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What to Learn When School Fundraisers Fall Short

There are positive actions that can be taken when school fundraisers fail to reach their goals. Learn 4 practical steps that will transform your next sale.

Raising money requires a lot of time and effort. No one will deny it. But if things veer off course, what’s going to get you through? And perhaps more important is what lessons will you take away.

There are positive actions you can take when a school sale falls short of its goal. How you bounce back will pay dividends for future events. At the same time, you’ll be able to keep students, volunteers and your community engaged.

Most are familiar with the adage: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” It’s the truism that helps us realize that no matter your intentions, you may not reach your destination. For school fundraisers, this can be a particularly challenging reality. Especially where the success impacts your students’ educational experience.

Unfortunately, you can be up against extenuating factors that nobody can prepare for. Varying economic conditions and other unforeseen circumstances are out of your control. 

If you’re outcome doesn’t call for confetti, consider these effective strategies:

In addition to the above, we also outlined some top fundraising management tips. Let’s begin.

1. Do an Immediate Fundraiser Assessment

The tendency is to take a break once your school fundraiser is complete. Persevere a little longer, and do an honest appraisal of your performance as soon as you can. This way, everything is still fresh in your mind.

This can be hard to do, especially when you’ve experienced disappointing sales results. But debriefing can be a therapeutic way to discover what was, and wasn’t preventable. First, analyze the numbers and the data. Then dissect the qualitative factors, like theme and morale. This helps you internalize and regain a sense of control if you feel your fundraiser got off track.

Effective evaluation can also help you balance your perspective. You may be focusing only on the $10,000 deficit on the fundraising spreadsheet. Rather balance this fixation by also considering the impact that the $30,000 you did raise will have. Any amount makes a difference in the quality of the education students are receiving. It’s money that wouldn’t have been available for critical resources otherwise.

At the end of your evaluation, prepare a final report that includes:

This process may not make you feel positive about the results, but it can help you make sense of the outcome. This internalization may result in a robust and positive outcome next time.

2. Consider ‘Bridge the Gap’ Fundraisers

School fundraisers of all types are confined by a somewhat arbitrary deadline. The urgency varies even though the needs they meet remain constant. Discuss the possibility of hosting some other fundraiser to fill in the gaps that remain.

When it comes to ‘bridge the gap’ fundraisers you have a variety of options. For instance, you may seek a lump sum amount from a corporate sponsorship. Making a proposal to a local business can actually be easier when you have something to show for what you’ve done. An appeal that begins with a story of your students raising thousands can be appealing. Many corporate donors enjoy rewarding industrious students.

Additionally, you can also incorporate grassroots campaigns—like car washes and bake sales. These can work well especially when your gaps are smaller. Or, a series of these types of fundraisers may add up to fill a larger gap if time allows.

Channel any feelings of frustration or disappointment into positive productivity. Take action that reduces the sense of loss and cut the distance between your results and your goal. It may surprise you at how responsive your students and community are. Especially since you’re showing a redoubled commitment towards meeting a goal.

3. Face Failures and Embrace Successes

A productive response is one that builds from successes and failures. The goal is to make every outcome a useful one. It’s important to be able to identify what went well and what went wrong, and respond accordingly. Good fundraisers incorporate this strategy into every campaign. This is an essential part of creating a culture that leads to improved results over time.

First, confront your school fundraising failures. Acknowledging a tactic or strategy didn’t work is the critical lesson. Put a positive spin on your shortcomings by listing them as “areas of growth” or “opportunities”. 

For example, say your school tried a new product this year in place of your normal cookie dough sale, and it flopped. You’ve learned something important. People look forward to purchasing cookie dough. Thus this tradition and dependability work in your favor. Next year, don’t change things up as much.

It’s important not to fixate on failures, especially those that are easy to mitigate. Your volunteers, as well as faculty and staff, need to know they have a safe place to fall if an idea doesn’t work out. Spaces like these are where ingenuity and commitment thrive.

4. Fundraising Event Management Tips

Have you considered changing the way you fundraise? Events are a powerful fundraising tool for schools. 20% of Americans attend them each year. But getting people to show up is only part of the equation. Your goal is to maximize the amount of money you raise. Have you thought about your strategy?

To plan a fundraiser that will exceed goals and expectations, here are 6 things to think about. 

1. Establish Your Purpose

Your foundation is your purpose. Create a clear operational plan around why you’re raising money. This will help you focus on a clear promotional strategy. Everything else evolves out of your “mission statement.” The first step to setting a clear plan of action in motion is defining your cause on paper is. 

2. Establish a Fundraising Goal

How much money do you need to achieve your objectives? Live or silent auctions, selling tickets, and collecting donations are venues worth considering.

Keep in mind, events are a great way to raise awareness, Donations aren’t the only way to support a cause. Your event will also catalyze networking. When orchestrating a fundraising event, all potential goals are on the table.

3. Create Your Budget

A set budget will help keep your costs in line and ultimately raise more money. Think about your operating costs. To be successful, you’ll need to raise funds above and beyond the amount you’re going to spend. Be detailed and precise. Make sure you consider every detail . From the event location to extra costs like catering and even parking valets.

It’s also crucial to think about a ‘plan B’. Always budget a little extra for the unpredictable. Remember, you want to exceed your goals, not fall short because of unexpected expenses.

4. Target Your Audience

Focus on who you want to attract. This will help you plan a better fundraiser and create effective marketing. Does your charity appeal to a specific generation or interest? Is it a local or national cause? Do you plan to invite certain people or open it up to the general public? Will the dress and atmosphere be formal or casual?

By defining your audience, you can determine better ways to reach them. Knowing this will better help you plan your marketing and outreach strategy.

5. Establish a Theme & Venue

People may want to support your cause but they also want to have fun while they’re there. It’s all about the experience. Make sure they’re creating their own memories as they spend money. What activities would they enjoy and find entertaining?

Location is key. Find a venue that will inject your event with flair. Don’t accept the first opportunity that comes along. Shop around. Some locations may offer a discount or even donate the space. It’s also important to ask the right questions. Understand exactly what you’re paying for. This is important to your bottom line.

6. Marketing Your Event

Be sure to test which marketing strategy will best meet your goals. Word of mouth, advertising, content marketing, and certainly digital marketing can be effective. Leveraging social media, email and texting will also make a big difference. 

Consider implementing software that will help with managing ticketing, on-site, and online registration. You can streamline the payment collection process by automating the event registration process.

No matter what happens, commit to finding and celebrating your successes. Even if you’ve lauded the same tactic or component a hundred times, the 101st time certainly won’t hurt. Ensure that you keep beneficial tactics in place with every fundraiser. Reinforcing good practices while capturing positive responses will only help your cause.

Failure is rarely final. Plus, you can show how a less-than-ideal outcome affects the process going forward. It may surprise you what a productive and proactive response will bring.



Clay Boggess has been designing fundraising programs for schools and various nonprofit organizations throughout the US since 1999. He works with administrators, teachers, as well as outside support entities such as PTA’s and PTO’s. Clay is a Senior Consultant at Big Fundraising Ideas.

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