Event: Cookie Dough Sale
Group: Sacred Heart PATHS
Location: Fremont, Ohio
Amount Raised: $20,000
Notable: Sales averaged an amazing $230 per family

It may be a small town, but Fremont, Ohio, has a big appetite for cookies. For the past two years, students at the private Sacred Heart School have sold more than five tons of cookie dough worth more than $50,000. In 2004, the school ranked as the second-highest seller of Otis Spunkmeyer cookie dough in the country, outsold only by a school more than three times its size.

How does a 300-student school in a town of fewer than 18,000 move so much dough? Much of the success is due to fundraising dynamos Shannon Reardon and Joli Yeckley. The cousins have cochaired the sale for seven years for the school's parent group, called Parents and Teachers Helping Students, or PATHS. Although they say the dough practically sells itself, it takes hundreds of students and dozens of parent volunteers to sell and deliver the thousands of tubs the school sells. With their many years of experience, Reardon and Yeckley have running the sale down to a science.

Reardon coordinates with the fundraising company, and Yeckley organizes volunteers to unload and deliver the tubs of cookie dough. Both work to secure prizes and to verify order information. Because each of the women has three children and works outside the home-Reardon as a physical therapist and Yeckley as a registered nurse-they have to be organized.

"Shannon and I often laugh and say, 'Let's give it up and let someone else do it,' but we have it down so easy, we hate to have it be a burden on someone else," Yeckley says.

Leaders in Dough

The sale has been well-received in Fremont because it is the only PATHS fundraiser that requires students to sell and because the cookie dough is a good product, Reardon says. Students from prekindergarten through eighth grade participate.

Last year's sale netted a profit of $20,000, nearly half the organization's annual budget of $44,000. Students sold more than 3,700 tubs of cookie dough, and sales averaged $230 a family.

"They've been leading this part of the country for the past four years and lead in sales per enrollment by far," says Jim Forrester, the school's account manager at fundraising company Red Apple Morley. One reason for Sacred Heart's success is that the entire school promotes the sale, he says. Students and teachers sell the cookie dough, and parents pass order sheets around their workplaces and help unload and deliver the tubs of frozen dough.

PATHS members enlist the support of parents by speaking at a school orientation night about how much the school has raised in past cookie dough sales and how the proceeds benefit students. (Read more about Sacred Heart School's enrichment programs in the September 2005 issue of PTO Today or at www.ptotoday.com/1005midwest.html.) The sale is also advertised in flyers the school sends each week. "It takes the whole school," says Reardon. "You've got to motivate the students and have something the parents like to sell."

The Catholic school benefits from the support of its parish, which publicizes the sale in its bulletin, as well as of the larger community. "It helps that our priest loves the cookie dough," Reardon says. "He stands up there and pushes people to buy it."

Focusing on Fun

The cousins aim to make the sale fun for everyone involved, from the students vying for prizes to the parents tabulating orders. Before the sale starts, students try free samples of the cookies and Forrester leads a kickoff event in the school gym. "He praises them up and down for the success of our sale, and they're really proud of that," Yeckley says.

Students are motivated not only to set sales records but also to win prizes like tickets to local attractions. Reardon and Yeckley decided to reward students with experiences instead of providing prizes from a catalog. They restructured sales awards to provide incentives for participation as well as sales volume. Last year, each student who participated received a candy bar. Five classes that reached 100 percent participation were rewarded with a pizza-and-movie party.

Children in the same family sold the cookie dough as a team, but each child received credit for total sales. The family with the highest sales could choose between tickets to an amusement park or a Cleveland Indians or Cleveland Cavaliers game. In addition, families that sold 50 or more tubs won lunch with the principal at Pizza Hut. Students rode there in a limousine donated by a family that owns a local car dealership.

The top two sellers in each class received passes to a local water park, and students reaching a set sales level received music-download cards. PATHS also awarded cash prizes and gift certificates totaling $350 in a drawing during an awards assembly. Students could be entered into the drawing multiple times based on the number of units they sold. On top of that, sixth and eighth graders selling cookie dough could earn credit toward class trips.

With such a driven sales force, one might expect the collection of orders to be a stressful event. But instead, a group of moms gathered in Reardon's kitchen for a day, laughing and drinking coffee as they counted money and double-checked orders.

On delivery day, thousands of tubs of cookie dough arrived at the school and had to be sorted by families within hours. Yeckley recruited parents to sort and pack the dough into cases, and seventh and eighth graders assisted with the work. When parents picked up their children from school, they started making deliveries.

Despite the impressive sales numbers, Yeckley says the cookie dough sale is not as much work as it used to be. "Sometimes we can print things off the computer and change the dates from the year before," she says.

The dynamic duo plans to keep volunteering to lead the fundraiser, at least for the foreseeable future. Both Reardon's and Yeckley's youngest children are in third grade and have five more years at Sacred Heart School.

"I'd be willing to keep doing it five more years," Reardon says. "Then it will be time to hand it over to somebody else."

Sacred Heart's Recipe for Success

Pitch a Good Product
Find a quality product with wide appeal. The group baked up samples of the cookies for students to taste before they started selling so they could tell customers about the quality of the cookies.

Minimize the Frequency of Product Sales
Sacred Heart PATHS avoids nickel-and-diming the community with sales. The group has three fundraisers a year, and the cookie dough sale is the only one in which students sell products. Students and parents are less likely to experience fundraiser burnout, and community members look forward to the annual sale.

Get Everyone Involved
Students couldn't help but notice when their teachers, parents, and parish priest all joined in support of the cookie dough sale. Teachers sold dough and helped lead the awards assembly. Parents spread the word about the sale and donated their time to unload the shipment and make deliveries. Sacred Heart Parish publicized the sale in its bulletin and during mass. The involvement of so many adults important to the students' lives may also have boosted participation.

Provide Creative Incentives
Think about ways to motivate students to sell in addition to the traditional prizes offered by fundraising companies. Reardon and Yeckley devised a system that encouraged individual and group participation and that rewarded top sellers. Instead of catalog prizes, they awarded limo rides to a pizza party and tickets to a local water park and amusement park.

Get Organized
Running a big fundraiser doesn't have to take a lot of time, but it does require a lot of organization. Reardon and Yeckley keep detailed records they can refer back to in coming years. Because they rely heavily on parents to help with logistics, they begin asking for support at the school orientation night in the fall. Sacred Heart also works to retain customers even as students leave for other schools. When eighth graders graduate, they're asked to give their contact list to a remaining student.