Could Virtual School Fundraisers Be the New Normal?
Are you worried about the effectiveness of your school’s magazine or gift wrap sales campaign in light of our recent shift to contactless, touchless interactions in almost all areas of life? We may have just the right solution for you.
In a day and age where door-to-door sales and special events attended by hundreds are virtually out of the question (pun intended), virtual school fundraisers may be the best–nay, the ONLY–option available.
Covid-19’s Effect on Traditional Fundraising
The Covid-19 pandemic has necessitated changes in many of the ways we operate as a society, from social distancing and mask wearing to telehealth appointments and virtual meetings. We’ve seen how businesses have been impacted–negatively, for the most part–by factors like operational restrictions and changes in customer behavior. But no less affected is the nonprofit sector.
The public has been quick to rise up in support of organizations that are on the front lines in the fight against Covid-19, offering donations of supplies, meals, and other services. The pandemic is on the forefront of people’s minds, so there’s no claiming ignorance in the face of such obvious needs.
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For other nonprofits not working on issues related to the pandemic, fundraising has become a bit of a struggle. Most large gatherings are prohibited. Many parents are working from home, making it difficult to solicit sales from their coworkers. There are just so many barriers that make traditional fundraising methods impossible.
What Are We to Do?
So without the funds generated by traditional methods, how are organizations like public schools expected to raise the money they so desperately require to pay for extras like sports equipment, new computers, playground upgrades, and extracurricular programs–not to mention all the additional cleaning supplies needed to keep our kids healthy and safe?
Virtual school fundraisers can help ensure that, though many in-person businesses may be struggling, our children will still have access to all the resources they need for success. It just takes a little flexibility and imagination. The rest you can leave up to us.
What are virtual school fundraisers?
Generally speaking, virtual school fundraisers include any giving initiative that is conducted entirely online and allows donors to participate in and give to your cause from anywhere in the world.
There’s no contact. No events to host or attend. No hurdles to keep you from reaching unlimited donors. And, in most cases, little to no upfront cost or overhead to consider.
A Contactless Fundraiser is a fundraiser that is safe and secure by offering a product online and delivering directly to the end user who purchases on a custom site and provides funds for schools and teams.
More Benefits than Meeting Social Distancing Requirements
Sure, virtual school fundraisers help eliminate the need for face-to-face contact and the risk of spreading germs. But that isn’t the only reason to choose them over more traditional methods. Here are a few of the lesser known benefits to virtual school fundraisers:
- They’re efficient. Virtual school fundraisers generally require far less effort and expense than traditional options, increasing convenience and maximizing valuable time on both the giving and receiving end.
- They’re accessible. Donors can access virtual fundraisers any time from anywhere. With such ease of access schools can broaden their audience and the reach of their campaign.
- They’re flexible. With virtual school fundraisers, donors have the ability to choose from a variety of payment options.They can give electronically without having to come up with cash or hunt for their checkbook. In fact, 54% of donors say they prefer to pay this way. (Source: https://nonprofitssource.com/online-giving-statistics/#Online)
- They’re effective. Online giving has been increasing drastically in recent years, even before Covid-19. Total online revenue increased 23% in 2017 alone.
- They’re lucrative. With less overhead costs involved, virtual school fundraisers can earn organizations a much higher profit percentage on the money they bring in. For example, the products we offer allow schools to earn upwards of 90 percent of their total sales.
What are Some Common Virtual School Fundraisers?
There are many ideas out there for successful virtual school fundraisers. Some are merely a more modern, contactless version of the tried and true campaigns we all know and love. Others are more original and innovative, proving once again that necessity is the mother of all invention.
Here are a few of our favorite virtual school fundraisers from several broad categories:
One thing that schools really have going for them when it comes to fundraising is that they are organizations that people generally have no problem supporting. Parents, grandparents, neighbors, local businesses, and even local branches of larger franchises are often more than willing to do their part to support local schools, even when they receive nothing in return for their donation.
So, sometimes the best solution really is the simplest one: just ask. Since it isn’t always safe for children or their families to go door to door to solicit donations, another alternative is to drum up contributions online. Here are a few ways you can do that.
- Text-to-give: Also known as mobile giving, this is a method of virtual fundraising that allows donors to give directly from their smartphone. You must first select a mobile giving provider, who will give your organization a unique phone number. Then you simply promote that number to your supporters, along with a chosen keyword. When contributors text your keyword to your phone number, they will be immediately directed to a simple donation form that they can complete quickly and easily.
- Crowdfunding: This is another type of online fundraiser that is geared towards having a larger number of donors make small to medium-sized contributions to your campaign. Those donations, however small, can add up very quickly. Crowdfunding campaigns can be promoted via social media platforms (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) with a link to a central donation page.
