As we work to shift our fundraising efforts in our school district I have learned a key lesson. In order for a fundraiser to be successful, there must be one of two factors:

1.) A purpose that people can get behind and support.

2.) An incentive that people feel they will get a return on and provide a mutual benefit.

When the combination of the right cause and the right incentive is found, it often leads to a very successful fundraising campaign. This is a simple formula, yet one that is missed in many fundraising events.

Whenever possible I prefer to start with the compelling story or purpose. Stories can provide a powerful motivation by making an emotional connection with the donor. I’ll never forget one of the first online donations I ever made. It was to support Karen Klein’s fundraiser to send her on a vacation. I had no personal connection to Karen, but due to the story and the power of the video that was shared it struck an emotional response in me that made me want to be a part of doing something on her behalf. So I donated to the fundraiser on her behalf. The original fundraiser sought to raise $5,000. It ended up going viral and raising over $700,000. While this is the exception to the rule there are lessons to be learned from the event.

More often than not school fundraisers are for a good cause, but not necessarily a terribly compelling cause. In these cases, the story or the cause may not be enough and you may need to identify a product that can be sold that aligns with what people already need, or it provides a value worth the cost of the donation and it benefits your organization as well. There are numerous examples of product sales. I recommend that you always be aware of the margins as it relates to your time and effort. For example, a great fundraiser that a couple of our organizations at Elkhorn Area School District do is the selling of discount cards. They sell the cards during a certain window, and it does require a lot of effort and organization to get the word out and sell the cards. But the margins are decent as the organization keeps around 75-80% of the gross. If your organization is expending a lot of effort and the margins are low, 50% or lower of the gross, I would suggest that you reconsider the fundraiser and see if there is a different approach that would better align your cause with what people want.  

Whichever approach you are using, whenever possible be sure to share your story via video. It is a medium that provides an ideal opportunity to share your cause in a way that will garner support by either providing a compelling reason or by making an emotional connection. Get the students involved, have them do their research and approach it from the angle that whoever is viewing the video knows nothing about you or your organization. Think about what message will capture the emotion/support of the potential donor? Is it drawing on their early childhood memories, is it demonstrating the public good that your organization does, is it simply an outstanding purpose that people can rally behind? Don’t forget the quality of the video makes a huge difference and keep it short and to the point. Here is a great example of a quality informational video from Waunakee High School.


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