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Are you a teacher, a PTA member, or a school fundraiser who gets the shivers from simply hearing the word “school fundraising”? If so, you’re exactly in the right place!
Over the last decade, US schools have faced drastic budget cuts, which has undermined their capacity to develop the skills and creativity of future generations. And with a worldwide pandemic underway, US public schools are struggling more than ever before.
“Schools receive nearly half of their funding from state coffers. But with businesses shuttered in response to the pandemic and the unemployment rate already nearing 15% — well above its 10% peak during the Great Recession — state income and sales tax revenues are crashing”, notes Alliance for Public Schools. And making sure public schools are funded is very important.
Increasing funding to public schools can help schools hire and retain excellent teachers, reduce class sizes, and expand the availability of high-quality early education. All of these have been shown to be crucial determinants of students’ success.
Because schools rely so heavily on state aid, cuts to state funding have forced schools to raise revenue to cover the gap. Many more teachers, schools, and PTAs have started running their own fundraising activities to ensure that their students have what they need. By some accounts, many teachers spend more than $500 of their own money on school supplies for their classrooms each year.
But there’s another way: school fundraisers! School fundraisers help pay for extracurricular activities, additional classroom supplies, equipment for art, drama, and music programs, field trips, school clubs, (and so much more!)
This guide sources 10 best school fundraising ideas out there, each selected for its potential to help you raise funds, for how achievable it is (for most schools), and for how enjoyable it is at the same time! Alongside sharing school fundraising ideas, we will be also sharing the best fundraising practices to help you get the most out of your fundraising.
Before you start
Before you get started with any of the school fundraising ideas listed below, take some time to reflect and answer the following questions:
- Consider your context. What are your school's financial needs over the course of the entire school year and beyond?
- What are your goals? Be specific. Instead of saying “we need to raise funds for our sports program”, create a list of pieces of sports equipment you need (alongside their prices).
- When do you need to have the funds? Are funds needed quickly or are you comfortable receiving them throughout the school year?
- What is the expected timeframe? Is this a one-month, three-months, or 6-month long project (with planning and evaluation included)?
- What are the resources you can commit to raising the funds? For example, how many volunteer hours can your team commit?
- Who’s the leader and who will be helping out?
If you want your school fundraiser to be a big success, this is no time to just wing it! Even if you’re super busy, take some time to consider your goals, ambitions, and resources. A little bit of planning goes a long way. Then, you’ll be ready to get started!
Here are our top 10 school fundraising ideas:
1. Walk-a-thon (or ‘a-thon’ of your choice)
Peer-to-peer fundraisers are your best friend when it comes to school fundraising. Schools are communities, which means you have access to a wider community of alumni, parents, and local businesses and nonprofits – all of which have an interest in supporting your work.
To organize a walk-a-thon, have team members pledge to walk 10,000 steps a day over a certain time frame (often a week or month) in exchange for sponsorships. Get students to create individual fundraising pages (or split them into teams) and give each student/team a goal to reach.
First, decide what you want to accomplish (e.g. buy 20 new computers or renovate the library). Then, set an overall fundraising goal (e.g. $10,000) for the campaign. For best results, tie your monetary goal to your overall fundraising goals (e.g. $10,000 will help us buy 20 computers).
Focusing on a specific goal makes the fundraiser more tangible to donors. They are able to envision what exactly their donation is contributing to. Then, break that number down and allocate a goal to each of your fundraisers or fundraising teams!
Families in particular will appreciate a fundraiser where they’re not asked to sell, pick up, or deliver anything. They will also feel good knowing their kids are participating in healthy learning activities.
To upgrade this school fundraiser, organize a color run. Kids and young people of all ages will love the idea of racing a distance wearing white t-shirts, getting splattered with colored powder. The low cost of chalk makes this idea an effortless upgrade! You might even want to do a neon run, especially if you’re working with college or high school students. Organize a night-time run or walk and watch the donations pour in!
Pro tip: Go wild with the event promotion, especially if you have a big goal! Send letters to businesses and alumni, get your students to share it on their socials, and get the local media involved.
2. Sponsor a playground tile
Every dollar and every small fundraiser count! However, at times, big investments are needed for renovation or building projects.
If your school is in dire need of a new or renovated library, classroom, or a playground -- your best bet is running a capital fundraiser (capital fundraisers are conducted to raise major sums for a building or endowment, and are usually separate from operating funds.)
To really set up your crowdfunding capital campaign for success, offer your donors and supporters sponsorship rewards. For example, you could offer donors the opportunity to sponsor a limited-edition playground tile, which would have their name on it – for $1000 each! Alternatively, you could offer sponsorship tiers as a token of your thank you. For example, donors achieving bronze level and above could be recognized on a plaque displayed inside the entrance of your school. Set the dollar contribution thresholds for the different tiers (e.g. platinum, gold, silver, bronze).
