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Planning a Successful School Fundraiser: 3 Key Steps for Beginners

By LeanStream Engagement on February, 4 2021

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What are the best school fundraising ideas? How do I put together a school fundraiser online? First steps to planning a school fundraiser...Planning a school fundraiser during COVID...

Any of these search terms or phrases sound familiar? As a principal, teacher, or PTA volunteer trying to raise money for your school, you have likely searched the internet with all these phrases and more! And sorting through all the options can be overwhelming. But raising money for school resources doesn’t have to be overwhelming and stressful. It might even be, dare we say it, FUN!


Just ask the Rainbow Elementary PTA in Madison, Alabama. Their goal for 2020 was to raise $15,000 for their school but they ended up raising $23,700 within the first 18 days of their online campaign using the LeanStream fundraising platform!  Check out their project page here.


I wanted to know more so I sat down with Candice Cooper, the fundraising guru for the Rainbow Elementary PTA, and Lee Shaw, Development Office Coordinator for the Madison City School District. Together they have over 20 years of experience raising money for schools and communities and are experts on how to make a fundraiser successful.

The secret sauce of fundraising is simply:  GOOD PLANNING


I really wanted to know the secret formula for creating a successful fundraiser – there had to be a brilliant gimmick, some special format, or a secret drawer somewhere with all the answers? I was hoping for a real “ah ha” moment (spoiler alert – I didn’t get it!) According to Lee and Candice, the first and perhaps most important step to ensuring a successful fundraiser is good, and thorough, planning. Fortunately for us “non-planners out there, they were willing to share a few of their planning tips:


Make a task calendar. Pick your launch day and work backward from Launch Day to fill in everything that needs to be done leading to the day. You will need to enter your start and end dates, of course, but also make sure to include things like when you’re going to send out an email blast to parents, when you’re going to post social media status updates and reminders, and when you will have events. It wouldn’t hurt to even schedule a deadline for when you will have chosen and assigned tasks to any committee members you may have. The earlier you can set up your calendar, the better. The calendar is the key.

Check any legalities/school guidelines. Make sure and check with the school system or the school on their rules and guidelines about hosting events and fundraising to ensure you stay “legal.” Think about measures for safeguarding donations and any information collected. If your campaign is online, make sure you understand what information is being collected by the platform you’re using and how it is being stored. Never hurts to be prepared!

Choose the type of fundraiser. Knowing whether this will be your only fundraiser for the school year or having multiple events throughout the year is also important for adjusting your goals and clearly communicating to potential donors.  This will help with “fundraising fatigue” by donors. Rainbow’s fundraiser was a “one-time ask…and they did a great job communicating that it was an annual fundraiser, so they weren’t going to turn around and try to sell you cupcakes,” Lee said.

Choose an incentive. Even deciding whether you will have incentives or not is important. Candice noted, “our incentives were school-wide" and allowed all students to receive the benefits of the goals being met whether their families were able to give or not. Rainbow’s incentives included the principal, Mr. Givens, dancing while wearing a T-Rex costume if they raised $5,000, a school-wide ice cream party for $10,000, and Mr. Givens sitting on the roof of the building for a day if they reached the $15,000 goal. Needless to say, the students were delighted to see their principal be silly and do funny things as he has done in the past. You could see the excitement on Candice’s face as she recounted the time Mr. Givens had to kiss a pig as the result of a previous fundraiser. Not only are incentives like this a motivator for the students, but they also ensure that everyone feels included. A bonus – Principal challenges are easy on the budget as they usually have little to no overhead cost.


Don’t worry, Be happy...and ADAPT 


This year we’ve all had to make changes to our daily routines. With most schools adopting blended or remote learning, flexibility is the name of the game. The Rainbow PTA found itself without some of the tools it was accustomed to having. Candice illuminated how challenging it was because “normally the PTA, we’re allowed to go into the building and get the hype up” by talking to students in classrooms or during lunch. Discouraged but not defeated, the PTA posted consistently on their Facebook and Instagram pages and sent out email blasts. “That was our only way to campaign, through social media and emails.” They used videos of the in-class students wearing their masks and cheering on donors to help them get Mr. Givens on the roof. Well, it worked! This out-of-the-box approach was facilitated by school administrators sharing the campaign on their own personal social media pages, which expanded the donor reach well beyond the circle of Rainbow families. “It was all from a distance, but it worked so well during this time,” she said. So, remember unexpected things happen and you must adapt.

HubSpot Video

We get by with a little SUPPORT from our friends...or School District...whichever 


Whatever your role is in this school fundraiser, the school and your school district are on your side. You are not alone! We all need support and if your school districts are lucky enough to have a Development Office Coordinator like Lee, then they can be your best resource for tips and getting started with your fundraiser. Lee’s role with the Madison City PTAs is to “support them, to help them raise as much money as possible for their specific needs.” While Lee was not directly involved in planning Rainbow’s fundraiser, Candice asserted, “she was there and answered a question on a dime.” Candice credits a significant part of the campaign’s success to the school district, which gave the fundraiser a “home” on Madison City’s LeanStream platform.


And in case you were here just to see Mr. Givens on the roof, here you go:

And once more for good measure:


One more thing before you go. Think about where you’re going to host your fundraiser. In this age of technology, it’s becoming more commonplace to make donations online. And with COVID making it difficult or impossible to go to school with cash for a donation, you’re going to have to consider an online platform to host your fundraiser.


LeanStream offers school districts a streamlined online payment process for school fees, merchandise marketplaces, and needs-based donations that make it easy, quick, and safe for donors to support the fundraiser of their choice, buy a school t-shirt, and pay any student fees all in one cart. When asked why she felt the campaign was so successful, Candice listed having their school district represented on the platform, how easy it is to use the platform, and how fast is it to make donations that may have contributed to parents supporting the fundraiser.

We had an online platform that made it easy for our families to donate, the platform looked legit because it had Madison City Schools' representation, and the third reason, families told me themselves, they felt safe giving because they knew it was going through Madison City Schools versus an outside third-party platform.


The Rainbow PTA also did not have to pay to use the LeanStream platform as it is supplied by Madison City Schools ensuring that 100% of the donations go directly to the school. It is important to think about how much it costs to host your fundraiser or if a percentage of each donation is collected by the fundraising platform and how this will be communicated to donors.


You’ve done it! You have seen and thought through the planning of a school fundraiser and the last thing to think about is thanking the donors and the students for their help. Make sure you follow through on all your prizes and incentives for the students, send out any Thank You cards/emails and tax letters to donors, and post results onto your social media platforms. Keeping everyone updated with pictures or videos of the items or resources bought with the donations is another way to build trust with donors for future fundraisers and make sure everyone is on the same page. So, get out there and start putting together the best fundraiser you’ve ever planned. May the donations be ever in your favor!


Fund raising for the entire education family

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