School Fundraising Mistakes

Fundraising is both an art and a science. If your fund raising revenues are static or declining, your organization is probably making one or more of these common fundraising mistakes:

  • Lack of planning
  • Repeating the same old fundraiser
  • Not recruiting enough help
  • Low quality merchandise
  • Inadequate sales preparation
  • Poor support materials
  • No sales scripts
  • Weak internal communication
  • Lack of publicity
  • Continuous fundraising
  • Bad timing
  • No rewards
  • Poor rewards
  • Letting problems fester
  • Picking the wrong fundraiser

Mistake #1 – Lack of planning

Things haven’t been thought through. Deadlines produce a crisis response.
Nobody knows exactly what to do. Everything is a haphazard fire drill. Does any of this sound familiar?

Usually only a few people have the prior knowledge needed from the year before, so there’s a bottleneck on information. That often produces the “suffering martyr syndrome” where the person in charge, who should have had everything planned well in advance, instead spends their time moaning about how overworked they are. Admit it, you know that person!

All of this can be avoided if the right preparations are made ahead of time. See the Section on Preparation for a host of valuable ideas.

Mistake #2 – Repeating the same fundraiser
The same old fundraiser is done over and over again because that’s what you’ve always done. The roles and responsibilities are well known, so it’s a safe comfortable solution. Unfortunately, your supporters are probably sick and tired of it. Your volunteers probably feel the same way.

The typical result is flat to declining total revenue, not to mention all the missed opportunities. Have you ever looked at your old records to see what the average customer sale and average profit per sale were several years ago? It’s a good bet that there’s been little change.

The root causes of this fundraising inertia are lack of knowledge, fear of change, unwillingness to upset the status quo, etc. If you will take the time to expand your knowledge base, then you will increase your success.

Remember that your goal should be to maximize your revenue and increase your net every year, not to maintain a breakeven position. After all, the items and services your funds raised purchase have definitely risen in price over the years!

Even if it’s just inflation, the things your funds will eventually buy get more expensive each year, so your net proceeds need to grow as well. Newer fundraising activities have come along that can increase your net results per customer by 25% or more.

Don’t let your fundraising efforts achieve less than they could because they lack better direction. See the Section on Organization for more insights.

Mistake #3 – Not enough volunteers
Overworking your core volunteer group is a recipe for disaster. Good people who are willing to help your cause at no cost are hard to find. Why chew them up and spit them out?

Increase your volunteer base by defining all the roles and responsibilities. You should have written descriptions of what’s expected from each support role. Make sure that it includes an accurate estimate of the time that position requires.

Break those volunteer time blocks into two, four, or eight-hour chunks. By defining how much time a support position requires, you increase the likelihood of a match with potential volunteers. Allow job sharing; that is, allow two people to sign up for one function and coordinate their own efforts.

Another way to avoid burning out your volunteers is to recruit for all positions at the beginning of the year. This requires having your master project plan for the year mapped out ahead of time. Offer signup sheets for this year’s positions at your first group meeting. That’s when people are the most receptive to the idea of pitching in, particularly if it’s for a clearly defined amount of time.

Circulate flyers at every meeting for the remaining open positions. If necessary, include a call for additional help in your newsletter.

The Section titled The Basics is an excellent source of ideas.

Mistake #4 – Low quality merchandise
Sales are declining. Customers are saying no thanks all too often. Multiple unit sales are a rarity. Complaints are commonplace.

If these are happening to your organization, a wrong decision has been made somewhere along the line. Perhaps a higher profit percentage on every item sold sounded like a good idea. The result isn’t higher net profits; it’s lower sales.

Those lower sales are coupled with disappointed clients. Your group’s reputation is suffering.

Get rid of the junky stuff. Ask yourself if you or someone you know would pay those prices for similar quality goods at retail. If the answer is no, look for a new supplier before your support base erodes further. The idea is to buy at wholesale and sell at close to retail, not at twice retail.

For decision criteria, see the Section on Selecting the Right Fundraiser.

Mistake #5 – Inadequate sales preparation
Remember the very first fundraiser you participated in? Did you know everything you needed to know as a participant? Chances are that you didn’t and that you did the best you could without much direction.

A common mistake is to have no written instructions or inadequate instructions given to your sales team. Don’t expect people to know all the selling “to-do’s” without adequate direction. Many volunteers could be new recruits or have served a different function for a past fundraiser.

The results of inadequate sales preparation are costly. You’ll end up with missed opportunities, order confusion, lost payments, mistakes on order sheets, and many others that all cost either time or money to fix.

