Regardless of whether your kids attend public, private or parochial, chances are their school is always looking for ways to raise much-needed funds to pay for enriching extras. Parents are often called upon to give money. But there are also lots of fun and easy ways for families to get involved in the fundraising process that involve donating your time and creativity, not your cold hard cash.
A few years back, I wrote a post featuring 7 successful large-scale fundraising projects I helped oversee at my son's school when I was PTA president. Today I'm sharing 9 simple fundraising ideas that can be implemented relatively quickly. In fact, inspired PTAs could get a couple of these off the ground before spring break arrives! You may have heard of some of these before (hello, bake sale) but I've included tips for ways to maximize profits and enjoyment.
Have an old-fashioned ice-cream social
Wrap up the school year (or kick it off) with a fun, low-key social where kids can assemble ice-cream sundaes... and then eat them. All you need are a couple of flavors, a selection of candy toppings and a few volunteers to help scoop, and then charge a small admission. Sweeten the deal by adding a theme, music or games.
Sell an end-of-year DVD with footage from notable school events
Have a talented parent (or student) record all of the big school events that happen throughout the year and then put the highlights on a DVD. Yes it's true, we all have smartphones to make our own recordings but this way parents can actually watch their kids in action in the school play/concert/talent show/dance recital/commencement ceremony and then buy the DVD later. The discs cost very little to produce so you can sell them for as little as $5 and still make a profit. Want to make even more money? Sell DVDs for each event separately.
Host a parents' lounge
Most parents relish the opportunity to socialize with their peers in a casual, low-cost environment. Organize a parents' or moms' night out at the school with wine and beer, snacks and other goodies. Charge a small admission fee and have a cash bar with low prices. To raise more money, include a raffle. Can't have it at the school? See if a local bar or restaurant will donate a couple of rounds and allow you to charge a small cover which you keep.
Organize a craft sale or market
Use the school gym or auditorium as a marketplace, rent tables to local artisans, and charge patrons a small admission fee to enter and shop.
Do a clothing or uniform swap
This was a big hit at my son's school when we paired it with a Halloween costume swap. Ask parents to bring in gently-used clothing in advance of the event. Then for a small admission fee, families can peruse the items and take what they want. If your school has uniforms, a uniform swap is the way to go. Paying to attend the exchange is a lot less pricey than buying a brand-new outfit.
Juice up your lemonade stand
It's not just for the 'burbs. Kids everywhere love running lemonade stands—my son and I have one every summer on our NYC block. This isn't just about the money but what the kids learn while participating. They have to make the product, figure out how to sell it, and handle the money and customer relations—Marketing 101. You can sell lemonade to your school population or ask kids to host their own individual stands near their homes and then donate the proceeds. You can even turn it into a contest to help spark participation—the stand that makes the most money wins a prize. My son and I made $80 in one hour last summer! We gave away a piece of candy with each purchase and strategically placed ourselves at the top of a hill on a 90-degree day at lunchtime. Do the math: If you get a dozen kids with similar results you could earn an easy $1,000 for your school. Too cold for lemonade? Substitute hot chocolate or warm cider.
Organize a not-your-average bake sale
I realize bake sales are old hat not to mention polarizing, but before you skip this blurb, here's my twist: Instead of pushing sweets on the kids, sell to the parents. Whenever your school hosts an open house, parent-teacher meeting or other adult-aimed event, include a bake sale. They are low-maintenance, which is one of the main reasons they're so popular. Have parents donate the baked goods and set up a big pot of coffee. Don't bother assigning prices to individual items; just ask for a donation and many parents will likely throw in a $5 or $10. Also, leave a few of your cakes whole and see if you can sell those for a set fee. No one can resist snagging a loaf of homemade chocolate chip banana bread for the office when it's just $5.
Throw seasonal crafting parties
For a small admission fee, invite kids to school to carve a pumpkin in fall, make valentines in February, craft holiday decorations in December or pot a small plant to take home for Mother's Day. Try to get the materials donated but even if you can't, they're usually pretty inexpensive, especially if you buy in bulk online. Or try some anytime crafts like a Rainbow Loom bracelet-making party. Kids are obsessed with these things. Just get a bunch of looms (you probably have a couple at home already), order bands online and then charge $5 per kid. It will be a fun and easy money-making afternoon.
Host a gingerbread house decorating party
These are popular fundraisers during the holiday season. Like the seasonal crafting sessions, PTAs can order gingerbread house kits in bulk and charge an inclusive admission fee. Buy some extra candy to add and have the kids come to school to work on them together in a festive atmosphere. Enhance the event by selling hot cocoa and snacks, or taking photos with Santa (just get one of the jolly dads to dress up, snap digital pics and hook up a printer). Or skip the kits altogether and assemble houses from graham crackers and packaged frosting. These houses won't last as long but the kids won't care and they are a fraction of the cost.
Want more fundraising advice? Read our list of 10 important tips for school fundraising.