Baking and selling cookies is what usually comes to mind when parent-teacher groups (PTAs) brainstorm school fundraising ideas. While the cookie route is a proven winner, it’s not all there is. Nor is it likely to raise the money your group needs to support ambitious school programs. There are better ways to make fundraising profitable, more engaging, and fun. For that, it pays to understand the dos and don’ts.
Whether you’re new to school fundraising or an experienced campaigner, this blog is your one-stop resource. It covers everything from how to start a PTA, PTO, or booster club to improving an existing one. You’ll learn the basic best practices of successful fundraising initiatives. And there are ideas on choosing the most profitable activities for your group and school community. By the end of this piece, you’ll have the knowledge you need to start promoting your school fundraising campaigns like a real pro.
Why School Fundraising Matters
Parent-teacher school fundraising matters as it helps bridge the gaps created by underfunding. In other words, it helps the disparities created by what schools get from the government and what they need to provide a quality education for students. Parent-teacher groups raise money to buy resources for school programs and opportunities in underfunded schools. Their support benefits students, teachers, and the wider community.
If you’re an established group, jump to the “School Fundraising that Makes the Most Money” section below. For those just starting out, read on to learn about the basics of preparing your new group for school fundraising.
Best Practices: School Fundraising Dos and Don’ts
Parent-teacher groups across the country raise phenomenal amounts of money each year for worthy school causes. Collectively, these organizations raise tens of millions annually. The amount generated by individual groups varies greatly depending on the size and location of the school. Other factors rely on the level of volunteer involvement, the types of fundraising initiatives they undertake, and their fundraising skills.
The 9 Don’ts of Fundraising
Event planning is more likely to succeed when you follow the fundraising dos and avoid the don’ts. Let’s start with nine common don’ts of parent-teacher fundraising.
#1 Overburden Volunteers
Asking too much from your volunteers can lead to burnout and a decline in enthusiasm. Remember, they are your organization’s most valuable assets, so you need to keep the people who you attract. Respecting their time and efforts is the best way to keep folks motivated and committed. There needs to be a balance between achieving your fundraising goals and securing the well-being of your valued helpers.
#2 Lack Clarity
Avoid creating ambiguity around the allocation and use of your club’s funds. The way to achieve donor confidence is through total transparency. That means providing clear information about how their contributions will benefit the school, students, or specific initiatives. Uncertainty, on the other hand, erodes trust and deters potential supporters. Be transparent and provide detailed information about the intended purpose of the donations.
#3 Accrue High Overhead Costs
Avoid lavish spending and instead focus on your core mission. The only thing high overhead costs will do is significantly reduce the impact of your fundraising efforts. Excessive expenses reduce available resources, potentially discouraging donors to your causes. Groups that practice efficient cost management have more funds to reach their intended purpose.
#4 Sell Inappropriate Items
Don’t be tempted to sell inappropriate items, even if they offer a handsome profit. Instead, choose things that align with the values and age groups of your school community. Unsuitable items could be categorized as culturally insensitive, hazardous, or just improper for the school environment. Be mindful of the integrity of your fundraising offerings, as a positive image maintains the support and trust of your stakeholders.
#5 Neglect Legal Compliance
Failure to follow local, state, and federal fundraising regulations can lead to serious legal troubles and substantial fines. If that happens, you risk harming your group’s reputation and losing support. Knowing and adhering to the laws, permits, and reporting requirements will keep your fundraising legally sound and credible.
#6 Create Burnout
Asking too much of dedicated helpers can create burnout and kill enthusiasm. Watch for anyone showing signs of exhaustion, apathy, or decreased performance. An overwhelmed individual or team leads to reduced morale and rapid disengagement. To avoid this, strike a balance between fundraising activities and volunteer capacity. This approach helps support commitment and enthusiasm throughout campaigns.
#7 Be Overly Dependent on Fundraising
Fundraising is vital for generating revenue for your organization. Even so, try not to over-rely on it. Overemphasizing fundraising can lead to donor fatigue and volunteer burnout. You also want to avoid harassing your community with endless fundraising appeals. A more balanced approach is to explore diverse income sources. Look to adding grants, sponsorships, and partnerships to the mix as a way to maintain financial stability and reduce pressure on your fundraising efforts.
Although self-promotion is necessary, it should never be excessive, especially on social media. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm your followers with constant donation requests. Another tactic to avoid is using guilt strategies to elicit contributions. The solution is to find a happy medium between promotion and respect for your audience’s boundaries.