Share your why! This is always important, but especially with capital fundraisers. Get clear on what building or revamping a playground could bring to your students, and then share it as part of your campaign.
“X Primary School desperately needs more play equipment. We know that imaginative physical play is proven to help children's development: socially, emotionally, physically, and intellectually. We found the perfect solution! The Superstar Net is a multi-layered and multi-functional playground structure developed in Finland. It’s designed to provide unlimited opportunities for challenging, imaginative play.
We found the perfect place for it, just behind the big oak tree. In that spot, all the children and families in the community can enjoy it after school and on weekends. So far, we raised $X and we still need $X to make The Superstar Net a reality. This is why we need your help!”
Pro tip: Images can help you encourage donations. If you’re revamping a playground, share the “before” and “after” photos (i.e. how the playground looks now and how it’s projected to look.)
3. The ‘experiences’ auction
When done right, auctions can easily bring in the much-needed funds for your school. They are fun, versatile, profitable, and don’t require too much effort to organize.
For best results, auction off experiences rather than items – and take some time to think about which experiences will be the most desirable to your particular target audiences.
Here are some ideas:
- Theme park tickets
- Spa packages
- Bed and breakfast packages
- Gym memberships
- Kayaking/paddleboarding/glamping packages for the whole family
- Restaurant vouchers
- Signed memorabilia from local celebrities
- Airplane tickets
Start by deciding which item(s) would be best for your auction (considering your audience’s interests). Contact the relevant individuals/organizations/businesses and try to get those experiences donated. Share about your cause and why you’re organizing this auction.
Make sure to set a minimum donation amount, so you set reasonable expectations from the very start. Gamify your auction with features like fundraising thermometers and leaderboards to invoke some friendly competition.
Pro tip: To simplify the registration process, look into an auction software with ticketing capabilities. This way, you can ensure your event goes off without a hitch by accounting for each attendee. Check out platforms like Bidding for Good and Bidding Owl.
4. Off the screens challenge
Most parents and teachers would love their children and students to spend less time on their screens! While most children and young people wouldn’t, they do love a good challenge!
As part of this challenge, students are sponsored for spending time away from all of their devices (phones, laptops, iPads). This isn’t only unique school fundraiser, but also a fantastic way to get students spending time outdoors. This school fundraiser is also very easy to organize. There’s very little setup needed and if you organize it all online, it’s incredibly quick.
Pro tip: Get your creative juices flowing! Unique fundraising ideas get people excited to participate. If all you do is sell school tees year after year, parents and other donors will become apathetic and reluctant to participate.
5. Create your school’s book
Get a member of your school’s community (a teacher, a student, an alumnus, or a parent) to donate their writing skills to your cause.
Once you’ve got an idea and a storyline, get the students to create illustrations for the book. Then, put it all together! Get the book printed (ideally get this service donated too) and then sell it at a reasonable price. Parents and children will enjoy purchasing something of sentimental value, and you’ll be raising funds for your cause while simultaneously nurturing the school spirit.
Have the supporters pre-order the book, so you know exactly how many to print and don’t end up with a surplus. To take it up a notch, organize a launch party where local supporters can come and pick up the book (as well as enjoy some snacks, drinks, and socializing).
You could also create a cookbook. Ask students, staff, and parents to contribute recipes to your community cookbook. You could create chapters for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or build sections by type of food (salads, soups, casseroles, etc.) or even difficulty level (easy, medium, hard).
Think of all the recipes that families could enjoy cooking together or recipes that would be perfect for engaging the students in the kitchen.
6. Service day
If you’re raising funds for a college or a high school, this school fundraising idea might be just the one for you!
The idea is simple: organizations and individuals in your community submit or share jobs that they’d like to hire your teams for. Then, your teams complete it in exchange for a donation to your school. This can be anything from mowing to the lawn to repainting the fence to walking the dogs. You can set some guidelines and limitations for the types of jobs that are allowed to be posted, just to keep everything in check and everyone safe.
You can go about organizing this school fundraiser in several ways. You can, for example, divide up your volunteers on the day of the event and send them out to tackle one of the jobs on the list. You can also, alternatively, have your volunteers apply to do specific jobs and then allocate them on a first-come, first-served basis.
This school fundraiser boasts low overhead costs and also helps your school gain visibility and recognition in the local community.
Pro tip: You can simplify this fundraiser by using GiveForms to collect donations online throughout the process.
7. Face masks fundraiser
The recent pandemic has most certainly changed the way most nonprofit organizations will be fundraising in the foreseeable future. It’s become increasingly recommended or even mandatory for people to wear face masks in stores, restaurants, schools, and any public areas. Because of that, it seems like face masks could become the new school t-shirts or caps!
