Fundraising Events: A Volunteer’s Guide

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After 6 years of being a “volunteer extraordinaire,” I’ve found myself with some great tips for parents who want to become actively involved in their child’s school.

Schools often have a PTA or PTO: a non-profit that helps support teachers and experiences for students who might otherwise miss out on valuable opportunities. These non-profits are tasked with the job of raising money to pay for that support.

A Parent Teacher Association (PTA) is a great way to volunteer your time and give back to the community. Many schools and PTAs find it necessary to host fundraising events to provide new playgrounds, specialty programming, school supplies, and scholarships… frankly, the list is exhaustive. One way to make sure these things get to happen is by holding fundraising events that are both fun and profitable! I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a few tricks I’ve learned as a newbie to event planning and fundraising. If you should find yourself leading or being involved with one of these fundraising events, this is a great plan of attack!

1. Be Truly Passionate About the Mission and the Goal

I’ve done some events which needed a pretty quick turnaround, but you otherwise want to have at least 4-6 months to plan a larger scale event. Fundraising events can be done in 1-3 months, but the less time you have for planning, the more taxing it is on all involved. Events planned with limited time are only enjoyable for those nail-biting types! Another valuable reminder: if you are taking time out of your own life to do volunteer work, make sure that doing so fits in with what you care about. For me, supporting schools and teachers is my jam! So it’s always been easy for me to share that message with those who were also involved in planning events.

2. Educate Yourself About the Mission – and The Need In Front of You

The more educated you are about what the need is – and why the need is there – the more care and compassion you will have about the subject; in turn, the more it will reflect in the way you ask others for help. Take the opportunity to learn from those who have done something similar before, or ask for a specific list of goals or outcomes needed from the fundraising event.

3. Assemble a Team With Varied Strengths

When volunteers come together, you will inevitably have some who are more experienced than others; you may have someone who is more creative or crafty, and someone who is really organized and good with technology. You may have someone that loves numbers and is able to keep track of everything that is coming in; another person who is good at talking to people; and someone else who is happier running up and down the sidelines while other problems or errands come up. Everyone needs each other to succeed! And having a team with a wide range of strengths will make the work happen with ease. 

4. Organize Groups and Assign Tasks

The point person should be the one to draft an “ask letter.” This letter can either be emailed or presented in person when asking for a sponsorship. As a team, the group should also outline levels of sponsorship. These levels will provide the sponsor with some type of benefit – from a social media post to a prominent sign at the event; or a donor spotlight that gives more information about their business so your community can learn about it. Think about it as offering free advertising. In the letter your levels should be straightforwardly outlined, and you should also provide some background information about the cause and importance of the ask. Finally, the letter is a valuable opportunity to relay the passion you have for the project.

The technology/graphic team should be able to create any graphics needed, set up a Facebook page for the fundraising event, manage a website for ticket sales, and create a Google file to ensure ease of ongoing communication. They will also be able to offer descriptions of the silent auction items, as well as manage an online tool to bid on them.

The money and accounting person(s) can then create a spreadsheet that includes all the sponsor asks, including such information as offer acceptances and how much they are pledging. This will be helpful in keeping the group organized – and ensuring that the same donors aren’t asked twice. 

The creative decorating team can help with how the fundraiser will look and the set-up. What information about the ask will be displayed at your event? Will it be in the form of a video, slideshow, or will you have a banner and posters about your project and celebrating donors?

5. EXTRA Communication is Key

Consistent communication will help to ensure you are being true to your organization, as well as their wants and needs. If you are working with a school, make sure everything is approved by the PTA Board members and the Principal of the school. Running a fundraising event  is a service that you are providing to help a group. Team members should be able to share ideas and discuss problems – my motto? Always assume someone knows more than you do! 

6. Book a Location and Date

Even after you secure your event space, there may be additional steps to take – depending on where you are holding your event. If the space is free and you are using a potluck style to cater the event, there will be no price to cover. But if there is a room fee and a menu to pick from, you will need to consult with the team to decide on the best way to manage the event to ensure the most profitable outcome. 

