The Hidden Costs of Fundraising Events

Vol. 13 No. 8

development eletter Vol13 No8 donormoney

When you're trying to raise money for school programs and upgrades, it's important to keep resources funneled to where they can do the most good. Consider large fundraising events like golf tournaments, live auctions, and banquets. While these events certainly can—and do!—raise a lot of money toward a school’s capital campaign or annual fund, hidden costs lurk among your guests.

Staff Hours

The Development Office can spend hundreds of hours coordinating for a single large event.

  • Finding, negotiating, and working with vendors
  • Locating, negotiating, and decorating a suitable space
  • Clearing permits through the local municipality
  • Requesting and coordinating volunteers and prizes for auctions, raffles, etc.
  • Verifying insurance coverage
  • Marketing the event to potential donors and the school community

That’s in addition to the possible overtime worked during the week of the event.

There’s a certain mentality of “opportunity cost” to this approach; an investment of time and manpower is required to acquire the sort of funds needed by the school for planned “upgrades.”

Still, it’s wise to look at an event cost in terms of paid staff time required to make the event a success. Even if vendors volunteer or donate goods, your office will still be “paying” something in terms of time and wages that might be better “spent” someplace else.

“Ask” Fatigue

How many times does the school ask families to donate money? Tuition, fees, field trips, lunch money, required equipment—all of these things drain the family’s collective finances and patience. The annual fund, too, marks another “ask” of the family, as well as any capital campaigns you may run during a student's tenure at your school.

Now throw a major event into the mix, and you might be asking for more than your families can offer. After all, to keep monetary costs down, you may be asking for parent volunteers to help with set up, take down, or running of the event; donation of gifts, some of which can be quite expensive; babysitting the night of the event, if it’s an adults-only shindig; and participation during the event itself, which will probably include major purchases or donations.

So, before you decide to proceed with a major event, gauge the level of “ask fatigue” your families may be experiencing. If you (and the rest of the school) has already asked much of them this year, consider lower the expectation levels and eliminating some “asks.”

Perceptions and Comfort Level

Finally, consider the social pressures that may accompany a major event.

Some major events can be seen as “high brow” and intimidating to attend, especially for families from lower socioeconomic strata. Yet, if families don’t attend, they may be seen as unsupportive of the school by their fellow parents.

Your school may have held certain events for many years, and so continue to do them out of an almost obligatory sense of tradition. Privately, however, many families may be more willing to attend a different type of event, but not want to “rock the boat,” in a manner of speaking.

The key here is to have clear and open communication channels with all your parents, not simply a select few. Offer families an anonymous way to offer suggestions or feedback about potential event ideas. They may surprise you by requesting a smaller, more intimate event—at which they can afford to give more.

Additional ISM resources:
ISM Monthly Update for Development Directors Vol. 11 No. 4 Re-recruiting Your Donors at Small Events
ISM Monthly Update for Development Directors Vol. 13 No. 5 Are School Employees Working or Volunteering?
Private School News Vol. 10 No. 8 Food Truck Nights

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 37 No. 12 The True Amount of the 'Perceived Cost' of Attending Your School
I&P Vol. 39 No. 4 Build Your Volunteer Corps Rights vs Responsibilities

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