Schools Rely On Fundraising In Tough Economy

$1.4 Billion Raised Each Year By Schools & Non-Profit Groups

In corporate America, the government, and especially our own families, it seems cutting back has been a familiar theme over the past few years.  Unfortunately, schools and school groups are facing similar challenges, and they’re feeling the pinch too.  Automatic spending cuts required through “sequestration” will lead to nearly $3 billion in federal education cuts in the U.S., according to the National Education Association. These reductions will impact dozens of educational enrichment programs, including after school activities, sports programs, and extracurricular classes.

With so much on the chopping block these days, schools and other non-profit groups find themselves relying on independent fundraising efforts now more than ever.  Each year, they raise nearly $1.4 billion by selling popular consumer items, according to the non-profit Association of Fund-Raising Distributors & Suppliers (AFRDS), an organization dedicated to promoting professionalism and integrity in the product fundraising industry.  For decades, schools have been partnering with professional fundraising companies to earn money needed for field trips, new athletic team uniforms, playground equipment, technology upgrades, and other youth products, programs and services. 

Brian Burkett, an elementary school principal in Findlay, OH, sees product fundraisers as an important factor in achieving his yearly budget goals.

“The bottom line is it helps us to be able to provide a supplemental base to our kids of what is offered to them,” Burkett said.  “If this source of funding dried up, life would still go on but it’d be a lot different for kids. This is my thirteenth year here and during that time we are getting very close to topping a million dollars in fundraising that goes back to our kids. That’s pretty big.”

In recent years, Burkett’s school has used its fundraising dollars to build a new playground and improve their school’s audio/visual setup, with a new movie screen and sound system. 

Fewer is Better

As Burkett has learned, school groups typically see their best fundraising results by running a limited number of programs.   

“We do one product fundraiser a year and one sale brings in $25,000 of profit in just two weeks,” Burkett said. “That’s half our fundraising earnings for the year.” 

Fundraising experts agree that the law of diminishing returns is very much a reality when it comes to raising money.  Too many fundraising pleas lead to burnout among the support base.  Instead, focus on those programs that are most effective – both in terms of dollars earned and workload (or lack thereof) for your volunteers. 

Russ Colombo, a fundraising professional in Texas who has been helping school music groups raise money for more than 30 years, says supporters will respond positively if you work to reduce the amount of “fundraising noise” in the community.

“Parents appreciate that and are opening up their pocketbooks to help students more than they did five to seven years ago,” Colombo said. “They recognize that budgets continue to dwindle, but there’s also a limit to how much any one family can contribute.” 

Get Your Principal on Board

School principals have the ability to generate support in unique ways.  For example, a pair of Florida principals recently got in on the action to help motivate their students. Principal Lacy Healy and Assistant Principal Jennifer Collins knew their school needed to raise at least $20,000 for campus beautification and special education programming. Getting creative, Healy and Collins announced that if students met or exceeded the goal, they would spend a day on the school’s roof. The students went on to raise over $21,000 by selling cookie dough in the community. Healy and Collins upheld their end of the bargain, and spent a day atop the school to reward their students.

In today’s economic climate, fundraising is more important than ever.  Schools and non-profits earn more than $1 billion each year by selling products to friends, family and the community.  These programs help bridge the ever-growing budget gap and provide meaningful education experiences for children throughout the U.S. Volunteers can help themselves by partnering with a professional fundraising company, planning ahead to avoid running too many fundraisers and seeking support from the principal.

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