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Fundraising for Schools and other Non-profits

Innovative ways of fundraising can boost the amount of money put into coffers of worthwhile causes in Maryland including schools.

For many of us, fundraising used to mean one of two things: either selling pizza kits and cookie dough on behalf of our kids or buying it to benefit others.  But fundraising is taking on some new and different forms, raising funds like never before.  Importantly, the new, improved fundraising means that often we’re not doing anything we wouldn’t normally so, but are still raising money for a good cause.

Gift Cards – A No-Brainer
Lots of parents already know that shopping at some Giant or Safeway stores can bring A+ Bonus Rewards or a percentage of club card purchases to their schools.  The Key School in Annapolis, however, has taken this basic concept one step further.  The school has figured out how patronizing these stores, plus loads of others, using gift cards can bring in even more bucks.
The concept is simple: buy a prepaid gift card from the Key School Parents’ Association and a minimum 3% of the purchase price will go back to the school.  The gift cards are sold at face value and can be purchased in just about any denomination.  According to the Key Parents’ Association’s gift card information sheet, some retailers rebate as much as 18%.  The list of participating merchants includes Starbucks, Macy’s, TJ Maxx, amazon.com and Home Depot, as well as many big chain restaurants.  In short, these are the places many of us frequent on a daily or weekly basis.  If a parent chooses, she can have new cards sent home each month in her child’s backpack or through the mail.
“It’s an easy way to give and you don’t even have to think about it,” says April Forrer, co-chair of fundraising for the Key School’s Parents’ Association.  Prior to the gift cards, one of the biggest fundraisers for the Key Parent’s Association was the sale of Sally Foster items, including gourmet food products, household gifts and wrapping paper.  Although 50% of the profits are returned to the school with Sally Foster, the gift cards seem to be the clear winner even with a lower donation percentage.  “I think this year the gift cards are going to raise way more, because that’s a win-win,” say Forrer.  “You have to go to the Safeway anyway; you might as well buy your gift card”

Donating Services Helps Too
Let’s face it; we’re not all Warren Buffet types.  Though we’d like to donate $30+ billion, as the multi-billionaire pledged last year, it’s a rare bird who actually can.  There’s another option that all too often is overlooked – donating time and service.  Providing appropriate services based on whatever it is you or your company does often goes a long way in helping an organization.
According to a 2006 Deloitte/Points of Light Volunteers Impact Study, released by Deloitte & Touche USA and the Points of Light Foundation, 77% of nonprofit leaders believe that skilled volunteers could improve their organization’s operations.  Just 19% of the volunteers, however, reported they primarily apply workplace skills in their volunteer assignments.
The administration at Rolling Knolls Elementary in Annapolis understands the power of utilizing volunteers’ specific skills to tackle a problem.  The school’s principal minces no words in summarizing the problem.  “The front of our school was really ugly,” says Jane Taylor.  A PTA member, who’s also a landscape designer, came up with the solution.  “The project started as an idea.  I had to create a master plan of the school property showing improvements over the next few years,” says Terri Borges.
Today, that so-called “ugly” area is now a beautiful garden, complete with mosaic butterflies made by the students.  While the effort used $3,000 of the PTA’s money, proceeds from a plant sale and over $20,000 in support from local companies ultimately made it truly a labor of love.  “We have accomplished the first phase (the mosaic garden) and hope to continue with the next phase this year,” says Borges.

All the Old Favorites
“It’s an art form,” laughs Linnell Bowen, executive director of Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts when asked about fundraising.  “We can’t live without (fundraising).”  According to Bowen, arts organizations have it especially difficult.  “I think nationally, five cents on the dollar raised goes to culture and the arts,” she remarks.
If you think ticket sales cover all operations, think again.  “Fifty percent of our money has got to be raised,” explains Bowen.  So, how does Maryland Hall raise that kind of dough?  It’s a combination of giving campaigns, mailings, corporate sponsorships and special events.  While Maryland Hall’s annual gala, Art’s Alive, is a big source of fundraising (this past year, over $120,000 was raised), it’s not the only one, according to Bowen.  “You can’t make it on special events alone.  You have to have a bunch of other stuff, like annual giving.”
For some organizations that other stuff could be bake sales, car washes, crab feasts, silent auctions, cookbooks and yes, those wonderful pizza kits.  Although some people might not love participating in these, a different view of the process might help convince some parents to become involved: these fundraisers often get the kids involved in the idea and process of charitable giving.  And, that’s a lesson surely worth teaching.

Thinking Outside the Box
For other organizations, outsourcing to a company that specialized in raising money has proven extraordinarily helpful.  Forrer, the part-time fundraiser for Key School, found that it’s her full-time career that has made her savvy in the art of raising money.  As the director of the operations for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, it’s safe to say Forrer knows a thing or two about tracking down funding.
It’s everything to us,” says Forrer.  “We just opened a new center – the Bates club – and that makes five clubs through Anna Arundel County.”  To build a new facility and provide ongoing operating costs, the club looked to an outside organization to assist with fundraising.
“We have a capital campaign team; we outsourced that,” explains Forrer It did take some money to make money though.  The initial funding came largely from one man’s donation.  “With his seed money of $100,000, we were able to start a capital campaign,” she says.  Has that team been successful?  In three years, the club has raised $4 million, just shy of their goal of $4.8 million.
What is Forrer’s advice for others?  “I think they need to develop a plan, put their goals out there, the number you want to raise.  If you don’t have a plan, an outline, you’re not going to get very far,” she offers.  You have to understand who you are going to ask, often based on the amount of money needed.  “Pick your community.  If you’re going to need thousands, you can pretty much do grassroots, but if you need millions, you have to look at the community to see which people would be interested in it.”  Asking the wrong audience will lead nowhere.
“Most people give to people and to organizations they believe in,” explains Forrer.  “Choose wisely because you don’t want to waste resources.  We were lucky because we had a great response from the community and we still do.”

Keep Tweaking Your Plan
Is any one fundraising tactic better then the rest?  Probably not, and it’s probably a combination of several ideas, trial and error, and above all, ongoing efforts that will keep the money flowing.  The power of the Internet shouldn’t be discounted by any organization, regardless of size.  Affinity credit cards can prove effective revenue generators for larger organizations.
Timing of events is a critical consideration – one that seemed to be overlooked last May when five separate events were held on the same day.  When planning a big event, check the community calendars to confirm no other organizations are having their gala on the same day.  Fundraising is no easy field to master, akin to circus juggler trying to keep several balls aloft and under control.  Perhaps Linnell Bowen put it best when she said, “I’m the P.T. Barnum of Annapolis.”

Online Resources for Fundraising Tips, Knowledge and Assistance

Association of Fund-Raising Distributors and Suppliers:
Associations of Fundraising Professionals:
Council on Foundations:
Researching of Charitable Organizations:
Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association:
ePhilanthropy Foundation:
Fundraising Ideas/ Products Center (direct marketing):

Donna L. Cole is a freelance writer living in the Annapolis area.  She has successfully sold quite a few pizza kits in the past and is currently donating writing services to benefit her daughter’s school.

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