In our Title 1 school, the student population is very diverse socially and economically. Funding our music programs can be a challenge. Fundraising makes a big difference.
Many music directors use sales of fruit, cheese cake, candles, and “you name it” from fundraising companies to benefit their programs. The convenience and relative low-risk nature of these projects make them very popular. However, our school wanted a higher profit margin – at least 75% – so more of the funds would benefit our students. We also wanted projects that could potentially bring in $10,000 or more per event. Below are a few approaches that have done very well for us.
Our Booster Group
Several years back, we created a parent booster group we called “The Foundation.” Its charter is designed to enhance funding for our fine arts and athletic programs. The underlying philosophy is that no child gets left out because of “ability to pay or not.” The Foundation frees up our local PTA to continue in the capacity of strengthening our programs through classroom, media center and social needs. Because our Foundation was designed from the outset as a funding agency to enhance our programs, our music directors and coaches can spend more time teaching kids.
Membership in the Foundation is optional. Families are encouraged to become members at various “giving” levels: $25, $50-$99, $100-$249, $250-$500, $500-$999 and +$1000. This is our best source of funding because it is 100% efficient. Our parents, grandparents, businesses, and local politicians understand that their contributions directly help our kids and community.
In addition to mentioning contributors in all our music programs, we also provide them with a variety of rewards. These include free tickets to shows, plaques, window stickers, and more. As a 503-C organization, donations are tax deductible.
Drawings for popular, big-ticket items can be extremely popular – and profitable. Just be sure to check your local laws to make sure you comply with them. We offer a drawing for a week-long trip for two to Hawaii. This includes airfare, hotel, rental car, and a side excursion with a total value of $4000. The proceeds from the drawing help us fund our music department travel expenses.
To save on expenses, we have our school system’s printing department make us a two part “ticket,” individually numbered for security, with a “stub” end for filling out donator info. Then we bind them into booklets of ten. From there, kids do all the work.
Each kid/family gets one booklet at a time (unless a parent requests more). We ask that they collect a $5 donation to our program for each ticket. Kids receive donations from September through December, then we have the drawing at one of our holiday concerts.
To encourage student participation, we post charts, have fun competitions between music groups, and provide rewards like ice cream from the cafeteria. These rewards typically have high value to the kids, but little to no cost to the project.
For booking the excursion, we’ve been very fortunate to have a parent who is a travel agent. She books at cost and donates her time in exchange for the advertising on the ticket.
Our fundraising carnival is called Pantherpalooza, named after our school mascot the panther. It’s a small carnival event for the students held each October (the tug-o-war photo above is from this event). In preparation we form a committee that divides up the responsibilities. We contract with local vendors, including an inflatables company, a shaved ice and concessions vendor, a DJ, etc. Everything is set up on our athletic field on a Friday when the local high school football team is not playing.
Kids can purchase individual tickets, groups of tickets, or an unlimited ticket. In addition, sponsorships from local providers like dentists, doctors, and other kid-oriented businesses help cover expenses. In return, signs and banners are posted at the entrance with the sponsors’ logos and information. Profits are split on the tickets and concessions.
This is a great fun-raiser in every sense of the phrase, and also offers excellent PR for the school.
Many schools conduct silent auctions. As with other music program fundraising events, make sure you form a committee to divide up the responsibilities. In addition to donating auction items, encourage sponsors to pick up event costs in exchange for advertising during. You might even provide an extra touch of class with a nice donated venue.
One trick to a successful silent auction is correctly timing it with the yearly calendar. Consider, for example, lining it up with the holiday shopping season. I think it really helps to have a mix of inexpensive and big-ticket items. Auction items that do particularly well include trips, weekend retreats at a parent’s lake or mountain house, flight simulator time, handmade furniture, autographed items from sports and music personalities, babysitting services, hair services, tickets to events, etc.
You might also consider an adult-only event with appropriate beverages, food, conversation, entertainment, etc. Parents enjoy the night out and a good social atmosphere can lead to higher bids.
Ethnic Heritage Dinner
Our Hispanic Heritage Dinner really brings our school together. One contributing factor is that our school has a Spanish-speaking liaison to help bridge the language gap with our Hispanic community. This person coordinates with our Foundation to encourage our Hispanic families to cook traditional dishes for a meal prior to one of our fall music concerts. Here are some details:
- The liaison will start contacting parents in August for the October event.
- Usually our concerts bring in 1000 to 1100 people: We ask for $5 per meal.
- We use the school’s cafeteria facilities and arrange for one of our cafeteria workers to oversee the distribution of food and make sure we are up to code.
- We start serving food at 5:00 while the concert begins at 7:00.
Parents LOVE this event! It makes dinner easier on concert night, it simplifies getting to the concert on time, and the kids are happier. Best of all, the food is WONDERFUL.
Jeans or Hat Day
Students wear uniforms in our school. For a special event, students are able to wear something else in exchange for a small contribution. This is an easy fundraiser that only requires 3-4 parents, for a few hours, on one morning.
Students pay $1 to wear jeans, a hat, or “wild” socks for the day. To show they have paid their $1, each student gets an obnoxious sticker to wear. Luckily, our kids have fun with this. It doesn’t generate five-figure amounts, but it’s a quick and easy event that can be repeated within the same year with a +99% profit margin.
If possible, set up your fundraising calendar a year in advance so you don’t conflict with other groups. Always list your fundraisers on your school’s master calendar of events. In my experience, fall is usually the best time for fundraising.
Repeat successful events at the same time each year – the community will grow to expect them and budget them into their personal finances.
And don’t forget to always advertise well in advance. Whenever possible get in your local paper (and include photos) to draw attention to your event and program.
General Fundraising Tips
I can’t stress this point enough: Never handle a project alone – form small committees to both share the workload and to provide plenty of checks and balances. Make sure you establish a budget so there are definite targets for fundraising needs. And be clear about the purpose for the fundraising; funding specific items needed for your program.
Here are some additional suggestions:
- Fill out the necessary forms with your school district.
- Understand the economics of your community – don’t just assume – ask parents, school administrators, and community leaders.
- Keep accurate records! Show where and from whom every dollar comes and goes.
- Make sure your principal and assistant principals are on board and always keep the school (and/or booster group) bookkeeper in the loop.
- Try to anticipate any pitfalls that may come your way and plan for them in advance.
- Don’t forget to thank your community by performing at the local festivals, tree lightings, malls, retirement homes, MLK celebrations, etc. The more active you are in the community, the more likely the community will support you.
Finally, I encourage you to always use your music program fundraising and performing in conjunction with advocacy. I hope some of these ideas inspire you to do more for your program. Good luck!