Fundraising Essentials for Your Program

by Jodi West, Head Coach, Poland Seminary High School (Youngstown)

Funding is always in the back of every head coach’s mind when it comes to speech and debate.  As more districts continue to lose district funding sources, fundraising for your team will be more important than ever.  In this day and age, there are many different types of fundraisers out there for your team to utilize.

Do Your Due Diligence / Plan Ahead

Before you complete too much planning, especially if you’re part of a new program, first check with your school/district administrators (early) to understand their fundraising regulations and restrictions.  Some districts only allow a certain number of fundraisers based on the size of the activity/group, while others may need pre-approval from the district treasurer; also, many districts need to inform their administrators/school board of what they plan to do just to get it onto an official school calendar.

Keep in mind, the Ohio State Auditor has been advocating for school district policies regarding crowdfunding sources like Donors Choose, Go Fund Me, EDCO, Crowdrise, etc.  These policies would include any crowdfunding that would be used to “help enhance classrooms and enrich the education of their students.”

The state auditor released a special report in July (2018) citing concerns about student privacy, financial controls and accounting, and reputational risks.  As such, the auditor is advocating for school districts to have official policies in place regarding these types of funding sources.  The following segment (below) is straight from the Ohio State Auditor’s Office regarding the policies it would like to see implemented in school districts.

The Auditor of State’s Office recommends that districts consider designing a policy that incorporates the following guidelines and best practices:

  • Requiring that all crowdfunding campaigns be reviewed and approved by a designated school administrator;
  • Directing the designated administrator to ensure that the proposed crowdfunding campaign does not violate any federal or state law, including those governing the confidentiality of student information, and that the campaign seeks donations that comport with the district’s education philosophy, needs, and technical infrastructure;
  • Designating which crowdfunding services can be used by teachers. These should be services that send donations directly to the school, not to the teacher, to ensure that donations are not diverted or misused. The district also should determine if participation with a given crowdfunding site obligates the school district to assume any responsibility to file government-required reports of charitable activities;
  • Requiring that donations only be used for the stated purpose;
  • Mandating that no donations will be accepted without school board approval;
  • Establishing that all crowdfunding donations are the property of the school district, to be entered promptly into the district property inventory or deposited in district bank accounts so that they are subject to normal financial oversight and auditing.

To see the whole report, just click on this link.

“Before you complete too much planning, especially if you’re part of a new program, first check with your school/district administrators (early) to understand their fundraising regulations and restrictions.”

Choosing the Best Fundraisers for Your Team

So how can you make it rain money for your program?  The answer is simple: Know your customer base; motivate your team to sell; and maintain fundraisers with healthy profit margins.

Fundraising can be the bane of every team’s existence; however, there are ways to make it fun for your team at the same time.  Let’s face it, the way to get the most out of any fundraiser is to get everyone on board—from team members to parents and coaches.

Try activities that put the “fun” in fundraising.

Activities that promote team-bonding have always been successful for my program.  From “Flamingo Flocking,” Bowl-A-Thons, and Car Washes—any event where the students can have fun participating and promoting will motivate them to get out there and sell.

Don’t make it a chore to participate.

Remember, these people are giving up their free time to help.  Make it worth their while.

Show appreciation for the help you receive.

Even if a fundraiser is mandatory on your team, “thank-you” gestures go a long way.

Come up with an incentive for the person who sells the most or brings in the most profit.

This could be reduced/no fees for an overnight trip, first choice of roommates for an overnight trip, or even a simple $15 gift card.

Use fun incentives to promote participation.

Offer things like a whipped-cream pie-attack to the coach of their choice for top sellers reaching certain goals.  Extreme examples of incentives could be shaving your head or beard, dying your hair your team’s school colors, and more.  Other options include wearing a funny wig to school all day, dressing like a clown for the day while teaching, or even (Dare I say it?) a dunk tank.

“Basically, don’t be afraid to try something new.”

Make sure you pick fundraisers that you know will be successful in your local area.

This is a little harder for a new program; however, after a while it becomes easier.   If your school is located in an area with a well-known chocolatier, this is a good place to start.

Though many districts have policies about selling candy during school hours, do not feel thwarted.  Ask every team member and coach to sell two boxes of candy bars/each, or even $100 worth of Easter candy/each—if that is an option with your local chocolatier (etc.).  Most of these types of fundraisers run at a 40-50 percent profit margin.  (I cannot tell you how fast my own team goes through candy bars!)

Also, make sure you are selling a quality product.

No one wants to buy a rock-hard candy bar, for example.  But a nice, creamy, milk-chocolate bar will fly out of your team’s hands with the money going quickly into your team’s spending account.  (Keep allergies in mind, as well.)

Also keep in mind the price of the products you’ll be selling.

If you are in a lower-income area, find items you can easily sell for $1/each.  Most candy bars from local chocolatiers are within that approximate range.  The fundraising packs you find at Sam’s Club and/or Costco encourage selling at $2/each.  If you go that route, you may be pricing yourself out of a successful fundraiser based on your area.

In my fundraising guide (on the OSDA website), I offer a few different fundraisers that have all been successful for my team.  I do encourage you to check them out as they all yield moderate-to-high profit margins—and with little-to-no upfront cost.

Click here for a link to the guide, for you to read at your leisure.

Basically, don’t be afraid to try something new.  Remember that the best fundraisers are something different that no other group (so far as you know) is currently doing.

With that, good luck raising money this year for your team/s.