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How to Plan and Execute an Effective Fundraiser For High School Extracurriculars

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Have you ever been faced with the challenge of fundraising? Chances are, if you’re involved in extracurriculars, particularly in a leadership role, you will at some point in your high school career be faced with fundraising. Though the task may seem daunting at first, if you know how to break the work down into manageable chunks and keep a few basic fundraising principles in mind, raising the money that you need can be fun, effective, and even educational along the way.



Why would you need to fundraise?

The reasons for fundraising are as vast as the extracurriculars they support. Athletes may need to raise money for tournaments, travel costs, or new equipment. Mock trial students might need funds to participate in the National Mock Trial Championship. Artists might need to raise money for a retreat or to attend an awards show. Other students may decide to attend a Model UN conference or a state or regional science fair. With so many possibilities, it’s no surprise that fundraising has become a more polished art over the years.



So how do you fundraise?

First, you’ll need to figure out how much money you’re going to need. In order to do this, you’ll need to plan a fairly specific budget. Consider travel costs, food, accommodations, registration and entrance fees, uniforms, presentation supplies or anything else you will need. It’s helpful to outline every day of the event in detail to make sure you are thinking of each budgetary consideration. Also include some funds for incidentals such as tips and Internet access.


Once you have a good idea of the total cost, consider how much and which portions can be paid directly by the participants. For example, it may be unreasonable to ask students to pay for their airfare to a conference five states away, but it’s certainly reasonable to ask them to arrange their own carpools to a tournament twenty minutes down the road. Food is also commonly paid for by individual participants since it’s something you’d be providing for yourself regardless of where you were. The exception to this is if meals are an essential part of a paid event, such as a welcome dinner. In that case, the meal should be included in the budget for the event.


Also consider the financial resources of attendees. Are there any students who may be unable to participate if you ask for them to contribute financially, however small the contribution? If so, will you be able to cover their portion of the trip through fundraising? Be wary of making anyone feel singled out or embarrassed. You may find that inviting your fellow students to call or email you privately to discuss any concerns is the most sensitive approach. You will need to know ahead of time if your fundraising needs to cover additional expenses, so be sure to have this discussion with your team or group well in advance.


When you finally have a firm grasp on the budget, you’ll be able to start planning the actual fundraising components. While your parents may have grown up knocking on doors selling Girl Scout cookies and little league calendars, the landscape of fundraising has changed quite a bit since then. While door to door solicitation is definitely still an option (and in fact, one that holds a lot of nostalgic appeal to many) there are lots of ways to make newer technology work for you too.


Begin planning by hosting a brainstorming session. Though you might be spearheading the fundraising effort, that doesn’t mean you should have to do all of the work alone. Call on the experiences and help of the rest of your team and you will quickly have a better idea of where to concentrate your efforts. They may have new ideas or resources for you to use, and at the very least you will get a good idea of what everyone is comfortable doing. Asking others for money can seem somewhat uncomfortable at first, so making sure that everyone is onboard with your ideas and committed to the bigger picture will help you in the long run.

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In case you need some inspiration to get the creative juices flowing, here are some of our favorite fundraising ideas:


Restaurant Fundraiser:

Many local restaurants will be more than happy to host a fundraising night for you. In coordination with the restaurant, you select an evening when a portion of the proceeds will go towards your fundraising. It is usually around 10%. You advertise the date and time of the event and try to pack the restaurant with as many supporters as possible. The restaurant will usually receive a boost in customers and you will get a cut of the money, so it’s a win-win.


Keep an eye out around town for signs advertising restaurant fundraisers to get an idea of which local establishments may be willing to help out. Also check with teammates and friends to see if anyone has a connection that may help you out, and remember that usually locally owned restaurants are more likely to host a fundraising night than chain restaurants.


Make sure to specify with the restaurant in advance if you will be receiving a portion of all of the proceeds from the night, or if you will only get a portion from the customers who mention your fundraiser. If it’s the latter, you’ll want to make sure everyone who attends knows to let their server know that they’re part of the fundraiser!



Coupon Book:

An easy product to sell both at events or door-to-door is a coupon book. Ask local businesses to donate discounts on their goods or services. Try to keep in mind what your target customer might like to receive a discount on and pursue those businesses first. Examples might include restaurants, salons, sporting goods stores, and gift shops.


You will probably find that small, local shops are more likely to offer discounts, but that shouldn’t stop you from requesting coupons from larger franchises in your area. Ask to speak with the manager, be professional and polite, and you may be surprised at the generosity you receive.


