Money. Whether we like it our not, it’s one of the most important issues for a parent group. Sure, it’s possible to enhance parent involvement in your school on a shoestring, but most groups actively raise funds to do even more. And just as parent groups aren’t all the same, one fundraiser isn’t necessarily as good as another.

It’s wise to evaluate periodically the effectiveness and appropriateness of your fundraising strategy. You want to feel confident that your work is paying off in the best possible way. So gather your executive board and your fundraising coordinator to take this quick quiz and see whether your fundraisers really make sense for your parent group. For each of the five questions below, choose the option that best describes your group.

1. Do officers and members know why your parent group is raising money?

a. Our parent and school community at large understand how we intend to spend the funds and how much we need to achieve our goals.
b. Our active members understand how we intend to spend our funds.
c. Our officers understand, but we do a poor job of communicating the specific reasons.
d. We really have never considered why we raise money; we just do it every year.

2. Does your group talk about work vs. reward when choosing fundraisers?

a. We consciously avoid fundraising projects that have an unfavorable work/reward balance.
b. We do projects that don’t generate much money, but our volunteers like doing them.
c. We know we do projects that don’t generate much money, but they’re traditions.
d. We have never really considered the work/reward tradeoff.

3. Do you think about your “customers” before picking a fundraiser?

a. We consciously consider outside factors when planning our fundraising projects each year.
b. We have changed our profit expectations because of outside factors, but we’re still doing the same fundraising projects.
c. We know times have changed in our community, but we’re still doing the same old fundraising projects.
d. We have never really considered fundraising from our customers’ perspective.

4. What steps do you take to avoid fundraising fatigue?

a. We carefully plan our fundraising projects to avoid overtaxing our parents and volunteers.
b. We have made some changes, but we still have several fundraisers each year.
c. We think we might be guilty of fundraising fatigue, but we’re still doing the same projects.
d. We have never really thought about fundraising fatigue before.

5. What is your parent group’s policy on switching fundraisers?

a. We have found and are sticking with a strategy that meets our goals.
b. We’re considering changing because of a drop in profit.
c. We recently dropped a historically successful fundraiser.
d. We change fundraisers every year regardless of outcome.

How did your group do? Give yourselves 4 points for each (a) answer, 3 points for each (b) answer, 2 points for each (c) answer, and 1 point for each (d) answer. Read on for more information about these five areas.

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

1. Know Why You Need Money

Parent groups raise money for many reasons. Before you embark on any fundraising project, consider exactly why your group needs the money. Are you raising funds to support the basic program budget? Maybe your PTO is funding a special project, such as a playground or new technology equipment. Perhaps you’ll realize that you’re just raising funds for the sake of it, with no real spending plan. According to the Association of Fund-Raising Distributors and Suppliers, participation in fundraisers increases when the customer knows the reason for the request. So be sure you take the time to really understand—and communicate—why your group is asking for financial support.

2. Consider the Work/Reward Tradeoff

Some fundraising programs are easier to manage than others. But it’s not enough to consider workload alone when deciding whether your parent group should run a certain project. Balance the workload against the relative financial payback. For example, maybe the coupon-cutting program can be handled by just one volunteer. But if all her hours of hard work translate into only a few dollars of profit, ditch the program. That dedicated volunteer’s time may be better spent on a different PTO initiative.

3. Understand Your Customers

Typically, PTO fundraising depends on the financial support of the parents in your school. You should consider the project from their perspective before automatically assuming you have a good fit. Several factors influence your parents’ ability to support your group. Consider the local economy: Are these good economic times or bad? What about other fundraising requests around the community—with whom are you competing for your parents’ fundraising dollars? If you’re selling a product, do you consider the desirability of the product within your community? If every booster club in town is selling candles, for instance, maybe it’s time to drop your candle sale.

4. Avoid Fundraising Fatigue

How many times a year does your parent group ask for money? Are you constantly bombarding your customers, your parent community, with fundraising messages that could overshadow the good work of your PTO? Ongoing financial appeals can lead to a phenomenon called fundraising fatigue. Even a so-called little fundraiser consumes precious volunteer effort. It demands attention from your parents, buy-in from your school administration, marketing, collection, delivery, and follow-up. Don’t be fooled into thinking your parents can simply ignore all those “little”fundraising requests if they choose. Most PTOs would rather be known as the group that makes the school a better place than as an obsessed fundraising machine.

5. Don’t Change on a Whim

Changing fundraisers shouldn’t be done lightly. It puts added pressure on volunteers as they work to increase awareness and support for the new program while also hoping to make budget. If your parent group has been successful with a particular fundraising strategy, stick with it. Fundraisers that are repeated year after year can continue to meet your financial goals even if a few people complain that they’re bored with the same old project. Your profit level will tell you whether the parent community as a whole is losing interest.