Score a Winning Fundraising Sale

Originally published in fall 2010 issue of The Fundraising Edge

For the passionate moms, dads and other volunteer leaders of school booster clubs, fundraising is probably not top of mind.  But in today's economy, many booster clubs must rely on financial support from parents and the community for their survival.  Today, there are more than 1.3 million booster clubs operating in the U.S., according to the North American Booster Club Association (NABCA).  On average, booster clubs raise about $20,000 each year.

1.3 million booster clubs raising $26,000 each = $26 million opportunity for fundraising industry

"Fundraising is more important for booster clubs than ever before," said Steve Beden, president of NABCA and a former high school booster club president in Washington.  "When budgets get tight, the first area [administrators] look to cut is after-school programs.  Many booster clubs today assure their existence by self-funding."

Most booster clubs, like other school groups, have come to rely on fundraising to help pay for new equipment, uniforms, instruments, trips to out-of-state tournaments/competitions and other essentials not covered by membership fees.  The types of fundraising activities run the gamut:  car washes, golf tournaments, casino nights, auctions, dinners, raffles, selling products, etc.  Booster clubs are willing to try just about anything to raise money.  But selling popular consumer items (e.g., coupon books, food, magazines, gift items, etc.) is one of the most tried-and-true methods available today.  In fact, product fundraising programs help non-profit groups, such as booster clubs, raise nearly $1.7 billion each year, according to statistics from the Association of Fund-Raising Distributors and Suppliers (AFRDS).

To pull off an efficient, effective product sale, you will need help from volunteers and support from other families and the community.  Think of volunteers as your teammates and supporters as fans.  It's critical to gain the confidence of both groups, and make them believe in the cause.

Develop a Game Plan

Like any successful business enterprise, a successful fundraising sale begins with a clearly defined goal.  Having a good product at a good price will help, but to motivate volunteers and secure community support, a fundraising program should answer the question of where the money will go.

A worthwhile goal might read:  "One hundred percent of the fundraising proceeds from the candy bar sale will go toward helping purchase new uniforms for the Lakeside High School cheerleading squad."

Notice that this goal is two-fold in that it relates how the money will be spent, answering the question of why hold a product fundraiser in the first place; secondly it relates the who, what, when and how much as it pertains to achieving the goal.  The most successful programs set goals that are attainable and important to everyone who participates.

Once your booster club has set a clearly defined goal, it's time to figure out which type of fundraising program will work best for your group.  There are a number of fundraising programs on the market today.  They vary not only in the products offered, but also in how they are marketed, sold, packed, delivered and distributed.

Part of singling out a program is finding a reputable fundraising company.  Fundraising professionals recommend you get the answers to these five questions when trying to decide which company to partner with for your group's next fundraiser.

  • How long has the company been in the product fundraising business?
  • What value-added services does the company offer, and how much do these services cost (e.g., assistance to volunteers, communicating with parents, custom packing, etc.)?
  • How will the company tailor its program to fit your group's needs, and more importantly, how will it meet your financial goals?
  • Does the company understand and comply with state sales and use tax laws that impact your program?
  • How responsive will the company be should problems arise (e.g., damaged products, back orders, etc.)?

The companies you consider will want you to provide some essential information as well.  Be prepared to discuss your group's financial goal, the number of volunteers you have available, your timeframe and how past fundraising events turned out.

Recruiting and Motivating Your Team

Recruiting people who are ready, willing and able to donate their limited time to your booster club is more difficult than ever – but it can be done.  The number-one reason why more parents don't get involved is a lack of understanding of the club's purpose, according to Mr. Beden.

"All booster clubs need a mission statement so that you'll have a good answer when someone asks ‘what does the club do?'" Mr. Beden said.  "There also has to be value and satisfaction in volunteering.  Parents have to feel like they're part of something important.  It can't be just another job."

The same rules apply when it comes to fundraising.  John Scornicka, a veteran fundraising professional in Milwaukee, WI who spent 26 years as a high school coach, says the leader's attitude about the fundraiser is important.

"Booster club leaders have to approach fundraising in a positive way," said Mr. Scornicka.  "It's not a top priority for the coach, the players or the parents, so you have to be sure those people understand why a successful fundraiser will benefit them."

NABCA offers these additional tips for recruiting and retaining booster club volunteers:

  • Appoint co-chairs and sub-committees to lighten the load and deliver work in "bite size" pieces
  • Conduct short, to-the-point meetings.  Include interesting guest speakers when appropriate.
  • Say "thank you" often.  Recognize extra efforts of all volunteers.  Make them feel appreciated.
  • Listen to new ideas from volunteers.  Don't get caught up in the process or fall into the trap of "that's how we've always done it." 

Legendary football coach Lou Holtz once said, "All winning teams are goal-oriented.  Nothing will distract them from achieving their aims."  Good advice from a smart coach – and applicable to booster clubs as well.  As booster club president, it's up to you to get parents, coaches, teachers, students and other supporters motivated and all pulling in the same direction.  When it comes to fundraising, success happens with careful planning and doing the things necessary to get supporters on board, including a good team of volunteers.