- Social media: People are spending more time and money on social media than ever before. So while it’s a good tool to use to promote any fundraisers, many social media platforms allow both individuals and organizations to create fundraisers directly through their channels. You can use Facebook Fundraisers or add a link directly to your donation page in your Instagram profile or stories.
- Peer-to-peer: Also known as social fundraisers, these types of campaigns basically encourage your dedicated supporters to join you in your fundraising efforts. Participants can customize their own individual fundraising page where they can tell a story or share why your organization is important to them. They then share their donation page on social media asking their friends, family, coworkers, etc. to spread the word and give to the campaign as well.
There are many benefits as well as drawbacks to online giving campaigns. One huge plus is that, not only do these methods help raise funds for your organization, they also help build awareness and trust among your community, your supporters, and their networks.
Ease of access and a hassle-free donation process are definite bonuses for your supporters. But choosing an online giving platform, mobile giving provider, etc. can be a challenge for the organization. Since schools don’t generally have a dedicated person to handle their fundraising efforts, these decisions are often left up to the PTO/PTA.
There would also be a need for striking visual content, in the form of photos, videos, or graphics, to use when marketing your virtual school fundraiser.
Tips for a successful online giving campaign:
- Come up with a strategy. Consider your audience and where they spend their time. Decide which platform(s) or providers you will use and then create compelling content for each placement.
- Streamline your donation page. If you’re directing donors to your customized giving site, make the form as easy as possible to complete lest visitors lose interest.
- Optimize for mobile. Don’t lose potential donors with a form that’s too difficult to complete on a device. The right platform should do this for you.
- Offer some options. Since donors often struggle with how much to give, suggestions can be a big help. Offer choices like “one month of online learning for one student” or “six weeks of Covid-19 protection and cleaning supplies for one classroom” so your supporters have a better idea of where their money goes.
- Allow for recurring contributions. Give your donors the option of setting up recurring monthly or annual donations to increase future funding or to break down contributions into more manageable chunks.
- Consider paid ads. Word-of-mouth and networking are easy ways to raise support among those familiar with your organization. But don’t overlook the option of a paid social media ad campaign to help reach a wider audience.
Fundraising events have a special way of generating excitement and support that no other means of raising money can compete with. And just because your fundraising event can’t happen in person, there’s no reason it can’t happen at all.
Virtual fundraising events have gained so much popularity (and generated so much revenue) that they’re likely going to be around for the long haul, even once social distancing is no longer a requirement. Here are a few great options.
- Virtual race: Hosting a 5k run or walk is a way to raise money for your cause while also encouraging your supporters to stay active. You can map out a suggested course where participants can walk or run at any time of their choosing. Another option is to specify the date and time and let them choose their own location. Have runners submit their times (on the honor system) and offer a prize for the top finishers.
- Virtual gala: Banquets and parties are a great way for your supporters to give to your cause and also have a little fun. Why not offer them that same experience online? Take your event virtual! Have a speaker, entertainment, and even door prizes. Ask attendees to donate what they would have spent on a new outfit, a nice meal, and a babysitter had they attended a real live event.
- Online auction: Here’s another event that, with the right tools, can easily be done virtually. Start by asking parents, local businesses, and other friends of the school to donate goods or services to be auctioned off. Use an online auction platform to display the items being auctioned, allow guests to register to bid on items on their smart device, and accept payments.
- Pledge campaign: Rather than encouraging supporters to participate in an event, try asking them to pledge a certain amount of money based on someone else’s performance (e.g. $20 for each run the baseball team scores in a certain game, $1 for each book their child’s classmates read in a month, or $5 for every second the principal can keep his head in a bucket of cold water).
Virtual events are a lot of fun for participants, and the hype they generate can help raise a lot of money. They do however require a fair amount of hassle on the organization’s part. Expenses for food, decorations, and equipment rentals won’t be incurred. And you won’t have to worry about things like parking or security. But additional burdens will have to be assumed.
To remain completely contactless all contributions would need to be made online, which would require a donation website. A promotion strategy would also be necessary in order to spread the word and encourage donors to participate. Most events will rely heavily on technology, which can be a challenge for those who aren’t familiar with those platforms.
Tips for a successful virtual event:
- Treat it like the real thing. Keep in mind that you’ll need to plan as if you’re hosting a real live event. The only missing component will be the people.
- Make it visual. Encourage participants to send pictures of their family crossing the finish line or dressed up (maybe in pajamas) to attend the gala. Make a video the scoring runs or the dripping wet principal and post it online.
- Use hashtags. By branding your event with a hashtag, you can draw even more attention and awareness to your cause.
