Unfortunately, working with large sums of cash comes with a number of risks. Even smaller scale fundraising events such as door-to-door sales and cake stalls have inherent risks when it is known that there is cash around. This article looks at some of the precautionary measures you can take with cash handling, as well as options for cashless fetes.
Where are the risks of cash handling?
At any stage where money is being handled there is going to be a risk. Whether this risk is small or large will depend on a number of factors, such as whether the people involved are known to you or not, the quantity of cash, the denominations used, the size of the event and the surrounding environment. The three main areas of concern are:
Handling: are your money handlers (ie. the people selling tickets or goods) making sure that the correct amount is being paid and the correct change provided.
Counting: accuracy when the floats are being counted during or after the event; it is easier to count notes than coins, and easier to count only gold coins than a mix of gold and silver coins.
Storage: are the floats being kept in a safe place (ice cream container versus money belt), how often are money drops being made, where is the money stored after money drops, will the money be banked immediately or will someone take it home overnight.
The biggest risks when working with cash are theft and human error – luckily there are a number of options to reduce the likelihood of both.
How to reduce the risk of theft
Provide volunteers with some form of non-replicable identification: for a large event it’s likely that not all the volunteers are known to each other. By providing them with an easily identifiable uniform, you reduce the chance of someone posing as a volunteer and taking off with the money – not only as someone posing as a stall holder, but more importantly, as the person who goes to each stall and does the money drop. Last year I went to a fete where all the volunteers wore brightly coloured Mexican hats and ponchos, they looked great and were instantly visible. At another fete I have seen volunteers all wearing matching aprons with the school logo. Click here for other ideas on how to make your volunteers stand out in a crowd.
Make sure you communicate to all volunteers before the event exactly who will be performing the cash drop duty on the day. If volunteers don’t know each other by name or face, provide them with special ID on a lanyard, a distinctive badge or something else that volunteers know to look out for. Don’t give them a big badge that says ‘money collection’ or else you are targeting them to the very people you are trying to protect them from.
Don’t be predictable: just as you don’t want to identify money handlers to the wrong people, you also don’t want to advertise when you are doing money drops. Make a roster that volunteers and stall holders are notified of in advance, but it doesn’t need to be clockwork (ie every hour on the hour) as this is easy to predict. Instead make a more random roster such as 10.40, 11.55, 12.30, 1.45, 2.20 and 3.45. Having a customised money collection roster also allows you to collect more regularly during busy times such as over lunch.
If you are particularly concerned with the risk of theft, consider unpredictable collection containers such as an empty cake box or a secure compartment in a pram.
Others suggestions to reduce the risk of theft:
Allow money handlers to work in pairs at all times
Highlight potential risks to stall holders, ticket sellers, money handlers and volunteers prior to the event.
If it is going to be a particularly large fete with the potential of bringing in tens of thousands of dollars, you should consider hiring a security firm to have a visible presence during the event and to accompany money collectors and counters.
Designate a safe, lockable room away from the crowds where money can be counted and stored and keep records of each money drop. Make sure the room is always attended and if money needs to be stored overnight because you do not have access to a night safe at your bank, make sure you have a strong lockable safe or filing cabinet. If money needs to be taken home overnight, you may choose to have an independent person count it first.
Consider taking out event insurance that covers the loss of large sums of cash.
How to reduce the risk of human error
The risk that someone is inadvertently going to make a mistake when handling or counting money is much greater than the risk someone is going to rob your event. Fortunately, the amount of money involved tends to be smaller.
Keep it separate: one way that mistakes can happen, is when the float provided is inadequate so the stall holder attempts to make change from their own wallet or purse. Similarly, when a stall holder decides to buy something for themselves while they are on duty. As such it is good practice to ask volunteers not to bring their own purses with them. This is also a security issue, as unattended handbags might prove to be too tempting if stallholders are distracted serving customers. Provide a safe, lockable place for volunteers to store their bags while they are on shift.
Write it down: develop a Money Handling Policy that covers all types of school events, and explains to volunteers and organisers the basic procedures to take when handling cash. Make sure all volunteers and stall holders are given a copy of the policy prior to the event. The policy should cover things like who is responsible for making the float, cash drops, and what to do when there is a discrepancy. Many state Education Departments have explicit money handling policies that cover a range of these issues, although they may not be specific to events such as fetes.