To run this school fundraiser, partner with a business who could produce the masks for you and set up a web store or a simple order form that your supporters can use to order the masks.
You can either have your production partner ship the masks out to you and then you ship them to your supporters (or otherwise organize a pick up day), or you could have the partner ship them directly to your supporters.
Pro tip: Get the masks customized with your school logo!
8. A cook-off or a bake-off
This fundraiser is a classic for many community-focused nonprofit organizations, and for a good reason. It brings together people from all walks of life around something everyone loves: food! Cook-offs and bake-offs are fun, engaging, and relatively easy to organize.
A little bit of food, a splash of fun, and a pinch of competition – and we’ve got the perfect recipe for a school fundraiser with tons of potential. And there are dozens of creative competition ideas that make great cook-off events:
- Cookie or Muffin Bake-off
- Carrot Cake/Banana Bread/Apple Pie Bake-off
- Crock-Pot or Soup Challenge
- Barbecue Showdown
- Chilli Cook-Off
Have the participants sign up in advance and bring in their specialties to the event. Form a team of judges, and if you can, get a local celebrity chef to join in – this will create more buzz around the event and draw in more attendees. Advertise across the board to get more people to attend your event and have a local business donate a desirable prize for the winning participant.
Here are some tips to take your cook-off to the next level:
- Consider having other items for sale as well to raise more funds (that ‘match’ the food you’ve chosen for the competition). For example, if it’s a cookies bake-off, you could sell hot chocolate and warm milk. If it’s a chili cook-off, you could sell cornbread and nachos.
- Offer plenty of incentives for the participants. For example, the winning recipe could get the opportunity to be served in the cafeteria throughout the year.
- In addition to selling tickets, give the participants an additional way to donate more should they choose to do so. With GiveForms, you can create a beautiful and functional donation form to raise more funds for your school!
9. Outrageous challenge
This school fundraising idea can take many shapes and forms. For example, you could organize a song-a-thon – where students bet on how long they can listen to the same song on repeat.
An ‘unlucky’ volunteer such as the principal or a teacher could volunteer to shave their head, die their hair a funky color, go to ‘jail’, or camp on your school’s roof if a certain dollar amount is raised.
You could also organize a give-it-up challenge. For example, each participant could select their favorite beverage or food item and decide to give it up for a specific amount of time. Then, each time they would usually purchase it, they donate the money to your nonprofit instead.
Take this school fundraiser to the next level by doing it the ‘ALS Bucket Style’. Challenge your participants to do fun (but safe) activity and then challenge others in their network to do the same.
Pro tip: To make this VERY current, organize a TikTok dance challenge. This idea builds off a trend already popular with students: on TikTok, users quickly learn and perform choreography that’s paired with catchy songs. Select a song and make up your own dance entirely. Next, challenge a few students, teachers, and parents to get started. Each participant tags someone and donates once they’ve completed the challenge. If the tagged friend doesn't participate, they have to double their donation.
10. Good ol’ competition
If you haven’t noticed by now, the element of competition works really well in school fundraisers. With a plethora of competitions to choose from, this school fundraising idea can be adapted to any school. From traditional sports competitions and trivia quizzes to talent shows and STEM competitions, the options are plenty.
Think about your school’s goals. What are some of the things you’re trying to accomplish this year? Perhaps answering that question could help inspire your competition theme. For example, if STEM is your focus for this year, you could challenge the students to code, make simple machines or constructions, and more. If arts were your focus, you might want to challenge your participants to create original music or create videos focusing on a theme of your choosing.
Pro tip: If you’re keen on growing your students’ entrepreneurial skills, you could divide them up into teams and give each fundraising team $30 for materials to create something and have them sell the product for more or otherwise find a creative way to turn the $30 into more money. The team that makes the most money with the money they’ve been given wins a prize.
Boost your school fundraising
School fundraising is all about the community, creativity, and commitment. It’s important to not overwhelm your school community with too many fundraising events. Every fundraising activity, no matter how small, should be meaningful and with a clear goal.
To nurture good relationships and establish good faith within your community, it’s advised to never fundraise in a manner that sells products to parents at exaggerated prices or in a way that will ‘force’ students to sell door-to-door. You want your community to feel enthusiastic and supportive, not used.
Finally, to be really successful at school fundraising, you need to make giving money easy for everyone. Collecting donations, issuing donation receipts, and handling funds can get complicated. You don’t want your donors to have to mail checks or try and remember how much cash they need to bring to your event.
The simplest thing to do is to set up online fundraising forms with an online donation platform like GiveForms. Then, all you need to do is share the link, and the rest is taken care of. The process becomes hassle-free for both you and your donors. Online donation forms are also shareable, which increases your chances of reaching your fundraising goals!