Report: Finding Fundraising Success

SBO Staff • ChoralReportSeptember 2011 • September 20, 2011

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When it comes time to think about fundraising, it’s crucial to consider which campaigns might work best in a particular community and when and for how long to run fundraisers, while bearing in mind the ever-important what-not-to-do check list. Sometimes a word of advice from those in the know can make all the difference between achieving goals and wondering what went wrong. Without a doubt, running a successful fundraiser can be made easier by following a few simple strategies.

Choosing a Fundraiser

The first step is to make a plan, suggests Nancy Nardella of eFundraising, an organization that provides non-profit groups with quality products, low prices and hands-on service ( “There are all types of fundraising products and ideas out there, so it is important to make a plan before getting started,” Nancy says. “This can be as simple as answering a few questions, such as: What is the goal? How many people are helping out? Do we have an initial budget? Answers to these questions can help determine what type of fundraiser will be most successful. For example, an online campaign might be a good idea if a group’s supporters are spread out across the country. Or if there is no initial budget, running a brochure fundraiser like cookie dough or gifts, which do not need any initial investments, might be a good option. Fundraising companies will usually be able to help people answer these questions and guide them towards the most appropriate program.”

One option is to work with a local sales representative who can help determine what fundraisers work best in a particular area. Tyler Jeffrey of World’s Finest Chocolate, one of the leading chocolate fundraising companies
(, explains, “They have years of experience and can help make the fundraising process work more smoothly. Also, keep it simple. Fundraisers that are easy for students to execute and require a minimum amount of volunteer effort will deliver the best results. Ask some parents/colleagues/neighbors what types of fundraisers they would be most likely to support.”

“There are many options from which to choose when selecting a fundraising program,” notes Jeff Ellenberger, owner of Dutch Mill Bulbs, a company with over 50 years of fundraising experience ( “They include the edible (cookies, candy, popcorn, pizza kits, frozen desserts, etc.) and the inedible (flower bulbs, magazines, gift catalogs, cleaning supplies, etc.). Base selection on the likes, dislikes and economy of the community. If the sale of food products in schools is frowned upon because of health/diet concerns focus on non-food items to sell. If a community has been hit hard by the recession, less expensive items will be an easier sell.”


The timing and duration of a fundraiser is another factor critical to its success. Fundraisers should go on long enough to maximize potential profits, but not drag past the point of usefulness. Tyler Jeffrey of World’s Finest Chocolates recommends that fundraising campaigns be kept relatively brief. “Fundraisers should be about two weeks long,” he says. “Any longer, and people lose interest and are more likely to misplace the fundraising materials. Any shorter, and your group won’t have enough time to raise the money you need. And for those people doing multiple fundraisers in a year, space them out so there’s appropriate time in between. You don’t want to overwhelm your supporters with requests for donations.”

Nancy Nardella of eFundraising agrees on the time frame, with a caveat for online compaigns. “The best way to optimize return on both effort and capital is to keep the fundraiser as short as possible,” she suggests. “Usually a period of two-to-four weeks is an ideal time frame for a traditional fundraiser, such as chocolate, cookie dough, and the like. A shorter time frame creates a sense of urgency with supporters and allows you to keep a certain buzz surrounding the campaign. Online campaigns can run a little longer since contact with supporters is primarily through email. Also, because it requires very little effort and no investment, it can be ongoing to benefit from incremental sales throughout the year.”

Sam Fowler, director of fundraising sales at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, a company that has been a fundraising partner with schools since the 1950s (, thinks that it can be detrimental to keep a fundraiser active for too long, and that there are actually specific days that work best to start and end campaigns. He recommends, “If you are doing a pre-sell try to keep it to maximum of three weeks. Ideally kick it off on a Thursday, sell over two week ends and have orders turned in on Monday-Tuesday.”