Four eyes are better than two: When doing a cash drop during the day, allow both the stall holder and the money handler to visualise and count the money (usually large notes and excess coins) that is being collected. Have a sheet where the amount is recorded and space for both the stall holder and the money handler to initial. Admittedly this is time consuming, so it is best to have at least two people assigned to each stall, and nominate one person to be responsible for cash drops so the other(s) can keep serving.
Other tips to reduce human error:
Where students are assisting on stalls and ticket booths, always make sure at least one responsible adult is present.
Keep pricing simple.
Carefully plan floats for each stall, taking into account the average price point of items and make sure you have the correct types of coins/notes available. There’s little point in providing silver coins in a stall that is only selling $20 tea-towels.
Provide calculators to every stall.
While it may be impractical for an entire fete to be cashless, you can certainly reduce the need for cash in certain areas of your event, specifically rides and games, food stalls and big ticket items such as auctions.
Mobile EFTPOS: Investigating the hire or purchase of a mobile EFTPOS machine is a good idea, particularly for events such as auctions, silent auctions and art shows where the sale amounts could be potentially be quite large. Not only does this assist customers who may not carry around big sums of cash, but it reduces the risk of both theft and human error. It also allows outsiders to pay and take their goods immediately, and saves the trouble of them having to front up to the school the following week to collect their prize after doing bank transfers or heading to the bank to collect cash.
Tokens and tickets/wrist bands and lanyards: depending on the size of your expected crowd, selling tickets and wristbands which allow access to rides and games or food/drink is a good way of reducing cash on the day. You can sell in advance of the event as well as having ticket booths on the day. This limits cash to one or two points only (make sure you have enough ticket sellers so that long queues do not form). Also provide separate booths where people who pre-ordered wristbands/tickets can collect them quickly and easily. If you offer an early bird discount on token/wristband purchases, it provides the school with ready cash which may be required to purchase goods or pay suppliers in advance of the event.
An example of how this works would be to determine how much each ride and game will cost, and then translate this into tickets. For example, you may sell tickets for $2 each – a visit to the petting zoo might cost two tickets, five minutes on the bouncy castle might cost one ticket and a go on the bungee trampolines might cost three tickets. It is important to have these ‘prices’ advertised in advance of the event, on the individual stalls as well as at the ticket booths on the day so that people can purchase enough tickets.
You can make your own tickets in-house or purchase generic rolls of tickets online or at places like Officeworks. If you are purchasing generic tickets do not hand out the tickets far in advance of the event, to avoid dishonest people purchasing identical tickets and having a field day at your fundraisers expense. You can avoid this by stamping tickets, running a thick black line through them as you hand them out, or any other mechanism that is simple and quick – however you must inform volunteers what to look out for and what to do if they think the tickets are not genuine. Purchasing customised tickets with your event name or date pre-printed on them is another way to avoid the likelihood of fakes on the day.
When using tickets or tokens to purchase food, it is very important to advertise this extremely well, as there is nothing more irritating than standing in a long queue to buy lunch and then finding out when you reach the front that they won’t accept cash and you needed to buy a token from the other side of the event. You may choose to have two lines for each food van or stall – a ticket line (which would hopefully be moving quickly) and a cash line. A 50 cent or $1 discount on the price for pre-purchasing a token may be a good incentive for customers.
Wristbands and lanyards are great for all-inclusive events, and while they cost a little more to buy, they are almost impossible to replicate and reduce money handling on the day to practically nil. Wristbands in different colours may represent different ‘packages’ – such as unlimited access to rides and games as well as food and drink options. For example a $20 package might entitle a child to two hours access to the rides on sideshow alley plus a hot dog and cold drink. Simply mark the wristband with a permanent black marker when the food has been provided.
Worth mentioning: selling tokens and tickets can be a great option to reduce the risks associated with money handling at fetes but it is extremely important that it is managed correctly and advertised clearly. There is the real possibility that they can reduce the overall amount of money that people spend because they do not want to line up again to purchase more tickets. This means that buying tickets needs to be quick and easy, and by offering generous packages and early bird discounts.
What is your best money handling tip?