How to learn from fundraising failure

Sponsors never intend to fail. They always start off with the best possible intentions. Many are confident they’ll reach their sales goals. Why should they be optimistic? Otherwise they probably wouldn’t put in the work.

Let’s face it, school fundraisers are a lot of work. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Nobody really wants to do them but unfortunately they’re a necessity. You may have been selected because you drew the short straw. Or, you’re the fundraising chair for the PTA so you have the task of organizing a sale.

In reality, successful school fundraising is about these things and more. If you want a great tasting meal you have to combine the right ingredients.

Here are 2 things you need to consider if you want to reach your financial goals.

1. Change Your Fundraising Product

Every group is unique in it’s own way. What works for one may not work for another. Even if a school down the road had success with a cookie dough fundraiser doesn’t guarantee you will too. Although previous experience can be important, here are some other factors to consider:

  • Socioeconomics of your immediate area.
  • If you plan to sell the same product, how soon after their sale will you have yours?
  • What type of marketing did they use? Can you match it?
  • How were the students incentivized to sell?
  • What is the communication like with your parents?
  • Will you be running the fundraiser yourself or will there be a team to help you?
  • What type of product did you sell at your school before?

As you can see, so far there’s not much said about the actual product. There are other questions you must ask as well.

Here’s another question. How do you plan to sell it? Perhaps a direct sale will work. Some communities like selling lollipops, for example, because of the low price point. This method of fundraising requires fewer steps. Once the sale is complete there’s no going back later to deliver the item.

The disadvantage is you have to sell a lot of products to make a decent buck. Moving products requires keeping track of your inventory. You have to know what you have and what’s out in the community at all times.

Some schools have reported issues with direct selling, also known as in-hand fundraising:

  • A few groups have reported that students will sell the product and then keep the money.
  • Product gets damaged. For example, candy bars get left in the back seat on a warm day.
  • Schools get stuck with returned products.

You have to think about some of these things and how you envision a specific product working for your group.

If you don’t like the idea of putting a product in your student’s hands, consider a brochure sale. In this case, students collect money up front with the orders. But the items in a catalog tend to be a little more expensive. At the same time, groups make a higher profit off each item sold. This means not as much product needs to be sold.

Brochure sales also tend to have more product variety. This may appeal to more buyers. The downside is students must go back to the customer to deliver their merchandise.

Consider selling something unique. It doesn’t even have to be a different product. You can always stress what makes your product different. For instance, you can offer lower priced cookie dough. Customers won’t get as much, but they may like the lower price point. Plus it may be easier for your group to sell it. Or, you can distinguish your group by selling edible dough instead of regular dough.

Some groups have also been fortunate to be able to establish a product niche. People look forward to purchasing a certain product from them because they do it every year. Pies before Thanksgiving is a good example.

2. School Fundraisers Need Goals

Goal setting is important if you want to get anywhere in life. A fundraiser without a goal is like an explorer without a map. You need a sales goal. Students can’t be expected to go out with a “just do your best” mentality. Why are you fundraising? Surely you’ve calculated how much money you need to raise.

Once you have a number, determining how much each student needs to raise should be easy. For instance, each member needs to raise $50 to pay their entry fee into an upcoming event.

But how does each student raise the $50? To keep it simple, let’s say you’re selling discount cards for $10 each. If you know you’re making 50% profit, each student will need to sell 10 cards.

$5 profit per card x 10 cards = $50

Use a tracking sheet if you’re issuing products to sell. Or, if students are selling out of a brochure, they can track their sales on their order forms.

Be sure to check in with your students on their progress throughout your sale. This will help them stay focused and on track towards their goal.

Of course, to ultimately be successful you need more than a good product and a practical goal. Check out some unique school fundraising ideas for 2020.