#9 Neglect Waivers
Neglecting waivers opens your group to legal vulnerabilities whenever students partake in activities you organize. Not only should you not neglect waivers, but also ensure they’re clear and thorough. The ideal release form specifies responsibilities and has parent signatures. Additionally, keeping well-documented records is essential for your legal protection.
The 11 Dos of Fundraising
Now that we’ve shared the most common don’ts of parent-teacher fundraising, let’s turn our attention to the dos that can help you succeed.
#1 Plan Early
Planning events early should be at the top of every to-do list. Early planning vastly reduces stress by giving your team ample time to develop and implement well-thought-out plans. That typically involves brainstorming fundraising ideas, setting a budget, creating goals, and establishing a timeline. Advance preparation is also valuable if you need to get pre-approval from the school’s administration or to secure any permits or licenses for the occasion.
#2 Engage the School Community
Encourage parents, teachers, and students to participate in your fundraising campaigns. Collaborating with the school community strengthens the effectiveness of your fundraising endeavors, leading to better outcomes. Community participation also creates a sense of shared responsibility and enthusiasm, which fosters a stronger sense of unity and support. And perhaps most important of all, a shared purpose makes your fundraising more fun.
#3 Offer Diversity
A great way to maximize your fundraising potential is to explore a range of methods that cater to diverse audiences. Some interesting options could be running online campaigns, events centered around the community, and partnerships with local businesses. Diversifying fundraising options should help attract more supporters and increase your financial success.
#4 Set Realistic Goals
Your goals should be realistic and achievable. That means they fall within your budget and specified timelines and can meet set targets. Maintaining realistic goals ensures manageable fundraising initiatives and builds trust and support among your volunteers and donors.
#5 Promote Transparency
Communicate openly about how you plan to use the funds. Transparency ensures your club’s stakeholders understand the impact of their contributions. Openly sharing specific goals and outcomes with parents, teachers, and the community builds trust and encourages more generous support.
#6 Thank Supporters
The generosity of club donors and dedicated volunteers makes school fundraising initiatives possible. A simple thank you can take many forms, e.g., personalized thank-you notes, recognition events, or small tokens of appreciation that convey gratitude. A strong culture of acknowledgment fosters a sense of belonging and motivates supporters to remain engaged.
#7 Comply with Regulations
All parent-teacher groups must follow federal, state, and local laws. Complying with regulations is critical to maintaining fundraising integrity. Compliance not only keeps your efforts lawful and ethical but also builds trust with donors and the wider school community. Your legal compliance shows transparency and responsible fund management, which positions you as a trusted partner in education.
#8 Make Donating Easy
The idea is to offer user-friendly, hassle-free ways for people to donate to your causes. The best approach is to provide payment options other than cash, such as checks, credit/debit cards, online payments, and text-to-give. By diversifying the donation methods with clear, secure options, you will attract and retain more contributors.
#9 Get Parents to Sign Waivers
Parents should sign waivers before their children partake in any school activities or outings your group organizes. There are two reasons for this. First, waivers provide some legal protection. And second, they ensure that everyone knows the potential inherent risks and responsibilities.
#10 Take Out Insurance
Parent-teacher groups need insurance. Your potential risks include liability for accidents at fundraisers and other events. Insurance can also cover property damage, fundraising fraud, theft, and personal liability for board members. Being covered ensures financial security, continuity of support for the school and students, and peace of mind. We will look at the different types of parent-teacher group insurance in more detail later.
#11 Motivate Your Volunteers
Motivating volunteers is essential for attracting and retaining dedicated help. Motivated individuals tend to be more engaged, productive, and committed. To maintain motivation, show appreciation, define roles, provide relevant training, and foster camaraderie through fun events. Remember to align a person’s skills to the most appropriate roles. Lastly, respect your volunteer’s time commitments and always encourage open communication and feedback.
Adhering to the dos and don’ts of fundraising helps you avoid negative consequences and increase your chances of success. Clubs that familiarize themselves with best practices and pitfalls get to foster positive fundraising environments. Transparency, trust, and a supportive atmosphere will help you achieve your financial goals while maintaining the enthusiasm of volunteers and supporters.
Before You Look at School Fundraising Ideas
Before you even look at fundraising, think about incorporating your group. Yes, incorporation involves some paperwork and fees, and it’s not a legal requirement. Still, there are several good reasons to consider this process. The most notable are legal protection, enhanced credibility, and your group’s eligibility for tax-exempt status. Procedures may vary by location, so seek professional advice if you’re unsure.
