6 Great Questions to Ask Before Your Next School Fundraiser

Plan the perfect school fundraiser by asking these 6 tough questions

At the beginning of the new year, school fundraising teams can really benefit from the opportunity to reassess their school’s fundraising strategy. Whether this spring will be your first go at raising funds or neighboring schools gawk at your continued success, taking a moment to review your plans now will make a big difference down the road.

Avoid common pitfalls when choosing, implementing, and wrapping up your school fundraiser by asking these six tough questions:

1. What fundraising activities has our school community loved in the past?

Pick the right fundraising idea for your school community to maximize engagement, revenue, and retention. What works for one school might not work for another, so avoid the temptation to select the first fundraising idea that comes across your desk.

Seasoned school fundraising teams have the advantage of looking back at results from previous efforts. Put the metrics and evaluation notes from your school’s past fundraisers side-by-side to find out what worked. You might notice themes like online fundraisers bringing in more donations, or one-time events always outperforming product sales. This will help you decide if you want to repeat a reliable fundraiser or if the time has come to try something out-of-the-box.

For teams new to fundraising without the benefit of past data, research what your community will love rather than guessing what they might like. Start by narrowing down a list of ideas, either classic school fundraisers or socially distanced fundraisers, according to your goals, the age of the students, and the volunteer power available. Then, poll your students and parents about the options and get their feedback. They will be thrilled when that cookie dough fundraiser they wanted finally comes to their school!

2. What technology do we need?

School fundraising teams and nonprofits alike need to be able to “reach their people, tell their stories, and share their impact” to achieve their fundraising targets. Technology makes that possible.

Fundraising software helps you raise more money while taking away the headache of fundraising logistics. Our research shows that schools raise 25% more with online donations than offline forms and schools using our software raise 2-3x more than before.

Convinced you need technology to run a school fundraiser but have no idea where to start? Begin by selecting the categories of technology that you need and then research affordable solutions for each.

Some categories of technology to consider include:

  • E-payment solutions (Square, PayPal, Facebook Giving)
  • Print-on-demand services (Printful, Printify, Teelaunch)
  • Smartphone Applications (WhatsApp, MyWhereAbouts, VolunteerMatch)
  • Online product fundraisers
  • Email Campaign Management (Mailchimp, Salsa)
  • Text-to-give (Snowball, OneCause, GiveWP)
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
  • Silent auction management (BiddingOwl, Handbid, Givesmart)
  • Peer-to-peer crowdfunding websites (99Pledges, GoFundMe)

While you may not be able to make the investment for every type of technology you need right away, you can begin building a “wishlist” and invest in high-priority (and high ROI) solutions first.

3. How can we get students excited to fundraise?

Student excitement can make or break a school fundraiser. Low-cost incentives can be a great way to inspire students of all ages. Keep it simple with built-in incentives from your fundraising company or come up with your own quirky in-house ideas.

Silly, creative, and unusual incentives can inspire kids to challenge themselves. Principal of St. Anthony Parish School in Wisconsin, Lucy McCarthy, promised to kiss a goat and sing karaoke if the students raised $60K. Guess what? The school’s annual fundraiser brought in $68K, nearly three times the amount of the previous year!

High school students, on other hand, might be more motivated by a “get out of homework free” pass or traditional prizes like cash or technology.

Tell your students about the incentives early and often to keep them engaged. Enthusiastic students will be your best salespeople!

4. What key messages will we use?

You don’t need to be a marketing professional to know that what you say and how you say it matters. You’ve been on the receiving end of enough marketing in your lifetime to know that messages that speak directly to you have the biggest impact. School fundraising can be successful by thinking ahead about who you want to reach and what matters to them.

Involved parents want to know the ins and outs of the fundraiser to best support their students and the school. Key information to convey to parents includes the fundraising logistics and purpose, schedule, expectations for their children, how to access the fundraiser (online, brochure, in-person event, etc.), and who to contact for questions. Not sure where to start with parent messaging? Use our parent and participant announcement templates.

