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30 Tips for a Winning Sales Fundraiser

Make any sales fundraiser a success by following these pointers.

by Christy Forhan


Before the Sale

  1. Make contact with other groups. Be aware of what fundraising projects the other schools in your immediate area are planning. You might want to stagger your fundraisers. Or run them concurrently with the other schools if your merchandise selection is unique and your schools share many families. Working parents with children in more than one school might prefer to take the different catalogs to work at the same time, rather than receiving them spread out over several weeks.

  2. Get everyone on the same page. Call a brief committee meeting to review the key dates and activities of the project. Let everyone know your expectations for their involvement: Who collects orders? When will the orders be reviewed? When are volunteers needed to distribute the merchandise? If the fundraising company you use offers a handbook for the chairperson, read it cover to cover to get the most benefit from the company’s experience.

  3. Decide what payment method you will use. There are three options. Prepayment means the customer pays the student and the student pays the PTO before the merchandise is ordered. With a pay-on-pickup plan, the student pays you when he picks up the merchandise. Post-pay means the customer pays the student when the customer receives the order, and then you collect from the student. Generally, total sales are higher, often substantially higher, when payment is deferred. However, payment collection can drag on for weeks after the merchandise has been distributed, and some portion of your payments may never be collected. Also, if you require payment up front, your PTO will have the cash in hand early, and the project is essentially over when the merchandise is distributed.

    Here are some questions to consider to help you make your decision: How reliable have your parents been with payments in the past? How persistent will your volunteers be to see the project through to completion? How practical is it for your school’s students to carry the packages home themselves? When does your PTO need the cash to pay the fundraising company? How much money does your PTO really need to raise?

  4. Create enough selling time. Schedule your sale so that it spans at least two and preferably three weekends, starting on a Thursday or Friday and concluding on a Monday or Tuesday. Keep awareness up during the sale with audio announcements, take-home fliers, newsletter reminders, a bulletin board display, lapel buttons, and reminders on the school Web site.

  5. Keep the teachers’ workload down. For elementary schools, count out the correct number of packets for each class and distribute them directly to the teachers’ mailboxes. At the middle school level, distribute the packets during the last period of the day, so they don’t get pushed to the bottom of the students’ lockers.

    Distribute a letter to the teachers describing their role in the fundraiser, key dates, contact names, and any information they need to help them answer questions from parents. Provide a collection box for orders in each classroom. When the product arrives, take the lead in communicating with parents. Don’t expect the teachers to resolve delivery issues.

Learn the benefits, risks, and costs of credit card processing for your fundraiser

Getting Things Rolling

  1. Kick off the project right. Susan Dimattia, fundraising consultant with Innisbrook Wraps, says, “The kickoff assembly is one of the keys to a successful sale. When the students get excited, the parents are more likely to participate. It’s also great if you can get the principal to take an active role in the sale, like agreeing to kiss a pig if the school reaches its goal. That way, there’s an anticipation that builds during the sale, leading to an exciting conclusion in which all the students can be a part of the projects success.”

    Another option is to introduce the fundraiser to each classroom individually, rather than in a group assembly. The Association of Fund-Raising Distributors & Suppliers emphasizes that even a short kickoff presentation must stress the importance of seller safety: no door-to-door sales.

  2. Get the message to parents. Consider incorporating the kickoff message into your elementary school’s curriculum night or open house. Ask the fundraising company to provide samples of the products for the parents. Make a display of the activities, projects, and purchases the PTO will be able to sponsor if the sale reaches its goal.

  3. Put it in writing. Send the product catalog home with a detailed cover letter attached to the front, not stuffed inside. Don’t rely solely on the form letter the fundraising company provides. Customize your cover letter to include the following information:

    • Specific purpose of the fundraiser: Is it to fund the general program budget of the PTO or for a specific project?
    • Overall dollar goal
    • Key dates. Use the exact dates, not just “one week from delivery,” and always state the day of the week. Include the date that order forms are due in, pickup or delivery date, and payment due date.
    • Payment instructions: prepay, pay upon pickup, or pay after delivery of merchandise
    • To whom checks should be made payable
    • Where students should turn in their orders (classroom or office, for example)
    • Contact names and phone numbers
    • Incentives, if any

  4. Include an option for cash donations. Judy Gmeiner, fundraising chair at Scotch Elementary School in West Bloomfield, Mich., says, “We always include the option for a direct donation to the PTO on our fundraiser cover letter. Many parents want to support the organization but don’t want to purchase merchandise. We let them know they can make a cash donation if they prefer.”

