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Avoid These Common Fundraising Mistakes: 10 Essential Tips
Avoid fundraising mistakes

Written by King Fundraising

August 22, 2023

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You’ve just been elected the president or fundraising coordinator for your organization. Your head swirls with ideas and the words “sell, sell, sell” flash across your mental banner. Filled with excitement, you start to consider the variety of products you are certain everyone will love. “This is going to be such a great event,” you think as you imagine people thanking you for all the effort you put into this fundraiser. 

Finally, Fundraising Can Be Fun, Easy, and Profitable

If only such rainbow-colored fundraising wishes could magically happen with such ease. Not to rain on your enthusiasm, but far too often, the bubble bursts when you step into the fundraising pits. The product you chose doesn’t sell as you had hoped. The kids don’t seem excited to participate and aren’t buzzing around talking about their sales. And hey, is that parent volunteer avoiding you after you’ve asked three times if she can help with money collection? It happens, but it doesn’t have to.

Many schools, clubs, and non-profit organizations have fundraisers that enable them not only to meet but often exceed their goals. However, fundraising success often requires navigating unforeseen challenges. This article will help you successfully navigate these 10 common fundraising mistakes to ensure a more enjoyable and profitable selling experience for you and your group.

1. Novelty Products

Nothing will deflate your fundraising balloons like attempting to raise money with the new fundraising product you saw at a PTO convention, only to discover that it doesn’t sell well. One minute you are thinking, No one else is selling this in my community. This will get all the attention, and I’ll be the new parent of the year. Months later, however, you’re stuck dealing with this fundraising mistake. Unfortunately, this means returning unsold products. Or worse, your group is stuck with the unreturnable products you can’t afford or that eats up most of your profits.

There’s a reason no one else is selling those products. Everything that glitters is not gold. While you may feel tempted to wow your fundraiser supporters with the newest products, it’s important that you use caution. Untested products can often lead to new challenges. Instead, avoid this fundraising mistake by sticking with tried-and-true products like cookie dough, chocolate bars, popcorn, and coupon books. These items have a proven track record of generating sales that help groups reach their fundraising goals. There’s a good reason King Fundraising doesn’t offer every product under the sun. We believe in providing our clients with reliable and effective fundraising options.

2. Steer Clear of Gift Catalog Fundraising Mistakes

In the past, your fundraiser has involved food products.  This year, however, your principal has introduced a new healthy eating initiative and is discouraging food products for your fundraisers. Or maybe your group doesn’t want to handle food products this year, even if safely prepackaged. While searching for an alternative fundraising program, you see a catalog filled with kitchenware, garden supplies, jewelry, wrapping paper, toys, tools, and sundries. A little bit of something for everyone, right? Wrong.

Appearances can be deceiving. While the catalog’s photos may make the products look enticing, there are other potential problems to consider when choosing gift catalog fundraisers. These include: 

  • Limited profit margins,
  • Possible marketing expenses for catalogs,
  • Supply chain issues,
  • Customer service challenges,
  • Unwanted substitutions, and
  • Health and safety concerns.

Fancy photos make these products look nicer than they are, but as a volunteer, you’re not getting paid to educate yourself on these issues and stay abreast of changes in the industry. 

Dealing with these fundraising mistakes can turn your fundraiser into a flop. To put it into perspective, spend an hour at a customer service counter at a department store, and you’ll get an idea of what headache you’re inviting with a risky choice like a gift catalog. 

3. Lone-Rangering Your Sales

While you might be the secret superhero of your organization, trying to fundraise as the Lone Ranger can be a fundraising mistake if you don’t have a trusty Tonto by your side. If you have a hundred or more members, fundraising is rarely something you should do alone. For a larger fundraising project, it’s important you have a committee of dedicated volunteers who share in your enthusiasm and are willing to put in the effort needed to reach your goals.

Reach out to parents who are passionate about your group’s success and who are already actively involved in other ways. Host meetings and send newsletters to keep people informed about the progress you are making and your next steps. 

Encourage your top supporters to help you form a committee that includes a chairperson, treasurer, marketing and promotions coordinator, kickoff event planner, and product distribution coordinator. The more of these roles you have filled, the less each individual person will have to do m—and the more organized and successful your event will be. 

The best part is that your once-secret superhero status won’t be a secret for long. The whole school will be raving about the fantastic job you did, helping them earn money for their equipment, supplies, or trips.

Want to know more ways to make you a fundraising superhero? Check out this article on attracting and keeping fundraising volunteers.

4. Hiring the Wrong Fundraising Company

 A fundraising consultant generally specializes in helping you with product selection, sales strategies, promotion, and motivation. Because their income depends on your success, fundraising consultants, like at King Fundraising, are eager to guide you through every step of the process from setting up the sale with the warehouse supplier, developing promotional strategies, coordinating deliveries, and providing detailed reports, to sending you an invoice when the sale ends.  

But like all businesses, not all are created equally. Check their ratings. See what testimonials they offer. Meet with them and see if you feel they have your school’s best interest in mind. What is their track record of raising money and making the experience simple for the schools and groups they service? 

5. Circumvent Sticky Fingers Fundraising Mistakes

Desperate people do desperate things that get them in trouble. Even not-so-desperate people are known to dip into the money pool for a quick gallon of milk with the full intention of returning it when they get to the bank but find days later that it slipped their mind. The biggest, though rare, concern with people handling thousands of dollars in fundraising money is embezzlement. The simplest way to avoid this fundraising mistake is to always track your profits on paper.

