How to Host a Successful Fundraiser


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Hosting a successful fundraiser is no accident. It requires planning, commitment, and more than a little bit of salesmanship. If this sounds like a lot of work, make no mistake about it, it is. But it’s rewarding work, it’s meaningful work, and done the right way, it can be fun work. Fundraisers present wonderful opportunities to generate both income and good will for your organization, to raise community awareness for your cause, and to create a sense of camaraderie within your group. These tips are designed to help your organization get the most from your fundraiser, in every sense of the word.

When planning your fundraiser, the first question to ask is “when?" Timing is very important and depending on the kind of fundraiser you want to hold, certain times of the year of the year are better than others. The fall and spring, with their temperate weather, are wonderful seasons if you’re going door-to-door, having a bake sale, or holding a car wash.

If you’re tying into a specific event like an Oktoberfest or school fair, then the dates are predetermined, but if you’re opting for the brochure or “pre-sales" method, you have some flexibility over your schedule. Generally speaking, a two-week period is ideal – anything longer than that tends to be counterproductive. Avoid times that coincide with school holidays when people may be out of town. Not only do you want to have a lot of people around to buy your product, you want to be sure that you’ll have plenty of volunteers on hand to help.

Once you’ve decided when, the question becomes “what to sell?" Selecting the product for your group to sell is in itself an art form and there are many factors to consider. Who are your expected customers? What image do you want to convey? If you’re a sports team, perhaps you want to choose a healthy product. If you’re raising funds for Juvenile Diabetes then obviously, you don’t want to pick candy. Of course, there are several generic products that appeal to almost everyone, such as popcorn, gift wrap, coffee or citrus. Often an answer is suggested by the season - spring bulbs, Halloween pumpkins, or Christmas trees or ornaments are excellent seasonal fundraising items.

The decision of what to sell goes hand-in-hand with “what company should you choose to provide the product?" This can seem overwhelming at first – search the Web for fundraising companies and you’ll get over 3 million pages to sort through, and sadly, not all of these companies are reliable. Get referrals from other groups if possible, or consult unaffiliated, information driven websites like the Fund Raising Ideas Center for more ideas and advice.

Advance promotion is a key element of any successful fundraiser. A week or two before the actual selling begins, start spreading the word. Send letters home to parents and ask them to network on your behalf. Utilize the media – almost every outlet has some version of a Public Service Announcement that they offer free of charge. Put up posters where it is allowed (but be sure to take them down when your event is over).

When you are ready to begin selling, it’s time to “rally the troops". Hold a kick-off session during which you explain the financial and tangible goals – “We need to raise $5000 for new uniforms. That breaks down to X-amount of sales per person. " Make sure that the tangible reason (the new uniforms, the trip to Paris, the care packages for troops stationed overseas) is part of the sales pitch. If you’re working with a fundraising company that offers to send a representative to explain the finer points of selling, then by all means take them up on it!

During the fundraiser, monitor the progress and keep everyone updated. Offer incentives to the person or team that sells the most. It’s almost a cliché, but the “rising mercury in a thermometer" tote board is a visual tool that really works!

When the actual selling is over, there are still a few things to do. If you’ve opted for a pre-sales version of the fundraiser, you have to place the order with the company and arrange a time for the goods to be delivered. Make sure you schedule enough people to unload and distribute the product, and have a plan for dealing with damaged merchandise or incorrect orders. As far as getting the goods to your customer, deliver them in person whenever possible. A personal thank-you note from the student is a wonderful touch and will give your customer a nice, warm feeling that will carry over until the next event.

Kimberly Lewis is a former corporate executive and active volunteer who has been involved in many fundraising activities for non-profits, from small projects to black tie events. For more information and ideas for fundraising, please visit the Fundraising Ideas Center .


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