Be sure to take the time to do it right and you’ll save in the long run. Read the Section on Preparation for more tips.

Mistake #6 – Poor support materials
Having poor support materials is another problem. Usually these are obtained from a supplier and shown to each prospective supporter. The quality of that presentation material is a reflection of your organization. Don’t settle for brochures that make your group look bad.

If necessary, create additional sales materials in-house and supplement what your sellers have available to them. For example, if your group is selling discount shopping cards for $10 each and the accompanying brochure doesn’t really get the message across, create a flyer with large print emphasizing the savings generated.

Here’s a sample flyer for a “BUDS” discount card:

Be our BUD for only $10
Save up to $600!
Use it once – Save $2
Use it once at each merchant – Save $30
Use it year round with no limits – Save up to $600

Check out these great deals:
Free large drink with taco.
Two-for-one pizza DELIVERED!
Save $2 on two kid’s meals

Saving with our BUD’s Card is the way to go!

Having a flyer that the prospective supporter can read gets the message across much quicker than your sales team can say it. That way, the entire message comes through visually and your sales rate jumps.

For a more in-depth review, see the Section on Sales Techniques.

Mistake #7 – No sales script

Not having a written sales presentation is another big mistake. In many fundraisers, a child is one of the primary sales channels. Why would you expect a youngster to be a natural salesperson? Having been in sales for more than a dozen years myself, I can tell you with confidence that advance preparation is a mandatory requirement for success.

Write out one or two sales scripts that focus on your organization’s specific need and properly present offering. Distribute those scripts to your team along with written instructions on practicing within the family, how to build a prospect list, etc. If you think your group has this area mastered, select any seller at random and have them give you their sales pitch. I can guarantee that you’ll be surprised.

A boy of about 14 appeared on my doorstep one evening. Shoulders hunched over, he mumbled his pitch to his shoes, which could barely be seen beneath his drooping pants. Less than a week later, another boy came to my door for the same reason. He looked me in the eye, gave me two sentences about his
purpose, and asked for my help.

To which one did I contribute? Okay, both of them, but not everyone is a softie like me, but I did contribute more to the second visitor. Work on sales pitch delivery!

I’ve included a couple of sample sales scripts in this book along with detailed information on sales preparation.

Read the Section on Sales Scripts for complete coverage of this topic.

Mistake #8 – Weak internal communication
This manifests itself in many ways and severely hampers your fundraising efforts. Not giving clear direction to your volunteers and your sellers equals a lack-luster performance.

Here are some examples:
There are no individual or sub-group goals given at the start of your drive. The group’s specific goal isn’t communicated clearly to the sellers. Your message isn’t getting across to buyers. No feedback is given to your participants or to your supporters about the results. Nobody knows how well the fundraiser did or whether it was worth the effort.

These kind of communication problems create a strong drag on profits. Revisit how your group passes along information. Design a system with multiple paths of communication. Eliminate bottlenecks in the flow of information. Leverage your website as a great source of specific data on everything your group is doing.

All of these topics and more are covered in the Section on Communication.

Mistake #9 – Lack of publicity
Advertising works. That’s why you see so much of it. Put it to work for your organization by getting the word out in every possible fashion. Use flyers, posters, signs, media contacts, etc.

When was the last time your group sent out a press release?

Publicity increases community awareness of your non-profit organization and pays untold dividends. It will motivate additional participation, increase your volunteer pool, provide feedback, and give a method for communicating results.

See the Section on Publicity for more detailed information.

Mistake #10 – Continuous fundraising
Another common mistake is doing too many fundraisers. The result is burnout of your volunteers, your participants, and their customers. You know your group is in trouble if you belong to the “Fundraiser of the Month” club.

Limit your group to two or three main fundraisers each year. Take the time to design the right approach that will maximize the results of each fundraiser. A well conducted fundraiser can double the results of one that is poorly planned and executed.

Other warning signs of doing too many fundraisers include low sales volume or a declining net per customer transaction. Why bother to do fundraisers at all if you end up generating less than $5 or $10 net profit per salesperson?

This book is full of suggestions on how to maximize your revenue for each fundraiser. One is to have a supplemental offering on top of each major effort. There are literally dozens of other ideas too numerous to list here.

If you absolutely feel that your group has to raise money year round, move it to your website. Create a silent fundraiser there via a store, set up a click-through sales commission program, provide a gift certificate/scrip program there, etc.

See the Section labeled Website Benefits for additional information.

Take advantage of the rest of this book and avoid the burnout problem. Read a concise package of suggestions in the Section entitled 101 Tips & Techniques.

