Last year our small school (approximately 300 students) held its first-ever fete. It had been discussed for many years, but things finally fell into place and we held a ‘Twilight Fete’ in early December.
Although we had plenty of advice from friends at other schools and the wealth of information available online, it was a massive learning curve for all of us.
And while it was certainly a huge success in terms of how many people attended and how much money we raised, there are definitely things we would do differently next time.
These are some of the lessons I personally took away from our school’s first fete.
Feed the Volunteers
We had a team of volunteers coming from the local high school to help us man the stalls during the event itself, and we took care to make sure they all received food and drink vouchers, but we neglected to provide sustenance for the small army of school families who arrived as early as 7am on the day to begin the massive job of setting up.
The fete started at 3pm, and it meant that some people were onsite for up to 8 hours before the event even started. A few people sent their kids home to raid the cupboard for packets of biscuits, but otherwise there was a lack of food and drink.
Next time, we would have a BBQ set up from early morning, cooking bacon and egg rolls and sausage sizzle with some eskies of drinks and water for all the school volunteers (supplied by the P&C).
Don’t let Committee Members over-commit themselves
We had a small team of five or six core committee members supported by a larger team of volunteers. While the larger team had defined and manageable roles on the day, the core members found themselves with multiple, significant and sometimes conflicting roles. In some cases – especially my own – it meant I wasn’t able to fulfil any of my roles perfectly, as I rushed from job to job to job.
This happened for a number of reasons:
- partly because we didn’t have many volunteers
- jobs would spring up at the last minute and it was easier to just say ‘I’ll do it’
- we didn’t always understand the workload involved
- and sometimes simply because we didn’t want to burden others by asking for help.
As a result, few of the Committee Members got to stop and eat, shop, spend time with their families or even enjoy the event.
Next time, now we understand the complexity of each job, we will be more careful to limit the specific jobs for individuals on the day. It’s important to schedule realistic breaks – even just half an hour – to ensure your Committee members eat, drink and go to the toilet.
Don’t let the Fete Convenor take on any roles on the day – other than Fete Convenor. There will be plenty to keep them busy.
Be specific when looking for volunteers
Following on from the previous point, I feel one of the reasons why so few people put their hand up to be on the main committee was because of a fear of being asked to do too much (which in hindsight, is exactly what happened).
People are often happy to help when their task is defined, manageable and limited. It’s when the boundaries become blurry and depth of involvement become unfathomable that people, quite realistically, run screaming.
Now we know what is involved, it will be easier to pull each role apart, with specific tasks. When each person has only one job (or two people share a job), and people can see the limit to their involvement, it becomes easier to find volunteers, because you have removed the unknown quantity.
Example – these are all specific roles one person can take on:
- Event photographer
- Managing student volunteers
- Co-ordinating tokens for rides and games
- Monitoring food and drink stalls (if they are running out and need someone to buy more sausages etc)
- Driver (access to a car to quickly go buy more sausages/buns/soft-drinks/chocolates etc)
- Someone to meet and greet gold and silver sponsors
Have jobs for helpers
This seems like a repeat of the previous lesson, but it is a slightly different point I need to make. We knew that as a small school we would probably struggle to find enough parents to fill all the timeslots working on stalls during the fete. Early on we made the decision to approach the local high schools to see if any of their students would be available to help. One of the schools had a large community service program, and even though we went in hoping for a dozen or so helpers, we ended up with more than 40 Year 10s and a handful of year 11s.
Find specific and meaningful jobs for this many people became a full-time task, as was managing them on the day. The committee asked for the students to ‘help set up’ or ‘work on the stalls’ but in hindsight this was too broad a notion. While some individual stall-holders could find specific jobs for the high school students, others found that their student helpers were not able to pick up the fast-paced transactions of the stalls and ended up getting in the way.
It needs to be remembered that the stall holders and fete committee had spent many months thinking about each stall and task in detail, whereas the high school students arrived on the day with a few minutes’ orientation. They also came with varying levels of initiative, and maths and communication skills, all essential for the tasks we set for them.
Finding external volunteers, such as high-school students, will probably be necessary should we run another fete, but more thought would need to go into finding suitable jobs for them.
We elected to use printed tokens for all our side-show games and rides. This was partly to free up cash on the day (we hoped parents would spend it elsewhere) and also because we had external providers managing the rides, and we thought it would be best if they didn’t need to worry about handling cash.