If there is a cost for your event, the team should plan to have enough donations to breakeven – with a surplus. The surplus will be added to your ticket sales and silent auction item sales. You may also look into entertainment, such as a DJ – but be sure to factor that cost into the event. Getting someone to sponsor the entertainment is a fun way to get entertainment for free – while still providing free advertising for a company or group.

7. Passion-Filled Asks Can Begin – Keep Them Organized!

It’s always helpful to call first and ask for someone that deals with community sponsorships, rather than just sending a cold email. You may want to ask to meet in-person to share about the details, or simply send an email outlining the fundraiser, the levels, the event, and the wish. Try to be specific with your monetary ask, as many businesses and banks need to review their community asks and previous donations; there is a process to getting a yes or no answer. For instance, some institutions need to ask their board of directors, while other asks need to be voted on. 

As you ask via email for sponsorships and donors, others members of the team can use the same information to gather silent auction items. If you focus on getting a hearty dozen donations you will have a good start – but the sky is the limit! You want most of the money raised to come from your auction items and your ticket sales. From there, keep the items organized in a spreadsheet – team members can then add who is responsible for which ask, and what the status of that ask is.

8. Be Ready: A Week Ahead

You should have sponsorship complete the week before your event; your ticket sales should also be complete, unless you are allowing tickets at the door. If you are selling anything of any kind, you will need a cash box and/or a device that accepts credit cards. Also a week ahead, the food and entertainment should be reviewed, secure, and entirely paid for. All silent auction items should be in-hand, and the descriptions should be ready for display in-person and online. 

9. Hard Work Pays Off – Remember to Thank All Involved

On game day, plan to be there 2 hours ahead of time to set up and ensure everything is ready to go. After the event, the team should come up with a plan to ensure that auction items get to the people who have won them online, and then a plan to thank the donors.

Be sure to review everything with your team: what could have worked better, where mistakes occurred, and how to make it even better next time. And don’t forget to show appreciation to everyone involved!

10. REST!

After years involved in these kind of events, I can say you’ll need it – and you deserve it!

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When I was 12, I received a coveted writing award at my 8th grade graduation. So right about now my 12 year old self is super pumped to be writing for Seacoast Moms! Writing loads of poetry helped get me through many challenges as a preteen. Even as a poet, I also write in advocacy and about deeper challenges as a parent and as a woman. Expressing my feelings and writing about what I've learned while becoming a grown up may hopefully be relatable to others. In college I was set on a law career but took one intro to education class and fell in love. I received my Master's in Education from Lesley College through a life changing program called "Art Integration in the Classroom". During my years teaching 4th grade, I also coached for The Girls on the Run program and witnessed the importance of extracurricular activities, teamwork and movement for children. Once my daughters came along, I made the tough decision to pause my career and focus on motherhood. I became the organizer of my family (and chaos) as a stay-at-home mama. The trick I found to support my extrovert passionate personality was to not "stay-at-home". My children and I quickly became involved with our community in Portsmouth, NH. I suddenly found myself as a master non-profit volunteer, becoming skilled at event planning and fundraising and eventually social media marketing and management. I helped lead a nature playground committee at our local school which successfully raised tens of thousands of dollars over several years. Within our PTA, I've planned many events and led our group members to think of outside of the box while using ways to connect with the community and secure sponsorship for The Ecology School Fund as well as The Nature Playground Fund. I've dived in to Social Media management promoting kindness, connection and celebration. Motherhood has found me coaching a youth sport that I knew nothing about, navigating the health and special education field for both my daughters and advocating for enhancing special education and for invisible disabilities such as Dyslexia and PANS/PANDAS awareness. Over the last 12 years as a Seacoast Mom the one thing that I've learned is that kindness can go a long way and that you truly never know what another mom or family could be dealing with. So offer a helping hand when you can, a compliment or an unexpected smile. It can and will change someone's life. I like to speak up when it's important and believe we should skip the small talk and get to the grit of life. I love my family, friends and community fiercely.

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