The optimal number of fundraisers run in a year should probably be limited to four or fewer, notes Jeff Ellenberger. “Determine the number of fundraisers you need to run annually to meet your financial goal,” he says. “You’re really pushing it with three or four. Effectively run, two per year should be ideal. Be careful not to overburden your group or your customers by running consecutive programs. Fall and spring seem to be the best times of year to fundraise. Once you’ve selected a fundraising program, establish a start and stop schedule. Generally a selling period of two or three weeks is appropriate. Beyond this, sellers become less motivated and sales lag.”

Tips for Success

“Make the fundraiser as personalized as possible,” recommends Tyler Jeffrey. “Make sure you communicate to your supporters who your group is and what you’re raising money for. You’ll raise more money when people are personally connected to your cause. It’s also important to stay organized. Give participants a clear explanation of what is expected of them up front. Let them know the fundraising start and end dates, the fundraising goal, and any other instructions they’ll need to know.”

Another key that some might not think of is getting the word out about the campaign. “Advertise!” says Jeffrey. “Let people in the community know about your fundraiser by putting a sign in the front yard of the school, hanging signs in the windows of local businesses, and listing it in any parent communications. There are many community members that would like to support your group, but they can’t if they don’t know you’re doing a fundraiser.”

In addition to advertising, the participating students should also be involved in selling the fundraiser, not just whatever items are being sold. “One of the best ways of maximizing results is to get the highest participation rate you can,” notes Nancy Nardella. “You need to motivate your participants to draw in supporters. One way to motivate them is through communication. You need to make sure everyone is aware of the fundraising campaign as well the reasons behind it – this can be accomplished verbally, by email, with hand-outs, by phone, and so on. Another good motivator is a prize program, where students can win prizes based on individual sales or top sellers.”

Jeff Ellenberger advises looking for programs that offer at least 50 percent profit. He also suggests other criteria that educators should look for when comparing fundraising companies, including ones that

• Have been in business for years and has a solid reputation

• Require no up-front cost

• Furnish free sales brochures and support materials at no charge

• Offer free shipping

• Guarantee the product (there’s no risk to the group or to customers – makes selling much easier).

The last important tip is to stay on target. “To maximize results, always do a pre-sale and set a goal for each person in the organization to be responsible for meeting,” says Krispy Kreme’s Sam Fowler. “If the target is $5,000 and there are100 members, then each person’s goal is only $50 profit. Have an incentive for going beyond the goal, but reaching the individual goal should be everyone’s objective.”

What Not to Do

While keeping in mind the elements of a successful fundraiser, it can be helpful to also examine common mistakes made by fundraising groups.

“Try not to have a fundraiser each month,” recommends Fowler. “Do several good fundraisers spread out over the year so that you don’t burn everyone out.”

“Do note run your fundraisers too close to school breaks,” cautions Tyler Jeffrey. “They’re more likely to get forgotten about in the excitement of the upcoming vacation. Also, don’t allow children to fundraise door-to-door alone. Make sure all fundraising is supervised by a parent or teacher.”

Nancy Nardella warns against setting unrealistic goals, as those could lead to disappointment for everyone involved, including supporters, if goals are not met. She continues, “It is also important to focus on one or two programs and not try to do too much. This will avoid burning out both your participants and supporters.”

Of course, one should also make sure that inferior quality goods, services, and companies get nixed early in the planning phase. One way to do that, suggests Ellenberger, is by asking for references. He also cautions against selling products that are not popular in the community, selecting a group leader who is not both organized and motivated, and running a fundraiser at the same time that other groups in the community are running theirs.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that with a bit of careful planning, retail fundraisers can be quite successful. “Organize a kickoff meeting so everyone is on the same page,” says Ellenberger. “Set a goal for the amount of money that needs to be raised and explain what the money will be used for. Make sure everyone is aware of the start and stop dates, and when orders and monies collected are to be turned in. Once submitted, coordinate a delivery date with the fundraising company and set up a distribution date with the group. Remember, avoid making the effort a chore – this is supposed to be fun!”

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