You’re probably familiar with the Midas Touch – when everything you touch turns to gold – well, there is an opposite syndrome – the Sadim Touch – when everything you touch fails miserably. Have you ever felt you have the Sadim Touch when it comes to fundraising, and all your ‘good ideas’ fail to live to up to expectations?
Whether it is tea-towels that failed to sell, a movie night that had to be cancelled or signing up to a grocery delivery service that didn’t find a single new member, many schools across the country can probably think of at least one fundraising event that fizzled.
Why can a fundraiser fail?
Rest assured, it’s probably not you. Anyone who donates their time and energy to be part of a school or club fundraising committee deserves sunshine and rainbows, and probably isn’t plagued by bad luck. But there are a number of reasons why a fundraiser may fail to launch.
Your event or fundraising sale is clashing with other events, and families are feeling overwhelmed.
Have you considered: end of season sporting events and celebrations, overload at Christmas, too close to a public holiday and people are away, school or club camps, major cultural events such as Ramadan, Passover, a local festival or celebration, same weekend as Fathers/Mothers Day, same weekend as a major sporting events or Grand Final.
How to fix: do your planning in advance and avoid all the major events, if you have already booked your event – calculate the cost of continuing the event with poor numbers versus cancelling or postponing.
It’s possible that you have misread your audience and scheduled an event or are trying to sell a product that does not appeal to your community. Take into consideration the cultural, economic and social make-up of your community. Are you trying to sell ice to the Eskimos or umbrellas to a dessert community? Maybe you have been selling the same product for the last ten years and no one needs any more.
How to fix: do your research before you commit. If you are considering a new fundraising product or event is it worth doing a quick online survey to gauge support. If you have already committed to the fundraiser, make sure you understand the costs involved in cancellation, minimum orders and what options there are for returning unsold stock. You might also consider advertising to the wider community, and broadening your marketing scope.
If you sat down and wrote out every single event that your school had this year, from the big end of year fete to the Year 2 reading club you may be surprised at the sheer quantity of the demands each family experiences. And let’s be honest, the people who make up the P&C are unique in a way that they are prepared to front up to almost everything (they organise half of it, so they really have to).
But most families aren’t like that, and they don’t differentiate between the fact that they have to help make their child’s book week costume and the fact they have to donate a cake for the election day cake stall, they see no difference between having to fork out money for the sports day sausage sizzle and the P&C asking people to buy tickets for their fundraising movie night – it’s all for the school. Maybe you have just asked too much this year and people would rather curl up on the couch and watch Survivor than dress up for a 60s Bowling Night.
How to fix: don’t plan any more events this year. Keep an open line of communication between the school and P&C to make sure that families aren’t being asked to do too much. Keep your major events to two a year and your fundraising drives (or product sales) to the other two terms. If you’ve already committed to your event it might be best to cut your losses and reschedule for next term/next year or consider making it a public event. Approach the neighbouring school and see if they would consider opening the event to their community.
Maybe people like your product but the price is too high. When selling fundraising products from companies – anything from tea towels to pictures plates to candles or even wrapping paper – most of the time the RRP is just that – ‘recommended’. You don’t have to put a $10-$15 profit on everything you sell.
How to fix: be conscious of the selling price of any product or ticket you are selling. Take the time to calculate how much families would have already spent during the year on the various school and fundraising events – does your school community have an unofficial limit to how much they are willing to spend each year?
If you have already committed, the solution is easy – drop the price, especially if you have already paid upfront. Calculate what you need to break even. It’s better to make only $2 per tea towel than have hundreds sitting unsold in the cupboard.
Take stock and ask what parents and families have been asked to buy this year. A voucher book, maybe a box of chocolate, tickets to a disco, books, bags of manure (I’m not being rude, some schools have fertiliser drives), a tea-towel, a calendar? Individually they are all great products but if you are having too many fundraising drives, you can expect a backlash.
Are we always asking people to ‘buy’ rather than ‘give’? Ask 100 parents if they’d rather spend $10 on [insert product name here] or donate $15 cash directly to the school, I think 75% of families would prefer to give their cash and not want the [insert product name here].
How to fix: be conscious of the message you are sending. Do you have a non-committal message such as “All proceeds benefit Holy Smoke Primary P&C…” which may inadvertently give the wrong message, when in fact it really ‘benefits the kids at Holy Smoke by building a much needed new middle-school play area’. People like to know where their money is going, and if you can inform people what projects the fundraiser will be funding, people will be more willing to help than just knowing the money is going into the bank account.
If you have a fundraising fail you’d like to share, and help other groups avoid making the same mistakes, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org You can remain anonymous if you prefer.