Make any sales fundraiser a success by following these pointers:
Before the Sale
1. Make contact with other groups. Be aware of what fundraising projects the
other schools in your immediate area are planning. You might want to stagger your
fundraisers. Or run them concurrently with the other schools if your merchandise
selection is unique and your schools share many families. Working parents with
children in more than one school might prefer to take the different catalogs to work
at the same time, rather than receiving them spread out over several weeks.
2. Get everyone on the same page. Call a brief committee meeting to review the
key dates and activities of the project. Let everyone know your expectations for
their involvement: Who collects orders? When will the orders be reviewed? When
are volunteers needed to distribute the merchandise? If the fundraising company
you use offers a handbook for the chairperson, read it cover to cover to get the most
benefit from the company's experience.
3. Decide what payment method you will use. There are three options.
Prepayment means the customer pays the student and the student pays the PTO
before the merchandise is ordered. With a pay-on-pickup plan, the student pays
you when he picks up the merchandise. Post-pay means the customer pays the
student when the customer receives the order, and then you collect from the
student. Generally, total sales are higher, often substantially higher, when payment is
deferred. However, payment collection can drag on for weeks after the merchandise
has been distributed, and some portion of your payments may never be collected.
Also, if you require payment up front, your PTO will have the cash in hand early, and
the project is essentially over when the merchandise is distributed.
Here are some questions to consider to help you make your decision: How reliable
have your parents been with payments in the past? How persistent will your
volunteers be to see the project through to completion? How practical is it for your
school's students to carry the packages home themselves? When does your PTO
need the cash to pay the fundraising company? How much money does your PTO
really need to raise?
4. Create enough selling time. Schedule your sale so that it spans at least two and
preferably three weekends, starting on a Thursday or Friday and concluding on a
Monday or Tuesday. Keep awareness up during the sale with audio announcements,
take-home fliers, newsletter reminders, a bulletin board display, lapel buttons, and
reminders on the school Web site.
5. Keep the teachers' workload down. For elementary schools, count out the
correct number of packets for each class and distribute them directly to the
teachers' mailboxes. At the middle school level, distribute the packets during the
last period of the day, so they don't get pushed to the bottom of the students'
Distribute a letter to the teachers describing their role in the fundraiser, key dates,
contact names, and any information they need to help them answer questions from
parents. Provide a collection box for orders in each classroom. When the product
arrives, take the lead in communicating with parents. Don't expect the teachers to
resolve delivery issues.
Getting Things Rolling
1. Kick off the project right. Susan Dimattia, fundraising consultant with Innisbrook
Wraps, says, "The kickoff assembly is one of the keys to a successful sale. When
the students get excited, the parents are more likely to participate. It's also great if
you can get the principal to take an active role in the sale, like agreeing to kiss a pig
if the school reaches its goal. That way, there's an anticipation that builds during the
sale, leading to an exciting conclusion in which all the students can be a part of the
Another option is to introduce the fundraiser to each classroom individually, rather
than in a group assembly. The Association of Fund-Raising Distributors & Suppliers
emphasizes that even a short kickoff presentation must stress the importance of
seller safety: no door-to-door sales.
2. Get the message to parents. Consider incorporating the kickoff message into
your elementary school's curriculum night or open house. Ask the fundraising
company to provide samples of the products for the parents. Make a display of the
activities, projects, and purchases the PTO will be able to sponsor if the sale reaches
3. Put it in writing. Send the product catalog home with a detailed cover letter
attached to the front, not stuffed inside. Don't rely solely on the form letter the
fundraising company provides. Customize your cover letter to include the following
- Specific purpose of the fundraiser: Is it to fund the general program budget of
the PTO or for a specific project?
- Overall dollar goal.
- Key dates. Use the exact dates, not just "one week from delivery," and always
state the day of the week. Include the date that order forms are due in, pickup
or delivery date, and payment due date.
- Payment instructions: prepay, pay upon pickup, or pay after delivery of
- To whom checks should be made payable.
- Where students should turn in their orders (classroom or office, for example).
- Contact names and phone numbers.
- Incentives, if any.
4. Include an option for cash donations. Judy Gmeiner, fundraising chair at Scotch
Elementary School in West Bloomfield, Mich., says, "We always include the option
for a direct donation to the PTO on our fundraiser cover letter. Many parents want
to support the organization but don't want to purchase merchandise. We let them
know they can make a cash donation if they prefer."
5. Provide a convenient collection box for orders. Put a box or envelope in each
elementary school classroom, plus one in the office. For middle schoolers who do
not have a homeroom, provide a large collection box in the main office. Install a
lock box in the office if security is a concern. Don't put the box in the lobby, where
there's no supervision.
6. Give frequent reminders. For middle schools, make several announcements over
the course of your sale to remind students to return their orders. Encourage them to
check the bottoms of their backpacks and lockers for completed order forms. Nancy
Dulmage, parent group president at Abbott Middle School in West Bloomfield, Mich.,
notes, "We even found order forms, with payments, in the hall. You have to allow
extra time after the due date for middle schoolers, since the parents are involved
7. Be meticulous with payments. If you require prepayment, gather five or six
volunteers to compare order forms to payments. Prepare "oops" letters (form letters
that indicate the type of problem and amount due, if any) to send out when the
payment does not match the amount due. Count and organize the money for your
treasurer. Complete a deposit notice, and turn the money over to the treasurer for
deposit. Be prepared to verify the invoice from the fundraising company with your
treasurer before the bill is paid.