Additionally, you should make sure to require two people present when collecting, recording, and depositing money. This not only adds to an extra layer of accountability, but it also serves as a deterrent against improper financial handling. Transparency in the fundraising process helps to minimize the risk of losing hard-earned money to desperate (or simply absent-minded) individuals.

6. Asking for Forgiveness Later

While there may be occasions where seeking forgiveness later is useful, you should avoid it when it comes to your group and fundraising. Going rogue with your own rules could impact the integrity of the fundraiser and the trust of the people you are trying to help. Organizations have bylaws for a reason. These bylaws were created to ensure that your fundraiser is legally compliant, governed properly, holds members accountable, and secures rights for everyone involved. If you think your organization’s bylaws aren’t doing this to the best of its ability, it’s important that you vote to change the bylaws to adapt to the organization’s needs.

In the meantime, remember that going rogue rarely works. For example, several years ago a parent remembering how much fun bake sales were when she was in school decided that instead of the traditional popcorn fundraiser the school had always approved, she wanted to hold a bake sale. What she didn’t know was that over the years, health codes had gotten stricter and the school’s bylaws dictated that food had to be cooked in approved kitchens. In other words, traditional parent-baked pies, cookies, and cake sales were not allowed. While everyone was excited for the bake sale, when the school board discovered the change, they immediately shut down the fundraiser and all the parent’s work went down the drain.

7. Not Reading the Contract

Good fences make good neighbors, and in business those boundaries are contracts. Unfortunately, if you don’t read the contract, you don’t know where the fences are. Take time to read through your contracts thoroughly and discuss them with your fundraising consultant before signing. Fundraising consultants are in the business of making fundraisers work well for their customers while helping them avoid fundraising mistakes. It’s important, however, that you have a clear sense of the difference between your responsibility and their responsibility. Your contract defines these roles. It’s also important to have a clear understanding of the deposits, delivery process, and return policy before you begin your fundraiser, so you can avoid fundraising mistakes or financial burdens that turn your fundraiser into failure. If the fundraising consultant doesn’t provide an agreement, ask for one or find a more professional company to work with.

8. Assuming Without Verifying

At the very least, making an assumption and taking action without verifying the facts can make you look uninformed. At the most, it can be very costly. Verifying what you think may be true ensures accuracy, informed decision-making, professionalism, integrity, and trust. It can mean the difference between products getting into the right hands on the right day or spoiling in the cafeteria because delivery dates weren’t checked. In one case, it meant that the very enticing prize day field trip to the OWA, an amusement park in South Alabama, never happened for the children because the coordinator who made this promise made this fundraising mistake. Instead of verifying that the park was a good prize option, they assumed it would be open during the warmer months of the school year only to discover that the park was closed until summer. 

9. Fundraising Mistakes Over a Holiday

As much as Christmas dinner with the entire family, including out-of-town relatives, sounds like the perfect time to fundraise, in actuality, it could lead to fundraising mistakes that are easy to avoid. During vacation, school is out. Your students’ heads go on vacation mode. While they may remember to take their fundraising products to the party, it’s common for them to also leave it there, requiring them to retrieve it later, which isn’t so convenient when grandma lives 100 miles away.

Conducting your fundraiser during normal school days allows you to remind your students about the sale while they are already thinking of school-related projects. It gives you a chance to announce leading sellers, which in return motivates others to support the sale in bigger ways. 

Additionally, you can provide daily prizes and kudos to encourage more sales. Finally, you can incorporate school-related events such as pep rallies and sports games into your fundraiser to both announce the event to potential supporters or sell at these events.

10. Spending the Profits Before the Bill Is Due

When you start your fundraiser, the allure of profit can be exciting. It’s easy to imagine thousands of dollars earned, giving you plenty of room to start making down payments on trips or uniforms before the fundraiser is over, at least, that’s how it plays out in your head. But what happens when things don’t go as planned? 

The band boosters at a school on the  Mississippi Gulf Coast sold $24,000 in chocolate bars over several months. Their invoice for the products they sold was due 30 days after the product delivery. However, instead of paying for the chocolate bars, they bought a bunch of expensive equipment. 

The band had to do extra fundraisers to pay off what they could have otherwise taken care of if there had been better financial accountability between the director and the booster president and treasurer. They created a lot of unnecessary extra work for themselves and lost their good standing with the World’s Finest Chocolate as a result.

Have You Made These Fundraising Mistakes?

If so, don’t beat yourself up. Many people, eager to do their best, still make them. Fundraising can be fun and profitable, but it’s not without its hurdles. Making sure your fundraiser achieves success requires careful planning, strategic thinking, and a knowledge of the potential pitfalls that may arise. By avoiding these fundraising mistakes, you’ll sail smoothly through your fundraiser. 

Still nervous about taking on this big responsibility and need guidance? Call 1-800-541-1463 to talk to one of King Fundraising’s specialists about your concerns.

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Starting a Fundraiser can be a daunting task, but you don’t have to do it alone. We are here to help. If you want the King Fundraising Royal Treatment, give us a call at 1-800-541-1463.

In the meantime, grab your FREE copy of our Ultimate Fundraising Checklist by filling out the form to the right.

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