7 Steps for raising more money at your next school carnival

School carnival
Support for our Fundraising content comes from Association of Fundraising Professionals, Greater Austin Chapter.

Yes, you could forego all the trouble of an elementary school carnival and just ask for direct donations, but that’s not what school carnivals are about.

“Really, we just want people to get involved,” says the head of my children’s school carnival.

Once you have that revelation, you understand why the team of 20+ volunteers enlists another 200+ community volunteers, which in turn enlist nearby businesses and families. The carnival is about community!

In Austin, a great carnival can net about $20,000 for the PTA. That money is then used to fund extra programs at the school that would have otherwise not happened: field trips, in-school programs and presentations, science tools, online tutoring tools, more library books, grounds improvements and more.

The other plus: Kids feel supported, neighbors get to know each other, small businesses get to support their local schools, and all the other great outcomes from a community event.

So let the wild rumpus begin! And while some of the team plans the games, prizes, food and fun, you can focus on the donations and fundraising. Here are some tips to help you raise money from your school carnival:

1. Divvy up the responsibilities

Divide and conquer! You might consider having two different teams to fundraise based on the kind of money being raised.

Nonprofits divide income between “earned” income and “contributed” income. Earned revenue can come from selling tickets, food, T-shirts and other tangible things. Contributed income takes the form of sponsorships and direct donations. In-kind donations can be tax-deductible for the giver. (Remember, only the giver can determine the value of the item.)

So consider a team focused on the earned income and one focused on the contributed income. The earned income team will focus on ticket sales, marketing, coming up with fun games, working with vendors, coming up with the T-shirt, etc. The contributed income team might rely on its connections with the local community to solicit in-kind donations, direct donations and sponsorships.

2. Coordinate the teams

Make sure there’s coordination between the sponsorship team and the other team

Both teams will have to coordinate on any items in sales and marketing where you might have an opportunity to recognize donors. For example, the sponsorship team might want to lure a big sponsor in with the promise of putting their logo on the T-shirt, in the ads or on signs promoting the carnival. Make sure the sponsorship team knows the deadlines for making all those materials so that they can give their sponsor prospects a deadline. Nothing motivates you to close a deal like a deadline!

3. Find those “gold” sponsors

Make sure you start with a goal in mind, even if it’s just to do better than last year. You can refer to this goal when you’re making your fundraising plan. Always start with the sponsors from previous carnivals, for which there should be good notes. A good plan should include the names and contact information of prospects as well as notes on how the sponsor likes to be asked and how much they’ve donated in the past.

Expand your list to include new businesses to the area like new dental offices, banks, car washes, restaurants, realtors, mortgage companies, insurance salespeople and any new business you think is trying to connect with your neighborhood. Ask around, see if any volunteers or parents know these folks. Relationships are everything!

Also, take a look at your local paper like the Community Impact, the Round Rock Leader, the neighborhood website and others to identify other prospects. If they’re buying an ad, reaching out to the neighborhood is important to them … and they have a budget.

4. Time for the ask

Remember that most requests for silent donations are needed weeks or even months in advance, so start early. More than likely, there will be a form required, so don’t get too hung up on having a letter. Also, most companies that do give items for fundraisers have parameters around what kinds of causes they will support. Make sure to have your school’s Tax ID ready to prove your nonprofit status.

Make the case for why they should support your school: know how you will recognize their donation, how many people you expect will attend, the basic demographics of your attendees, how much you raised in previous years and how the funds will be used. Make sure to go over the IRS rules for compliance, including what to give in-kind donors to recognize their donation and … Mostly remember that it is the donor’s responsibility to determine the value of their donation.

5. Give them choices

Offer a range of sponsorship levels and include what types of recognition a sponsor would get for each level. You might start your levels at $250 and go up to $1,000, that way there’s a place for all sizes of business.

Get creative. Ask a car dealership if they’d like to display a few cars in the parking lot. Offer a car wash place a chance to have their mascot greet the kids. Remember, these businesses are looking for up-close, exclusive access to your audience. Ask them how they would like to connect with attendees. Then try to give them that opportunity.

6. Ask and ask again

Don’t take no for an answer. Try to have a face-to-face with every prospect, and if they say no, follow up with a letter thanking them for their time and reminding them about what a great opportunity they’ve turned down. Make sure to leave them with every possible way to reach you. Call them after you’ve sent the letter. In other words, be relentless… in a friendly way.

Always stay positive. Good fundraisers know that it’s a relationship game. Maybe you won’t get them this year, but you at least want to build a positive, happy relationship between these businesses and your school.

7. Milk the cute factor

Do these prospects know that the money your school is raising helps children in the neighborhood have computer access, go on field trips, have new sports equipment….? They don’t? Well, that’s your fault!

Never miss an opportunity to share with your prospects just how much their sponsorship means to local kids. Show them photos from past carnivals or of kids enjoying the items you were able to get the kids from past school carnivals. Show, don’t tell! Give them a chance to be a part of something big – your school carnival!

In short, you’re on a campaign to help local businesses as much as you are to help your school. Approach your asks like that, and you’ll get a much better response.

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