1. Keep parents informed. If you expect parents to come to the school to pick up
their orders, announce the date and times clearly, often, and well in advance.
2. Avoid having to store unclaimed orders. Recommend that parents who are
unable to pick up their orders make arrangements for a neighbor to do so. Take extra
care to get the word out if the product you are selling is perishable.
3. Line up volunteers to help out when the merchandise arrives at school. If
your project is prepay or if you will collect payment after delivery, you will need help
moving the orders to the individual classrooms. Be prepared to send home a notice
with students whose orders are too large for them to carry home. Store the large
orders in a central location, rather than expecting the teachers to manage those
pickups in their classrooms.
4. Make pickup easy. If your project requires payment on pickup, work with your
principal to select the least disruptive pickup location. Set up signs around the
school to direct parents to the pickup location. Be prepared to have a few volunteers
at the school into the evening to assist with merchandise distribution on pickup day.
Handling the Money
1. Create a paper trail. Encourage sellers to write the student's name on each
check they collect. That way you'll be able to trace any problem check back to the
student, if necessary.
2. Get help; you'll need it! Assign a trusted volunteer to be your assistant in
collecting the envelopes from the school as the orders come in. But don't have more
than one or two people do the collecting.
3. Collect early and often. Whether you're collecting envelopes from each
classroom or from the school office, be sure to pick them up every day. And
continue for several days past the due date. Late orders are sure to trickle in.
4. Do the math. When the orders have been collected, review every one—payment
due against payment included. If there is a discrepancy, list the order on an "oops
log." This log gives you a central list from which to resolve payment problems. If
you only note the mistake on the order form, you may lose track—and lose money if
mistakes are not resolved. Call the parent or send home an oops letter indicating the
problem and any amount due.
5. Don't create extra work. Endorse the checks as you open the envelopes to save
6. Count the cash. Bundle the bills by denomination, with singles in stacks of $50.
Roll the coins. Complete a deposit form to list all the individual denominations and
simplify calculating the total. Have your trusted assistant re-count your deposit to
verify your total.
7. Get to the bank. Deposit the money immediately, or lock it up in the school safe
until you can make the deposit. Do not hold onto order money to wait until it is all in;
make several separate deposits rather than one big one.
8. Take care of bounced checks. If you receive notice from your bank that a
check was returned for non-sufficient funds, you must follow up with the check
writer either by telephone or by mail. Usually non-sufficient funds checks result
from an honest mistake, and the matter is resolved quickly. The check writer may
recommend that you redeposit the original check, so do not destroy the returned
check. It is your "claim check" to ensure the PTO receives payment.
9. Establish a one-bounce limit. If your PTO is assessed a fee for processing a
non-sufficient funds check, you should pass that fee along to the check writer. If the
matter is not resolved, withhold the check writers fundraising merchandise and send
a certified letter explaining the situation.
You are obligated to try your best to collect the money owed to the PTO. On the
other hand, you are not a collection agency. Sometimes the best solution to a nonsuffi
cient funds situation is to require cash or a money order from the check writer in
the future. This may not get your original money back, but it will help your PTO avoid
additional losses due to that persons financial mismanagement.
10. Verify before you pay. When it is time to pay the fundraising company, verify
the amount with the fundraising committee chairperson. Record the payment on a
check request form, and send in the check.
After the Sale
1. Plan a wrap-up assembly. If your principal's got to pucker up, arrange with a
local farmer to bring the biggest, smelliest pig in the pen. Announce dollars earned,
top sellers, and prizewinners, if appropriate.
2. Let them know you care. Take time to close the loop and thank key participants.
Publish the actual dollar amount earned in the newsletter, on a bulletin board, and
at your next PTO meeting. Thank key volunteers by name (keep track as you go so
you know who helped out). Send a general thank-you to the parents of your students
through your school's newsletter. Thank the teachers for their assistance with the
sale. Send a personal note of thanks to any volunteer who went above and beyond.
3. Remind everybody why you did all this. Are you funding new playground
equipment? A years worth of assemblies and field trips? Whether the money is for
a specific project or the general fund, let teachers, parents, and students know why
all their effort is worthwhile. You told them before you started the project; now
re-emphasize it in all of your wrap-up activities and correspondence.
4. Help make next time even better. Throughout the sale, keep a file of sample
fliers and announcements. You might even photograph your visual displays, the
kickoff assembly, and the wrap-up event. Write down how you handled kickoff,
catalog distribution, merchandise pickup, payment collection. Think of things that
would have made your job easier, if only you had been told ahead of time. Write
those things down now! List your recommendations for future fundraising projects,
including your experience working with this specific fundraising company. Organize
all your paperwork, and file it for the next fundraising committee chair. (Might that