With many schools feeling the strain of tighter budgets, the chance to get some extra cash for your school or parent group is usually a welcome opportunity. Luckily, there are many well-known consumer companies that sponsor contests for the sole purpose of giving money to schools. We love that! Our tips will give your entry the best shot of being picked as a winner.

Read all the rules, especially the sections on eligibility, how to enter, and what the entry itself should include.

Cash is great, but no parent has extra time to spare. So don’t spend time putting together an entry on a contest you might not even be eligible to win.

Similarly, read carefully to determine the entry requirements—if the sponsor is looking for a photo, who should be shown (and who should not be)? If it’s an essay contest, are there minimum or maximum word counts that need to be met? Does the sponsoring organization want to know what you’ve accomplished already, or what you hope to accomplish with the winnings? Many worthy contest entries are disqualified for not meeting the basic guidelines.

Draft your entry materials outside the contest application.

Online systems like the ones used for contests often time out—in other words, if you take too long submitting your entry, it will bump you off the system and you’ll have to start over. Make sure you don’t lose your work by compiling all of the requested information and attachments in a safer application, such as Google Docs or Microsoft Word; if there are multiple files, save them all in a single folder that’s easy to find. You can then attach or copy and paste as needed without timing out.

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

Make sure your contact person will be accessible until the contest is completely over.

Some contests run for many months, even if the entry period is only a few weeks. They might go through several elimination rounds—and if you make it to the later rounds, you want to be there to take the call if you’re chosen as a winner! Most sponsors state in their rules that a selected winner forfeits their prize if they don’t respond within a certain amount of time.

Mobilize your school community to nominate or vote.

An increasingly common part of contests is to allow the public to get involved, either by nominating the contenders for the prize or by voting on a set of finalists within a certain time frame. Sponsors like this because it promotes interaction between their brand and the general consumer audience; entrants like this, especially the ones who are good at getting others to join their cause, because they can pull ahead of other contenders by racking up public votes. Find out what the parameters are for the contest you’re entering (one vote per person per day, for example) and plan accordingly to get your community on board.

Comb the contest information to find out how entries will be evaluated.

It’s not enough to craft an amazing entry; you have to craft an amazing entry that meets the needs of the sponsor. Most contests will lay out how entries will be evaluated; this judging criteria may be in the official rules, or it may be in a section with frequently asked questions or other details. Entries that will be evaluated equally on appeal and practicality will look pretty different from those that will be ranked on creativity.

Here are a few more suggestions to help you craft the best entry you can:

  • Be specific. If you’re being asked to show how you will spend the money, for example, don’t stop at saying “We will renovate our school library”; show how far that prize money can actually go.

  • Be constructive. Talk about what you have done (or will be able to do) rather than squandering your entry on the limitations you’ve had. “Our school library has been in disrepair for 10 years and the students have had no access to new books” just took up 20 words of your entry without telling the judges anything meaningful.

  • Be passionate. Contests are a great time to wear your heart on your sleeve. Let your love and appreciation for your school community or your parent group shine through.

  • Be thorough. Look for any other guidelines provided by the sponsor, including entries from past winners.

Most important of all—keep doing the great work you do whether you win or lose.

Even if your parent group or school isn’t selected as a winner, creating the materials for a contest entry is a great way to focus on what’s important to your school community, hone a vision for where you want to go next, and communicate that vision widely. And that can only lead to great things as you take on your next challenges. Good luck!