It happens every year around this time: groans, gripes and snickers from moms and dads, grandparents and co-workers being hit up to support school fundraisers. Industry professionals and parent group leaders say “fundraising fatigue” has led to a decrease in participation from families who have been asked to contribute a few too many times. At any given school in the U.S., about 42 percent of students and their families participate in product fundraising programs by selling at least one item, according to industry statistics compiled by the Association of Fund-Raising Distributors & Suppliers (AFRDS). There’s no denying “fundraising fatigue” exists. As school fundraising of all types (car washes, walk-a-thons, product sales, auctions, etc.) becomes more prevalent, some families simply tune out and no longer support these programs.
So is it time to find a new way to raise money to pay for school-sponsored programs and activities? Not quite, according to industry statistics from AFRDS. Enthusiastic parent-volunteers and dedicated professionals partner to raise $1.7 billion for school libraries, high school marching bands, new computer labs, and scores of other projects that help enrich young lives. Data from a recent consumer survey designed to gauge the public’s feelings about fundraising also found that most Americans (80%) believe fundraising is an important financial resource for US schools and youth groups. Furthermore, 62% of Americans support fundraising programs with their dollars.
So how do you go about getting the hold-outs on board? And how can you make life easier for the majority of parents who are already supporting your fundraising programs?
Finding Untapped Supporters
While fundraising burnout may occur with parents being asked to support several fundraisers, there are still consumers not being reached. According to the 2011 national consumer survey commissioned by AFRDS, the top reason cited for not supporting a fundraiser is “I wasn’t asked” (67%).
“Based on our figures, it is safe to say that there are untapped resources in the community for schools and youth groups when it comes to fundraising,” said Jon Krueger, executive director of AFRDS. “Young married couples without kids, older couples that don’t yet have grandchildren and single Americans are all members of the community that are potential supporters.”
Industry professionals agree
“The first step in the process would be educating and encouraging each student, and their parents, to establish a list of potential non-family consumers,” said JC Smith, a fundraising professional in Wisconsin. “The list would include co-workers of parents along with other non-family individuals that each family member interfaces with on a regular basis. Electronic media & social networking represents a new platform to reach this target list.”
Another underdeveloped channel for consideration is the establishment of relationships between schools and local businesses, according to Smith.. “Identifying and then notifying local businesses is a key to success,” he said. “Company leaders can promote the fundraiser to their employees and hopefully drum up some additional support.”
Do a Few and Do Them Well
Limiting the number of fundraisers each group does per year may be the easiest solution to the fatigue problem, according to fundraising professionals.
“The more fundraisers you do, the less participation you get in every one,” said Ryan Cady, a fundraising professional in Florida. “Schools and communities would be better off if parent groups ran fewer fundraisers with better participation.” Cady recommends parent groups focus on the fundraisers that earn the most money, while limiting time-commitment from volunteers.
It is also important to have an administration that is proactive in making sure multiple fundraisers are not running at the same time. They should also ensure that no one is selling the same products. “We have sold cheesecakes for the past 25 years starting in September and ending in October,” says Carl Sabatino, band director at a high school in Whippany Park, NJ. “If another club looks to do a fundraiser for cheesecakes they will be asked to reschedule. This is very important since you do not want to hit the same community up again and again.”
Most important, however, is to continually emphasize to supporters why you’re raising money in the first place. Clearly communicate your goals and be specific about what the money will help provide for your school or group. This reminds customers that they aren’t just buying wrapping paper or cookie dough; they are making a difference in their community.