- Do a practice run. Technology can be a challenge, so make sure to test out your video conferencing and other services ahead of time.
- Sell t-shirts. Event t-shirts are a great add-on that not only increases profits from your fundraiser. They’re also great for raising awareness.
- Consider overlapping events. Run your auction simultaneously with your gala. Have the speaker announce the race winners. Or let the principal get dunked in front of a [virtual] live audience.
- Allow for additional donations. Just because there’s a set entrance fee or ticket price for your event, don’t hesitate to give supporters the option to give more.
One of the simplest and most profitable school fundraisers is the sale of edible or non-edible goods. What makes this traditional fundraising method so well-received is that supporters actually GET something in return for their donation. And in many cases it’s something yummy.
These types of fundraisers are what grandparents, neighbors, and co-workers have come to expect and are happy to support. And now even these interactions can be contactless via online ordering and central delivery.
There are many goods and services that can be sold, but the ones listed below are some of our favorites.
- Branded merchandise: Even better for your supporters than just getting something in return for their money is getting something with your school logo or team mascot on it (e.g. t-shirts, mugs, hats, stickers, and more). Not only does selling branded gear help raise money for your school, it’s a great marketing tool.
- Gourmet popcorn: One of the most tried and true fundraisers around, gourmet popcorn is a treat school supporters have loved for decades. People love it because it isn’t readily found in stores, and many even depend on those pre-holiday popcorn sales for neighbor gifts. Not to mention, the flavor options have come a long way from the traditional buttery caramel. Today’s choices include cheddar jalapeno, cinnamon toast, and even dill pickle!
- Cookie dough: In recent years, frozen cookie dough has become king among the edible fundraising products available. With a variety of flavors (and even edible dough that doesn’t require baking), buyers love it because it can keep so long in the fridge. Since it doesn’t require thawing it’s easy for families to scoop out only the amount they need.
- Coupon books: Although we’re seeing less of them these days, coupon books are still a popular item for school supporters. Generally priced around $20, they contain a set number of coupons that can be redeemed at local establishments for a set discount, free appetizer, buy one get free deal, etc. Participating businesses range from Mexican restaurants to amusement parks to oil change services, and the value of all coupons is usually at least $100 over the cost of the book.
- Discount cards: Credit-card sized discount cards are the coupon book of the future. They work similarly, but the value to the cardholder is much greater since the cards can be used an unlimited number of times until its expiration date (1 year from purchase). So the actual savings to the buyer could be in the thousands of dollars if used regularly. They’re also easier to keep up with than coupons and are generally sold for closer to $10.
The pros and cons of merchandise sales vary from one product to another. But all require considerably less hassle to execute on the school’s end. Most schools already have a spirit shop where they sell branded merch. Additional items could easily be added that are earmarked for a certain cause. A promotional strategy would be needed.
Popcorn is bulky and does require distribution, but it’s usually done at a set time and picked up by parents who deliver it to the donors, requiring very little volunteer hours. The same is true for cookie dough, which is more compact but does need to be kept cold. A huge benefit of both is that a third party provides all printed materials (i.e. order forms, catalogs, etc.) as well as online ordering, making promotion and order taking a breeze. With no up front costs or overhead, schools get to keep all of their profits from popcorn and cookie dough sales (usually 50%).
Coupon books and discount cards are easily the most hassle-free of all merchandise sales, particularly cards which are smaller. Again the third party vendor handles order processing and print materials. A list of preferred local businesses can be provided to the vendor who will then contact the owners to find those willing to offer a discount. So even the solicitation of participants can be outsourced.
Discount cards also offer the greatest profit for schools, as they can earn up to 90% of their total sales with no upfront costs. Cards are also printed with the school logo on the front and a list of vendors and their discounts on the back, which makes for ease of use.
Tips for successful merchandise sales:
- Create healthy competition. Some vendors have their own rewards program. If not, consider different prize levels for students (or classrooms) who reach certain sales goals.
- Set goals. Have a suggested sales goal for each student, each classroom, and each grade level. Keep students apprised of where they stand to encourage them to sell.
- Focus on your core supporters. Merchandise sales are best geared towards those closest to your organization. Start with family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
- Go public. If local businesses will allow, consider setting up a table outside to sell to their patrons.
Virtual school fundraisers may have gained recent popularity as a result of Covid, but we don’t think they’re going away any time soon. Even once our lives return to “normal,” virtual school fundraisers will remain as a fantastic tool for enhancing your other in-person events and sales. And with some experience already under your belt, your organization will already be in a position to succeed with a new, more efficient and effective hybrid format.
Contact us if you’d like more information about the products and services we offer. Our goal is to help you EXCEED your fundraising goals by providing full-service fundraising. Your success is a win for us.
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