Mistake #11 – Bad timing
Problems that fall into the category of bad timing include conflicts with holidays, poor weather, competition doing same thing, lack of interest due to another event, overlapping school exam time, etc.

Avoid planning anything that spans major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Easter, July 4th, or Labor Day. Those are wasted time slots within your calendar due to the lack of availability of participants and supporters.

Poor weather means not doing a candy fundraiser for a youth sports group in August when the candy is likely to melt. For the same reason, don’t offer special handling merchandise like cookie dough, cheesecake, or pizza kits at those times either unless you plan everything very carefully.

Stay alert to what other fundraisers are going on in your community. Having a pumpkin patch sale on the school lawn two weeks before Halloween isn’t a good idea if there are three other ones within a mile. Offer something different and stay in touch with the leaders of other groups.

Scheduling an event-style fundraiser is a bad idea when it conflicts with another major community event that will draw away most of its customers. Check the schedules for sporting events and community functions. Don’t be like the group that promoted a Saturday car wash at a site only to find that all nearby traffic was blocked off that morning for an annual running event!

If your group relies on student sellers, don’t forget to check when midterms and finals are. Their parents won’t appreciate extra time demands when academics are the highest priority.

The message is that your success depends on being aware of the community around you.

Find more detail in the Sections on Preparation and The Basics.

Mistake #12 – No rewards
Sometimes this is appropriate; other times it is not. It depends on what the seller’s motivation is and what’s yours (the group’s leaders) is in making that decision.

If you’re not offering rewards because it’s a band fundraiser and all the money is going to pay for new uniforms, that’s OK because the goal is the reward. There is no need for performance rewards.

However, if you’re not offering rewards because they come out of the group’s net profits, rethink your approach. Your net profits will suffer because your sellers don’t see anything that incents an extra effort. Ultimately, you end up with less profit because your sales are lower. Don’t make the mistake of offering a reward to everyone just for participating. Always make it attainment based.

A nationally known health organization sponsored a “jump rope-a-thon” at an elementary school. Among the materials sent home with each child was the prize or incentive sheet showing what each child could win with certain levels of monetary sponsorship. The low-end prize was a bookmark ribbon thanking each child for their support.

The level of sponsorship required for this prize was $0 to $10. Where’s the reward for the child who got $10 versus the child who did nothing? Sure, they’re just kids, but what message are we sending to our children if we reward zero effort?

Other sections of Fundraising Success detail ideas such as seeking donations from local merchants for seller rewards like a two-for-one pizza offer or a discount coupon from a sporting goods store. Get creative and maximize your results!

For more ideas, read the Section titled Merchant Plan.

Mistake #13 – Poor rewards
Poor rewards often have the same effect as no rewards at all. Junk is junk, so why bother?

Relying on supplier freebies isn’t always a good idea. As mentioned above, go to your local merchants for a cooperative program that will drive customers to their stores while encouraging the merchants to supply motivational rewards to your sellers.

Invest the time in designing the right reward program. The increase in sales will more than pay for a slight additional cost.

For more information, look in the Section on Rewards & Incentives.

Mistake #14 – Letting problems fester
Remember that when you’re conducting a fundraiser, you’re a small business owner whose livelihood depends on maintaining a good reputation. The old “word of mouth” rule is that each person who has a good experience with your group will tell one other person, but the person who has a bad experience will tell five other people.

Claiming that you’re overworked is no excuse for not being responsive. Don’t put any customer satisfaction issue in the “get around to it” pile. You’ll be harming your organization in more ways than you realize.

Deal with all problems immediately, even if it means dropping what you’re doing right then. Follow the Golden Rule and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Consult the Section on Organization for other tips.

Mistake #15 – Picking the wrong fundraiser
Sometimes a fundraiser is just wrong for a group. It might be because that particular one works best for a larger sized group. It could be that it requires a longer time period than is available.

Others might not fit because it was picked for its higher percentage payout rather than the quality of the offering. The poor value of the merchandise ends up lowering sales instead of generating profits.

A fundraiser might have pricing that is wrong for community. Higher priced merchandise or gourmet food items aren’t a good fit in some areas.

Put “best practices” in place within your organization. Design a decision matrix that weighs the various factors to help you make the right choice.

Be sure to take the time to review the other sections of this book, particularly the Sections on Selecting The Right Fundraiser and The Best Sellers.

Allowing these mistakes to continue within your organization is costing you extra time, lost revenue, lower profits, and it’s eroding your support base. Root them out now. Act like a business owner and put a detailed plan into place to correct these deficiencies.