The tokens looked a bit like casino chips, and over a thousand were colour printed on paper, laminated and cut. They were pre-sold to families as well as being sold at the fete itself. The plan was that someone would collect the tokens from the rides and games hourly throughout the event, count them, and return them to the main ticket booth to be re-sold.
This might have worked a) if the person collecting and counting tokens only had one job and b) if the event had remained small. However, we were blown away by the number of visitors we had, and the main ticket booth kept running out of tokens. It became a mad dash to constantly collect and count the tokens, with the result being that we never got a clear idea of how many tokens each ride/game collected, so couldn’t accurately assess the popularity of each.
The tokens did work in most respects, as they were easier and safer for the external providers and students to handle than cash. However, in future we would need to print many thousands, to avoid the need to collect and re-sell during the event.
Similarly, our tombola stall was a huge success and despite having almost 300 jars, they sold out within an hour and a half. We could have easily made and sold twice the number at 100% profit. See why tombola is such a great idea here.
Plan the end of your event before the event
It seems obvious now, but waiting until after the fete was over to start making Certificate of Appreciations and other thank you items for our major sponsors and helpers, meant that there was a lengthy delay in actually getting them to the people who helped make the event happen.
Action plans for returning borrowed items (such as dozens of marquees) to other schools, families and businesses in the days after the event should also have been a specific job that was listed on our sign-up sheet, rather than just falling to committee members at the last minute.
Similarly, while we had organised helpers to stay behind and pack up the individual stalls, other tasks such as collecting rubbish left strewn over the oval, consolidating lost property and finding a space for things like large signs and uncollected auction and raffle items weren’t thought about until the last minute.
Spending time planning the aftermath of your event (including getting feedback and writing a handover report) should be done long before your event actually happens. If you plan on borrowing desks and chairs from classrooms, have a plan for each room including labelling all the furniture with their room number before the event, and having a large map of the classroom on the board so that people returning equipment afterwards, know where to put the items (and save a huge headache for teachers the next day).
Send templates to your organisers and get them to fill them in with details of decisions made, timelines, money spent, suppliers etc as they go. Try and get detailed feedback within a week or two of the event to make into a handover document for next time. The longer people wait to write their feedback, the blurrier their memory becomes.
Choose your stalls wisely
We elected to run all our own food stalls in-house, knowing that the profit margin would be quite high. Of the four schools in our local area who held fetes within the same six-week period, we were the only school to do this, and it quickly became evident why.
Food stalls can be incredibly labour intensive and require lots of man-hours in the days and hours prior to the event (as opposed to being able to prepare months in advance like these awesome stalls).
They are also governed by strict food handling legislation and require specific permits from your local council. We discovered there were rules about the surface the food stalls could be on (ie not grass or sand) and that there were rules determining the roof and certain number of walls for the marquees. We could make vegetarian sushi but not chicken sushi. Vegetarian curries proved less problematic than chicken curries and even our cake stall ran into trouble for not having every single item properly labelled. We were surprised on the day with a visit from the local health inspector who stopped and asked stall holders tricky questions about food storage and serving temperature on the day.
This is not to say you shouldn’t run your own food stalls, just to be mindful of the rules and get lots of good advice early on. Our fete Facebook page was swamped with requests from food vans and other vendors eager to have a stall at our fete in return for a flat fee or percentage of profits. No doubt next time, we will consider this as an alternative to doing everything ourselves.
Following on from this, is to be mindful about electricity. It was a requirement that all electrical equipment in use needed to be tested and tagged by an electrician on the day. This did not include external providers such as the inflatable games and rides, as they needed to supply their own generators and compliance certificates. But every slow cooker we needed for curry and rice, the hot plates for crepes, fridges, fairy lights, sound systems, speakers and more needed to be tagged. We were lucky that we had a school dad who was an electrician who generously donated his time and one of his off-siders to literally spend hours and hours on-site before the event. It would have cost thousands of dollars had we been expected to pay for it.
Think of your money shot
Part way through the fete, the daughter of our Principal climbed to the very top of our enormous climbing frame and managed to take a fantastic photo of the fete, capturing all the stalls, rides and thousands of happy people. It’s the image we ended up using on all our post-event promotions, thank you’s and newsletters to the school community.
There was one glaring error with the photo though. Since we had borrowed dozens of marquees from neighbouring schools, the biggest marquee, right at the front of the photo, with huge clear-as-day writing, has the name of another school.
It’s a small thing, and probably something that could easily be fixed in seconds by someone who knows their Photoshop from their Publisher, but it’s the final lesson I want to put out there – turn the marquees around!