We have all been exposed to a wide variety of fundraisers, some you may have participated in due to the organization and the good that they do, but others you may have participated in simply due to the product they were selling. When selecting a product to sell for your fundraiser it is important for you to consider four important key factors that will come into play. First, what is your identified financial need? Next, who is your target audience and what is their connection to your organization. Third, what are your expected margins? Fourth, what is your fundraising timeline?


Identifying the amount of funding needed will really drive the remainder of your fundraising decisions. If it is a relatively small amount, then a short term, simple product fundraiser or a one-day event may be the way to go. However, if the amount is substantial then you are going to need to plan accordingly. You may need to have a product-based fundraiser that will be more open-ended and geared toward essentials that people would be purchasing anyway such as a Script Card program. 


Being realistic about who your target audience is is crucial to your success. If you are an organization with a small support network then identifying a product that will intrigue and excite the purchaser is crucial to your organization’s success. One example of such a product is the girl scout cookie sale. I realize the Girl Scouts are a very large and well-known organization, but I personally have never had a daughter involved in the program, nor a close family friend or relative. Yet each year I am happy to shell out at least $50 in cookie purchases because I know that my co-workers, my family, and friends love to eat the cookies. The fact that roughly 70% stays to benefit local programs is a secondary benefit to me personally. If local support may not be strong for your cause, pick a product that people will want.


Be cognizant of your margins. This is extremely critical. People are willing to purchase products to support good causes, children and schools. Don’t waste this goodwill on products that will not generate the returns that are needed to support your organization. I dislike the Boy Scout’s primary fundraiser: popcorn sales. I personally don’t want to pay $18 for a bucket of popcorn. Nevertheless whenever I am asked to participate I always say yes and purchase at least one canister. In fact, ⅔ of people asked by boy scouts agree to also purchase a popcorn product from them. With the average margin being 70%. That figure is very similar to the girl scout cookie sale margin. But here lies the genius with the boy scout approach, for each sale, they are pocketing over $12 for the organization. To get the same return a girl scout must sale at least 4-5 boxes to each willing customer to make the same amount of revenue as a boy scout selling one canister of popcorn. This is not to say one approach is better than the other. I personally would rather drop $50 on ten boxes of Girl Scout cookies than $17 on a canister of popcorn. The key takeaway is that assuming that the amount of people willing to purchase products to support an organization stays consistent, then selecting products with high margins and larger net returns may be essential to the success of your fundraising program. 


Finally, be sure to identify and set a timeline. Aside from programs that require very little maintenance such as a scripts program, you should be sure to set a clear and delineated timeline. People will grow weary of ongoing fundraisers and they will lose energy. Be sure to identify a time that has little competition,  and that the community can grow to expect it to take place and even look forward to it. I would strongly recommend keeping most product-based fundraisers under four weeks. If they get stretched out people will become anxious to receive their product and your organization will have difficulty maintaining continuity. 

Don’t be afraid to try new things, but keeping the four key factors in mind will always be a good place to start:

  1. Identify Need
  2. Community Support for Organization
  3. Expected Margins
  4. Timeline

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