Back in the spring, when many PTOs and PTAs would normally have been finalizing plans for fall 2020 fundraisers, the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread school closures put the brakes on a lot of ideas. Lingering uncertainty about what school would look like in the fall kept a lot of many leaders in “wait and see” mode.

Since the novel coronavirus will be affecting schools for some time, school parent groups should follow the examples of school administrators and make contingency plans. Review your existing fundraising plans to see if they meet your school’s social distancing requirements. If your school year started virtually, you may need to explore new school fundraising options. If your school is open now, it’s wise to make backup plans in case it closes later in the semester.

Ask your fundraising company’s representative if they have new options for fall fundraisers that will minimize contact between people, sometimes called touchless or contact-free fundraisers. You might also look into online fundraising events, like an online auction or jogathon.

As your parent group leadership discusses options, you’ll need to keep more in mind than whether students are learning at school or at home. Think about the economy in your area. If many parents lost jobs in the pandemic-related recession, do you want to change or postpone a fundraiser? Look at how well contained COVID-19 is in your community, and try to gauge if parents would feel comfortable with fundraisers with an in-person element. Your PTO’s big fall festival could be changed to a spring carnival, or simplified and adapted to incorporate social distancing.

It’s definitely a lot to think about, and it’s likely that your parent group will need to make adjustments to your fundraising plans as the school year unfolds. Our guide How PTOs Can Adapt During Change walks you through COVID-19-related questions to ask your principal and/or fundraising company representative to help your parent group make decisions.

The good news is that there are plenty of fundraising opportunities that will work during the pandemic, whether your school building is open or not.

14 Great Ideas for Distanced Fundraisers

Product sales: Ask your fundraising vendor if the company has touchless or virtual fundraising options. Is there an option to ship products directly to buyer’s homes? If there’s not, would the principal allow a drive-by event to pick up products? You can find lots of fundraising companies on the PTO Today Vendor Directory.

Food trucks: Arrange for a local food truck to park at the school one day, with the parent group receiving a portion of the proceeds. Place signs reminding families to maintain social distancing if a line forms.

Tips for Booking Food Trucks

Flower sales: Work with a local nursery to take orders for seasonal bouquets or plants, with your parent group receiving a percentage of profits. The Eagle Elementary PTO in Selkirk, N.Y., had a fall mum sale that where parents could pick up mums at the nursery during a three-day period. (link to Terri’s new fall events article when it’s published) Other options include live Christmas wreaths or Valentine’s Day bouquets.

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

Cookie kits: Work with a local bakery to sell kits that include baked sugar cookies and items to decorate them, like icing and sprinkles in your school colors. Set a price that will allow the parent group to earn a profit, and advertise the cookie kits as a fun activity families can do together at home.

Virtual 5K: Ask runners and walkers to track their time and distance on their smartphones. In Greensboro, N.C., an annual group fundraiser called the Human Race was renamed the Virtual Human Race in June 2020. Two PTAs raised more than $5,000 in the event, in which participants asked for donations and ran or walked a 5K or 1-mile within a one-week period.

Online -athons: Challenge students to read, spell words, practice math, or do something else for a limited time period. Students gather pledges from friends and family, which can be paid through an online platform.

Referral programs: Look into companies that will pay your PTO or PTA for parents you refer who become customers. Through its Greenlight Grant Program, Greenlight Financial pays $30 to a parent group for each new family that signs up through the group’s unique web link, through October 15. The school parent group that has the most referrals will win an extra $3,000!

Takeout or delivery meals: Instead of a fundraising dinner, sell carryout meals. The Neosho Rapids (Kan.) Elementary PTO changed its traditional taco meal to a carryout event, offering crispitos, a more easily portable option. If your PTO would rather not do the cooking, look into restaurants that offer takeout or delivery and ask if they have a fundraising program.

Trivia night: Reach out to companies that ran trivia nights in restaurants or bars in your area before the pandemic and ask about setting up an online trivia night. Find out if they can offer a kid-friendly trivia night with families working together as teams, or if their material is best for an adults-only event. Sell tickets, offer prizes, and sit back and enjoy the fun!

Online auction: If you’ve had a basket auction or live auction in the works, you don’t have to give up on the fundraiser completely. Several companies offer online auctions. The Grundy Avenue PTA in Holbrook, N.Y., used Facebook for their auction. The PTA created a photo album of items up for auction, sold tickets online, and made an onlne form for ticketholders to submit bids.

Passive fundraisers: In emails or newsletters, and on your group’s website, remind parents about any passive fundraisers your parent group participates in, like AmazonSmile, office store shopping rewards, or grocery store loyalty programs.

A leader from Deer Park Elementary PTA in Centreville, Va., shared these ideas that her group’s leadership has discussed for the coming school year.

Mascot birthday visits: Charge a fee to have the school mascot visit a student’s home. Include a birthday card signed by the parent group and the principal, a small balloon bouquet, and a “happy birthday” yard sign that includes the name of the school. “(School name) wishes you a happy birthday!” Take a photo of the student with the school mascot, following local guidelines for face masks.

Make-a-mascot kits: Work with a stuffed animal company to sell families everything kids need to create a stuffed animal. Think Build-a-Bear, but with your school mascot.

School spirit items: The PTA plans to sell school spirit items to be placed in family’s yards. Parents will be able to buy yard signs and flags and mailbox decorations and flags to celebrate being part of the school.