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PTA Fundraising – Tips to Lighten the Load
by Anh Vazquez, www.littlegrad.com

It's that time of year . . . the kids are settled into their routines (more or less) and the parents and teachers at the school are lining up their activities for the coming year. And if you're reading this article, odds are you are one of the parents who have decided to put time and effort into fundraising, so that the school can afford to do some extra things.

So first off . . . congratulations! You are a valuable resource to your school community and your kids will learn from your example of putting your time and effort into something you believe it. But, you may have some butterflies, or even downright trepidation about what you've signed up for. Here are a few thoughts that may help to make the fundraising process more efficient and effective.

  1. Add electronic options. In the past, fundraising has been about holding events and selling things like magazines and candy. And indeed, these activities are great for building community and teaching kids the value of putting time and effort into supporting their school. However, there are new services and options to efficiently make money for the school. Here are a few you should consider.

    Online rewards programs. There are a variety of reward programs that generate cash rewards from activities that parents are already doing. For many, parents need only to register at a website, and their online shopping will generate funds for the school, as well as the family's college savings.

    Other services are focused on getting rewards from grocery stores, or department stores. Since these don't cost parents anything, they can be a great option to offer, and since they are automated, once parents sign on, the funds continue to add up. Ask any of your committee members if they shop online frequently, as they'll be able to make the best call on which program strikes them as the best fit for your community.

    Online auctions. One great fundraiser, the garage sale, now has an electronic cousin, the online auction. If parents are willing to contribute items, they can frequently be sold online, through a variety of online auction/reselling sites, and there is no need to dedicate a whole weekend (or clean out the garage!) Odds are, there is a parent in your community who's an avid online seller already, who may be willing to organize this task.

  2. Put a name by each activity. After investigating the online options, take a look at what has been done traditionally, as well as any new ideas that may be generated by new parents on your committee. If an activity or idea engenders passion, there will be someone willing to put their name on it as an owner. If there is no owner, no matter how good an idea might be, it will not be efficient. (If an idea is truly great, the search for an owner should be fruitful… if not, dear committee leader, please think twice before taking something on by yourself.)

  3. Create a clear campaign. The first meeting may seem overwhelming, with a million ideas, suggestions and opinions. Creating an overall campaign with a calendar of what happens, when, will be extremely useful. This exercise will give the owners a clear idea of what their commitments are and when their effort will be needed. It will also help you to pull together the overall picture that you can communicate to parents, so they will not become exasperated and think "not another fundraising activity!" In addition, if they are given a clear picture of what is going on, with different options for supporting the school, you are more likely to get more participation. Once you've created this vision, make sure you share it effectively. One of the things that schools tend to have is a variety of communication options. Once you've mapped out your campaign, share it with parents and the larger community in some or all the following ways.

    • Create a letter or postcard that provides an overview of the year's activities and options. Include actions they need to take to participate, such as "visit this site and register". Mail this to the parents as well (cost permitting) as sending out via email. If possible, also send home via student's cubbies.

    • Create a webpage that will have all this information, as well as other frequently asked for data, such as the school's absence line, or a copy of the school's closed day calendar.

    • Plan to have a booth at any of the school's events (walkathon, fall party) so all of these activities can be discussed. In particular, many parents will have questions about the online programs, and having someone who can explain things will help to boost participation rate greatly!

Fundraising is a lot of work, no question. But if you've organized in a way that takes advantage of the best technology and your people's passions, you will find yourself succeeding - raising money and raising involvement - without having added undue stress to your own life!

Anh Vazquez, CEO of LittleGrad.com, earned a Master's degree from Stanford University and a Bachelor's degree from Carnegie Mellon University. After spending over ten years working for leading companies such as Intel, Netscape, and Wal-Mart, Anh's career interests shifted when she became the mother of two children. Anh drew on her experience as a senior executive at Wal-Mart's fastest growing division (Walmart.com) when she decided to start LittleGrad.com, a free service that helps parents save for their children's college education. LittleGrad.com has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, San Francisco Chronicle, and Money magazine. For more information please visit www.littlegrad.com.

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