Print all the coupons off together into a small coupon book. Make sure it is reasonably sized so that it can be easily carried in a purse or small backpack. Sell the coupon books at a set price and advertise their potential savings. Or, for a simpler option, you can find ready-made coupon books available for fundraisers online here. Make sure to check that your coupon books are specific to your region before ordering.



50/50 Raffle:

Sometimes people will be more willing to spend money for the chance at a big payoff than they are for a small purchase. A 50/50 raffle gives them that chance, it’s exciting, and it’s easy to coordinate.


Here’s how it works. Raffle tickets are sold at a set price, though sometimes they can be purchased at a discount if you sell them in a bundle. For example, you might say that tickets are $5 each, but that buyers can receive a discount if they purchase five for $20. At the end of the raffle a winner is randomly drawn from all tickets purchased. The winner receives 50% of the funds raised, while the organization keeps the other 50% for their fundraising.


This is a good choice if you will be hosting an event or restaurant night, since the drawing can be a dramatic part of the evening.



Selling Food or Products:

This is the most classic fundraiser and it comes in many forms. It could be a bake sale or a cookout at a popular event with high attendance, such as a sports game or school dance. Or you could set up a stand at these events to sell homemade or personalized products such as t-shirts or photo calendars.


In addition to stands, you can also sell specialty foods or products through door-to-door sales. Sometimes you can get a local store or restaurant to contribute. For example, a pizza shop that sells frozen pizzas might sell you a large bulk order at a discounted price and allow you to resell them individually for more money. It’s usually best to negotiate your rate on the bulk order, then take individual orders and collect money as you’re selling, and deliver the product after you’ve collected all orders. This way, you won’t end up with a huge amount of leftover products.



Silent Auction:

This is another way of using local generosity to your advantage. Seek donations from local stores and families to put together an auction. Large items can be auctioned off on their own, while smaller items might be grouped into baskets by category.


Popular basket themes might include Movie Night featuring an iTunes gift card and a variety of movie snacks, Spa Night featuring a home pedicure kit, nail polish and gourmet bath products, or Night Out featuring gift cards to a bowling alley or arcade and a local restaurant. Another fun item is a scratch ticket board where parents have purchased and donated scratch tickets (unscratched of course!), which are then raffled off as a set.


You may choose to hold your silent auction as an actual event with live bids recorded on a clipboard beside each item, or you may choose to host it online through a website. There are several choices for hosting through a website which can make your job easier and allow you to accept bids by credit card. The tradeoff, though, is that online auction hosts will often take a small portion of your proceeds to offset their costs. One popular online option can be found here.



Service Raffle:

You might also find success in raffling off services that your group can offer. This could be just about anything, depending on your talents. It might be a backyard clean up day including lawn mowing, gardening, weeding, and junk removal. It could be a night of live music performed by your band or a photography session or painted portrait.


Whatever your special talents are, there is probably some demand for them, and the people who are willing to support your cause will most likely appreciate your talents too. Sell raffle tickets for the chance to receive your services, then draw a winner randomly.


Once you’ve chosen which fundraising ideas to pursue, you can focus in on a target audience. If you’ll be hosting an event, your audience will generally be interested parties such as parents, members of your school community, and other supporters from your area such as coaches and tutors. Generally, anyone who you might consider inviting to support you at other school events should be on the guest list for a fundraising event.


If you’re selling a product or raffling off something, you may have even more luck reaching out to the general public. People are usually more willing to donate money when asked face-to-face, so consider going door-to-door or setting up a table in an area with heavy foot traffic. Also consider reaching out to neighbors, relatives, and parents’ co-workers.


Finally, provide incentives for your team members to support the fundraising efforts. Set goals by providing each participant with a set number of raffle tickets or products to sell. Create some friendly competition by offering a prize to the top seller or to all participants who meet a certain threshold.


Fundraising can be an intimidating task to undertake. Many students will initially feel uneasy at the idea of asking others for money. But with a little creativity most will find that offering something in exchange for a donor’s time and generosity is a rewarding and mutually beneficial experience. Through thorough budget planning, careful brainstorming and thoughtful selection of fundraising activities, you’ll have the money you need to pursue your activities in no time. Not to mention, it is a great experience to include on your college application! 


To find out more about how to highlight your experiences in fundraising on your college application, check out CollegeVine’s advice on How To Write About Extracurriculars. Or, if you’re a senior who’s unsure if you should take on a fundraising project right now, check out our Dos and Don’ts of Joining New Extracurriculars Your Senior Year.


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.