Five ways to improve high school fundraising

A lot of teams, school newspapers and other high school organizations try to solicit contributions from local businesses by selling advertising and promising “great exposure.”  But when’s the last time you saw a printed advertisement or a sign that made you say, “I am going to buy that product!”  An ad in your program, a sign on your center field fence, or listing as a donor in the event program isn’t real exposure for a business.  The audience wants to see the game, read the paper, or watch the performance.  They ignore the ads. 

Here are five ways you could make your fundraising more effective.

1. Let the students do the work.

It’s great that parents want to get involved with fundraising and help their kids.  But I’m going to be honest—it’s a lot easier to say no to a parent who’s doing this for her kid than it is to reject a nice high school student who’s asking you to help support the school’s marching band.  And please don’t tell me the kids are too busy to do it themselves.  I know they’re busy.  I’m busy, too.  Kids should be willing to put in the fundraising effort if they want businesses to give them money.      

2.    Don’t be afraid to be needy.

You need the support more than a business needs an ad.  And there’s nothing wrong with a high school organization needing some fundraising help.  So don’t present this as a win-win business opportunity for the business.  Telling someone, “Your ad will be prominently displayed in our 24-page program!” isn’t as likely to move a small business to contribute as being honest and asking for help will.  A smart business owner will want to support the community more than she’ll want faint “exposure.”  

3.  Tell them what you need the money for.

A small business is a lot more likely to contribute if they know and can feel good about what the money will do.  “Support our school lacrosse team” isn’t as compelling as, “Help our lacrosse team replace our worn-out equipment this year.”

4. Give them something real in return.

If you want a pizza parlor to buy an ad, offer to hold the team banquet there.  Tell them they can have a signed picture of the team in the new uniforms (see #3) that the business can proudly display to their customers.  Or offer to hand out coupons for their meal specials at your games so you can actually drive some business their way.  Those are small gestures that will go a long way towards convincing a business to give you the support you need.

5. Don’t forget to thank them.

I’ve run close to 100 ads in support of high school organizations, but nearly every time, the only thanks I get is an email from someone new the following year asking me to contribute again.  That’s not a good way to ensure repeat contributions.  No business helps in these situations just because they expect something in return.  But if you take the time to thank them personally, you’re much more likely to cultivate a relationship that will make the business want to keep contributing.