  5. Provide a convenient collection box for orders. Put a box or envelope in each elementary school classroom, plus one in the office. For middle schoolers who do not have a homeroom, provide a large collection box in the main office. Install a lock box in the office if security is a concern. Don’t put the box in the lobby, where there’s no supervision.

  6. Give frequent reminders. For middle schools, make several announcements over the course of your sale to remind students to return their orders. Encourage them to check the bottoms of their backpacks and lockers for completed order forms. Nancy Dulmage, parent group president at Abbott Middle School in West Bloomfield, Mich., notes, “We even found order forms, with payments, in the hall. You have to allow extra time after the due date for middle schoolers, since the parents are involved less directly.”

  7. Be meticulous with payments. If you require prepayment, gather five or six volunteers to compare order forms to payments. Prepare “oops” letters (form letters that indicate the type of problem and amount due, if any) to send out when the payment does not match the amount due. Count and organize the money for your treasurer. Complete a deposit notice, and turn the money over to the treasurer for deposit. Be prepared to verify the invoice from the fundraising company with your treasurer before the bill is paid.

Planning Pickups

  1. Keep parents informed. If you expect parents to come to the school to pick up their orders, announce the date and times clearly, often, and well in advance.

  2. Avoid having to store unclaimed orders. Recommend that parents who are unable to pick up their orders make arrangements for a neighbor to do so. Take extra care to get the word out if the product you are selling is perishable.

  3. Line up volunteers to help out when the merchandise arrives at school. If your project is prepay or if you will collect payment after delivery, you will need help moving the orders to the individual classrooms. Be prepared to send home a notice with students whose orders are too large for them to carry home. Store the large orders in a central location, rather than expecting the teachers to manage those pickups in their classrooms.

  4. Make pickup easy. If your project requires payment on pickup, work with your principal to select the least disruptive pickup location. Set up signs around the school to direct parents to the pickup location. Be prepared to have a few volunteers at the school into the evening to assist with merchandise distribution on pickup day.

Handling the Money

  1. Create a paper trail. Encourage sellers to write the student’s name on each check they collect. That way you’ll be able to trace any problem check back to the student, if necessary.

  2. Get help; you’ll need it! Assign a trusted volunteer to be your assistant in collecting the envelopes from the school as the orders come in. But don’t have more than one or two people do the collecting.

  3. Collect early and often. Whether you’re collecting envelopes from each classroom or from the school office, be sure to pick them up every day. And continue for several days past the due date. Late orders are sure to trickle in.

  4. Do the math. When the orders have been collected, review every one—payment due against payment included. If there is a discrepancy, list the order on an “oops log.” This log gives you a central list from which to resolve payment problems. If you only note the mistake on the order form, you may lose track—and lose money if mistakes are not resolved. Call the parent or send home an oops letter indicating the problem and any amount due.

  5. Don’t create extra work. Endorse the checks as you open the envelopes to save time later.

  6. Count the cash. Bundle the bills by denomination, with singles in stacks of $50. Roll the coins. Complete a deposit form to list all the individual denominations and simplify calculating the total. Have your trusted assistant re-count your deposit to verify your total.

  7. Get to the bank. Deposit the money immediately, or lock it up in the school safe until you can make the deposit. Do not hold onto order money to wait until it is all in; make several separate deposits rather than one big one.

  8. Take care of bounced checks. If you receive notice from your bank that a check was returned for non-sufficient funds, you must follow up with the check writer either by telephone or by mail. Usually non-sufficient funds checks result from an honest mistake, and the matter is resolved quickly. The check writer may recommend that you redeposit the original check, so do not destroy the returned check. It is your “claim check” to ensure the PTO receives payment.

  9. Establish a one-bounce limit. If your PTO is assessed a fee for processing a non-sufficient funds check, you should pass that fee along to the check writer. If the matter is not resolved, withhold the check writers fundraising merchandise and send a certified letter explaining the situation.

