The options are endless, and it’s a great time for PTOs to try something new.

by Evelyn Beck


With fall fundraising projects well under way or completed, many parent groups begin thinking about plans for their spring sales.

For many groups, the spring fundraiser is smaller than the fall effort, with lower participation and revenue. “What makes the spring different is that a lot of groups have already run what they consider their primary fundraising program,” says Mark Van Wyk, president and owner of Van Wyk Confections. “Now they’re looking for additional revenue because maybe they haven’t covered enough of what they wanted to raise or there’s an additional field trip they’d like or they need another computer for the lab.” As a result, the spring sale tends to be simpler.

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And with less money on the line, it can be an opportunity to experiment. “Spring is an excellent time to test the waters and try something new and see if it has traction,” Van Wyk says.

Warm Weather Ahead

Perhaps the biggest opportunity is connecting the spring sale to excitement about warmer weather and all its related activities. Spring catalog sales tend to feature warm weather products like tote bags, picnic blankets, sport bottles, bicycle lights, beach towels, cooler bags, bug sprays, and kitchen gadgets for cooking and grilling. You can also carry over items that were popular in your fall catalog sale.

Many parent groups offer plants or flowers for those eager to start working on their gardens. The PTO at Gary D. Wright Elementary in Hampshire,Ill., has held a spring flower sale for about seven years. Flowers, herbs, and vegetable plants are ordered through a local nursery in late February and early March for planting and then delivered just in time for Mother’s Day in May. This unusually long lead time does present a bit of a challenge, though. “People have to think about what flowers they want to order when it’s snowing out,” says Tami Bilek, the parent who coordinates the sale, which nets about $800.

The Richmond School PTA in Portland, Ore., also conducts a spring plant sale for Mother’s Day, though orders aren’t due until April. “We don’t do anything until right after spring break,” says Pamela Kislak, who oversees the fundraiser. Plants are delivered for pickup within 24 hours; after that, they become part of the school garden, which the $1,500 profit helps support.

Eat Some Treats

Food is a well-known item for groups to sell in the spring. Popular items include gourmet chocolate bars, chocolate-covered pretzel rods, cookie dough, cheesecake mixes, and dip mixes. “Food always works,” says Roger Coutu, owner and president of Jeannine Fund Raisers. Just be sure that these items are protected from the elements upon delivery. “You need to think about the heat,” says Nick Kukta, vice president of fundraising company The Great Western Reserve Corp. “You don’t want to have a truck drop off frozen cookie dough and have it sit for six hours in a gym that’s not air conditioned.”

Although the gym at Bellevue (Ohio) Elementary is climate controlled, the delivery of pastries, pumpkin rolls, apple dumplings, cookie dough, snack pizzas, soft pretzels, and pretzel dogs in May does make for some extra work. There is just a three-hour window for pickup, says PTO president Amanda Bless, and the orders that are not picked up have to be packed into freezers in the teachers lounges or dropped off by volunteers on their way home.

Happy Holidays

Keep late winter and springtime holidays in mind when thinking about fundraising options. People are interested in buying candy for Valentine’s Day and Easter, as well as flowers and plants for Mother’s Day and outdoor or personalized items for Father’s Day. “Easter has become a big deal for chocolates and cookie dough because everyone gets together for the holidays,” Kukta says. School breaks for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day, and spring break provide chances for students to sell items to family members, especially in-hand products such as candy.

One part of the term to avoid is the period when students take standardized tests. And snow days, which are unpredictable, can disrupt delivery dates in some places and should be considered during planning.

The lead time needed by vendors for spring fundraisers can range from several months to just a few weeks. In general, plans are best made no later than December or January, but with in-hand products like candy, the turnaround time can be quick. “Vendors prefer at least a month out, but many companies can turn the product around in seven business days,” Kukta says. “The timeline is changing. Schools used to make fall decisions in the spring and all spring decisions in the fall, but now they often don’t decide until late December or early January for spring.”

Fundraising With Donations

Some groups forego a product sale for a physical activity that generates funds through donations, such as a color run, which features a burst of colored powder at the end of a run or walk. “The [color run] is getting a lot of attention from schools looking for alternatives in the spring,” says Kurt Koehler, president of Gifts ’N Things. “They’re looking for something outside, something to get the kids moving.”

Also popular are auctions, which rely on donated items from businesses. The PTO at Switzer Elementary in Shelby Township, Mich., makes about $7,000 on its annual spring basket raffle, which features theme baskets filled with fun spring and summer prizes such as college baseball game tickets, horseback camps, swim lessons, bicycles, and Disney World passes, says PTO president Rebecca Siwicki.

Whatever type of spring sale you choose, it’s wise to limit your group’s overall fundraising. “PTOs really have to guard against doing too many fundraisers,” Coutu says. “Schools that do the best are those that do just two fundraisers and promote that they’re just doing two. Otherwise, parents get sick and tired. You only have so many volunteers.”

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