Here are a few tips to make the incorporation process easier:
- Create bylaws outlining group structure, purpose, and operations
- File required documents with the state to establish your nonprofit
- Seek 501(c)(3) status for tax-exemption
- Comply with local laws to meet state registration requirements
- Ensure ethical fundraising practices at all times
Incorporating your nonprofit group lays a solid foundation for long-term success. It shows volunteers, potential donors, and sponsors that you are serious about the mission and fundraising endeavors. You also need to understand the different financial contributions for your group.
Navigating Different Financial Contributions
To effectively manage financial donations for your group, you need to differentiate between voluntary and involuntary contributions. Voluntary contributions come from wanting to show your support, while involuntary contributions are required. Distinguishing between support donations and required fees is critical. Sponsorship expenses can be tax-deductible if they provide clear, tangible business benefits.
This table gives examples of how the various financial contributions work.
|Individuals donating to booster club causes. Also, local businesses offer free-will donations to enhance PTO/PTA educational programs.
|Mandatory fees parents pay for joining parent-teacher groups. Required contributions for participating in sponsored events.
|Parents donating to support school-wide initiatives. Community members offering financial support without specifying how the funds should be used.
|Charging fees for students to participate in school functions organized by the parent-teacher group. Collecting fees for sports equipment rentals at events managed by the club.
|Local businesses sponsor school events in exchange for prominent advertising space and support fundraisers in exchange for being featured in promotional materials.
|Business contributions exchanged for something other than advertising, e.g., tickets to a school concert or merchandise.
Your group should always be transparent and accountable, including when filing taxes.
Filing Taxes: Dealing with the Boring Stuff
Nonprofits such as PTOs, PTAs, and booster clubs are eligible for tax-exempt status by filing form 1023 or form 1023-EZ. For full details, see section 501(c)(3) of the IRC or Internal Revenue Code. This means your club doesn’t have to pay federal income tax. Furthermore, club donors can deduct their contributions to your organization on their tax returns.
The application process involves giving accurate information about your organization’s structure, activities, finances, and governance. IRS personnel then review your application and determine whether to grant tax-exempt status. There shouldn’t be any problems if all your affairs are in order. But if you’re not sure, seek professional guidance.
There are four main types of insurance a parent-teacher group should consider:
1. General Liability (Events)
General liability insurance protects PTAs, PTOs, and booster organizations from claims of bodily injury or property damage arising from activities. That typically means accidents, injuries, and property damage during your events or on school grounds. Because every group is different, an insurance company like AIM can tailor packages to meet specific needs.
It’s worth noting that general liability insurance will not cover every type of event. See the comprehensive list of covered and excluded events here.
2. Directors & Officers Liability
Directors & Officers(D&O) liability safeguards your group leaders from personal liability. It protects them against financial losses or legal claims from wrongful or inappropriate decisions or actions. D&O insurance covers defense costs, settlements, and other claims related to allegations of mismanagement, negligence, or unlawful acts.
3. Property Coverage
Separate property insurance protects your organization’s physical assets. Think buildings, costly equipment, and supplies, etc. These policies safeguard your property from damage or loss caused by fire, theft, vandalism, and even natural disasters. Coverage pays for the cost of repairs, replacements, or reimbursements.
4. Bonding (Embezzlement)
Bonding(fidelity insurance) protects your group from financial losses caused by employee dishonesty or theft. It covers losses that come from embezzlement, fraud, or misappropriation of funds by those handling your money or valuables.
School Fundraising that Makes the Most Money
With the boring stuff out of the way, you can start to think about ways to raise money for your new group. The best clubs have bigger ideas for event planning than just baking and selling cookies, although that’s a great place to start. But once you get established, you’ll want to look for ways that are more fun and a lot more lucrative.
Here are 18 traditional, event-based, and community engagement ideas to get you thinking.
|Vehicle cleaning services Garage/yard sales Fundraising raffles Selling club merchandise Silent auctions
|Musical concerts/live acts Craft fairs Charity fun runs or walks Dinner galas or banquets Sports tournaments Themed parties
|Crowdfunding drives Community clean-up Educational workshops Online donation campaigns Profit-sharing events Dine-out fundraisers
Thriving groups are dependent on volunteers. Successful organizations have a talented and committed pool of willing, highly motivated helpers. These teams think outside the box, using creative ways to raise money year-round outdoors, indoors, or with online fundraising.
School Fundraising: The Conclusion
School fundraising helps enhance educational opportunities for schools and students by filling funding gaps. To maximize the effectiveness of your club’s efforts, your group should plan ahead, engage with the local community, and diversify its fundraising methods. Remember to always set realistic goals and ensure transparency. Don’t overburden your volunteers or neglect legal compliance. And try not to be overly dependent on fundraising alone to raise much-needed cash.
By following these best practices, your group will be ready to make a significant impact in your school or community!