    You are obligated to try your best to collect the money owed to the PTO. On the other hand, you are not a collection agency. Sometimes the best solution to a non-sufficient funds situation is to require cash or a money order from the check writer in the future. This may not get your original money back, but it will help your PTO avoid additional losses due to that persons financial mismanagement.

  10. Verify before you pay. When it is time to pay the fundraising company, verify the amount with the fundraising committee chairperson. Record the payment on a check request form, and send in the check.

After the Sale

  1. Plan a wrap-up assembly. If your principal’s got to pucker up, arrange with a local farmer to bring the biggest, smelliest pig in the pen. Announce dollars earned, top sellers, and prizewinners, if appropriate.

  2. Let them know you care. Take time to close the loop and thank key participants. Publish the actual dollar amount earned in the newsletter, on a bulletin board, and at your next PTO meeting. Thank key volunteers by name (keep track as you go so you know who helped out). Send a general thank-you to the parents of your students through your school’s newsletter. Thank the teachers for their assistance with the sale. Send a personal note of thanks to any volunteer who went above and beyond.

  3. Remind everybody why you did all this. Are you funding new playground equipment? A years worth of assemblies and field trips? Whether the money is for a specific project or the general fund, let teachers, parents, and students know why all their effort is worthwhile. You told them before you started the project; now re-emphasize it in all of your wrap-up activities and correspondence.

  4. Help make next time even better. Throughout the sale, keep a file of sample fliers and announcements. You might even photograph your visual displays, the kickoff assembly, and the wrap-up event. Write down how you handled kickoff, catalog distribution, merchandise pickup, payment collection. Think of things that would have made your job easier, if only you had been told ahead of time. Write those things down now! List your recommendations for future fundraising projects, including your experience working with this specific fundraising company. Organize all your paperwork, and file it for the next fundraising committee chair. (Might that be you?)

Originally posted in 2003 and updated regularly.


# Blackkmail tactics 2008-02-24 12:06
Please do not set your fundraiser reward based on the number of items, etc the child sells. Nobody wants their child to be left out of a fun activity; however, many school fundraisers set a minimum amount or number of items that a child must sell in order to participate in a party or event. Parents with multiple childen find it difficult (if not impossible) to spend large amount of money for a fundraising event. Also, the fundraisers take place at the time of year most families are struggling with "first of the year" expenses and beginning their Christmas shopping. A fundraiser can only be successful if it is a considerate fundraiser. Don't alienate children based on the size of their families' budget.
# PTO Momo 2009-03-07 15:04
I would have to agree with the comment from the above poster about the inappropriateness of rewarding only the child or children who sell the most. Most of the time it's the parents, not the child, doing the selling at work or in their social circles anyway and so by rewarding the child for their parents' efforts, we are actually promoting false values to our children. What about the child who only sold a small amount of items, but did the work himself? I also think its better to set a minimum selling level to allow many more students to participate in a reward event.
# Mohammed Idris 2010-06-17 09:56
I,really found this iseue very intersting, indeed

Mohammed Ideis
# Jim 2010-09-17 16:37
Has anyone tried HelpingKidsPlay.com fundraising. A perfect SAFE way we did our fundraising event.
# Sheila Falciano 2010-10-26 22:10
This article noted EVERYTHING I've done for the past 4 years as Fundraising Chairperson for our PTA and we have pulled in more funds in the past 4 years than in the past 10 years. I also agree with rewarding EVERY child who participates. Even the smallest reward, I give each participant a star excellence sticker to wear around school with their name on it. We also give the most participating class a pizza party, pizzas donated by our local pizzeria (only to the children who participated). This year, EVERY participant has a chance at two additional prizes we are raffling off. I've also partnered with a local business to give us gift certificates for the top seller per grade and a friend to go to the miniature golf course/ arcade. The top seller of the school also gets 4 tickets to the locally owned movie theatre - NOT a chain theatre. We HIGHLY promote our locally owned businesses. We tell the children that even ONE item sold helps their school.
# Cindy 2012-10-12 02:01
PTO...you left out a really great catalog & online fundraising company. 'Green' products that are colorful, durable and oh so appealing to adults and students. 50% profit!

# Lora 2015-10-19 20:08
I love how detailed these tips are. It is always good to think ahead - especially about storing items that people forget to pick up and leaving a paper trail of the money spent.

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