but you are building a base of people who consider your school one of the things they support, and they learn to expect a consistent way of giving.
—Kim