From glow dances to reading pledge drives, it's time to get planning! Get tips and tools 👉

Picking the Best Fundraiser for Your Group

Picking the Best Fundraiser

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to deciding on a fundraiser, but assessing a few key factors can help you choose the right one for you.

by Tim Sullivan


I’m frequently asked about the “best” fundraiser, and I frequently disappoint those looking for a simple answer to that question.

The best fundraiser for your group depends way too much on your own situation, your own goals and resources, and the demographics and preferences of your own school and community for me to provide a simple answer.

There are literally hundreds of ways for your group to earn the dollars you need to do your important work well. The right choice for your group this month may be exactly the wrong choice for the group down the street from you, and it may even be the wrong choice for your group next year.

Sorry—I told you it’s not simple.

In my experience, your group should always start with the goal in mind. Why are you choosing to run a fundraiser at this particular time? What kind of dollars do you need to be successful? Do you even need to have a fundraiser right now? (Too many groups make the mistake of thinking they are supposed to be raising money all year long.)

Holiday shop how-to! Choosing a vendor, getting organized, and lots of promotional tools

If your group has $40,000 in annual spending planned out and you’re choosing your major fundraiser of the year, then you’re likely looking at the kind of traditional fundraisers that historically can yield large net returns for your group. The big “sale” fundraisers (like cookie dough or gift wrap or catalog sales or chocolates) remain the most prominent fundraisers because they provide reliable returns. Don’t underestimate that consistency.

In recent years, we’ve seen a big influx of “mega” events, like auctions and dinner galas, which can definitely bring in big returns. But before heading in that direction, you need to make very sure you have a strong team of volunteers ready to commit to several months (at minimum) of organization work. If your volunteer pool is low, these events are not a great fit for your group.

Other fundraisers are often meant to be quick and specific. If you need $2,000 for the graduation party, then a dedicated product sale with a just-right product for the time (think wreaths at Christmas or flowers for Mother’s Day or chocolate for Easter) can be a strategic choice and relatively easy to execute and promote.

You should also consistently take the “mood” of your parent community into account. If there’s a loud murmur about being tired of sales or there’s a huge movement around healthy habits, then maybe a walkathon or road race should be on your radar.

It’s all about the right choice at the right time for the right goals, just for your group.

You’ll have the same questions about give-back nights at local restaurants and home parties that will return 15 percent of sales to your school or even box tops and labels. All are good fits for some groups and not such good fits for others.

Are your parents burned out because you’re asking for their help and attention every week? In that case, even these seemingly no-brainer opportunities require some analysis. Parents don’t distinguish well between the huge sale in September and the small sale in January and the restaurant night and the home party—to parents, those are all simply you asking for their dollars.

While I can’t tell you what fundraiser is best, I can tell you with certainty that too many fundraisers is harmful. If your group becomes known as always and only wanting money from parents (rather than becoming known for serving the school and serving families and promoting community), then your fundraisers—no matter which ones you choose—will suffer.

While there is no best choice overall, there is a best choice for you. Take the time to examine these factors each time you embark on a new fundraising effort in order to make that just-right choice. It’s worth it.

Originally posted in 2013 and updated regularly.


# Sherry Truhlar 2013-02-13 12:43
Glad to see you mention that auctions require volunteers! In a survey done a few years ago, development directors across the USA were asked about their auctions. Fewer than 1% said they'd cancel an auction - despite the work involved - because they were just too lucrative. But they DO take a lot of work and aren't the best fit for a number of groups. Often when an auction is mediocre, it's because the group failed to appreciate the hours it would take to launch it.

Add comment

Security code

^ Top