In contrast, business sponsors care more about how their money will be used and what they can gain in exchange for their support. Be sure to address sponsorship levels and make a specific financial ask when contacting businesses. PTO Today’s form letters make asking businesses for fundraiser sponsorship or event donations quick and easy.

All donors, regardless of their connection to the school, want to know that their money will have an impact. Specific examples of how the money will benefit students (e.g., a $10 discount card will pay for one student’s ticket to the museum field trip) can motivate giving. In addition, the convenience of giving (e.g., ordering online from your phone and having the item shipped directly to your house) is always a critical selling point.

Some best practices and messages apply regardless of the audience. Storytelling, a sense of urgency, and fundraising targets motivate volunteers, students, and donors alike.

5. How will we advertise?

Advertising is not just about selling a product or raising money. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to build a support network for your school. Aim to turn supporters into advocates and first-time donors into long-term supporters when developing your marketing goals.

The marketing channels that your fundraising team selects will need to be based on your target audience and access. The most popular outreach methods include:

  • Social media posts. Your school likely already has a few social media pages where you post important updates and engaging content. Leverage the following you already have to spread awareness of your fundraisers.
  • Fundraising websites. Creating a dedicated site or page for your fundraiser gives supporters a centralized location to find information and make donations. You’ll be able to update them on the status of your fundraiser and celebrate with them if you’ve hit any milestones.
  • Direct mail. Letters are still an effective way to reach out to your audience, as you’ll be able to capture supporters’ attention outside of the busy virtual realm. For example, if you have an upcoming fundraising event, send the parents of your community letters outlining all the details they need to decide if they’d like to participate. Plus, this is a great way to source volunteers if you need them.
  • School announcements. School announcements are particularly effective if you rely on student involvement in your fundraising. Let them know the details of your next fundraiser through your school’s intercom, bulletin boards, and online calendars.

Regardless of your chosen marketing channels, start early, and promote often. Supporters need time to work an event into their calendars or plan to purchase fundraising items for holiday gifts. The typical school fundraiser will require at least a one-month notice, but evening and weekend events should be announced well in advance. Additionally, marketing experts suggest that supporters need to hear a message 6-20 times before acting, so use multiple marketing channels to spread the word.

If your promotional strategies haven’t historically met expectations, consider partnering with a marketing consultant. These individuals will leverage their expertise to create a thorough marketing strategy for your school. They’ll take your mission and branding and use them to create a campaign that will generate the support you desire. Plus, you’ll gain valuable insights into marketing strategies that you can apply to future fundraising events.

6. How will we retain supporters?

Attracting new donors takes a lot of time and money. Considering that it takes an average of 18-24 months just to break even on donor acquisition costs for nonprofits, prioritizing donor retention makes a lot of financial sense. Keep your supporters coming back year after year and reduce your fundraising expenses by following these retention best practices.

First and foremost, express gratitude. With greater use of online ordering and technology, fundraising can easily lose its personal touch. What will keep people coming back to support the school year after year? Feeling like they have made a difference.

‘PTO Today’ wisely explains that “a small token of appreciation like a handwritten card or gift card for coffee can earn a lot of goodwill.”

Encourage your child or team to add a personal touch to every fundraiser, such as writing thank-you notes when delivering orders or writing a post online with the donor’s name. Whatever way you choose to say thanks, make it genuine. It will almost always be unexpected, but importantly, welcomed and memorable.

Second, aim to convert customers to ambassadors (officially or otherwise). An ambassador role inherently increases a supporter’s level of engagement in school fundraising. Leverage customers as extensions of your sales team because they can offer a valuable and compelling perspective that drives giving among other potential donors.

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate! Let the entire school community celebrate the fundraiser’s success by announcing how much you raised and whether you reached your goal. Parents, neighbors, and business sponsors want to know the impact of their gifts. Combine the announcement with online and personal thank you notes to everyone who donated or volunteered.


Clay Boggess has been designing fundraising programs for schools and various nonprofit organizations throughout the US since 1999. He works with administrators, teachers, as well as outside support entities such as PTA’s and PTO’s. Clay is a Senior Consultant at Big Fundraising Ideas.