Unless your unit is completely self paying for everything, fundraising is/will be a necessity. There are administrative costs, event costs, registration costs, travel costs, etc etc etc. I thought I had an idea of it when I was an assistant scoutmaster but really it didn’t hit me until I became scoutmaster of my troop and I got to see just where the money goes.
Knowing what I know now, I have put more emphasis in fundraising and to do it with setting appropriate expectations.
As previous posts on here have mentioned you don’t need loads of cash to run a great program. You can find a lot of free or very cheap activities to do as a unit. Remember… even free activities cost money. There are food costs, fuel to get there and back as well as cook, and wear/tear on equipment. These costs add up no matter if you are doing ok financially or not. It really is important to lower income families in keeping costs low and it makes unit leaders rethink on some activities which can or should be offered. That is where fundraising really kicks in for your unit. It’s about making things financially possible for those that want to do what your unit wants to do. For troops, they are the ones deciding on where to go and understand what it will cost to get there.
Here are some tips I have found that works and could save you and your unit some heartache, time and resources when planning, executing and wrapping up fundraisers.
- Set a reasonable goal: Is the fundraising event for an activity, unit need, individual need, charity need, or resources? Getting that clear up front will provide a focus for the people working the fundraiser as well as those donating their money or resources in towards your unit. There is a big difference between hearing about “helping the scouts” to “helping troop 119 go to summer camp”. Sharpen the goal so it can clearly be recognized and understood. It will also help drive those contributing to your fundraiser give more because in this example, the person may have had fond memories of summer camp and is paying for that experience again for someone else.
- Get partnership: Partnering up with an organization does a few things. Generally this provides access to more people, resources and then opportunities. It provides almost instant awareness and a level of trust because people trust their organization and therefore trust their organization’s partnerships. That gets awareness and a call to act in front of those people from a trusted source. Through your partnership’s resource(s), your unit may now have the ability to do something that your unit couldn’t do before. They may have a commercial kitchen which has all the legal permits. They may have facilities for storage. They may have an awesome location to host a fundraiser. They may do an activity that their members love to do and associate a donation at their next event. The sky is the limit on this one.
- Marketing: People have to know about and understand what you are doing. A certain amount of people will have an awareness of an annual event because of the previous year(s) experience. A sign of a good annual event is that people will start asking early if it will happen again this year. Trust is built every year the event is done and that is a simple and cheap form of marketing. For scouting in America, popcorn sales is something that happens every fall. People know it and come to expect it. The marketing effort is done almost entirely by the scouting organization the local unit. Popcorn has a great profit margin for the unit and the individual contributor. Now, for those first time fundraisers your unit will have to pour on the marketing. That will have to be through online event posting (Facebook, Craigslist, etc), flyers, posters, word of mouth, radio station and newspaper. See how partnerships really help here? 🙂
- Scheduled resources: This is a vital. There is nothing like having 25 people show up to work your event and the planning is happening right in front of them. Been there, done that. It’s added stress on the planners and your help feel like you are wasting their time. The planners now have 25 people looking at them wondering what the heck is going on. Stress, action, and lots of people waiting is a breeding ground for mistakes to happen. Mistakes here usually mean financial impact or missed financial gain. Plan in advance as much as possible. Planning the roles and the responsibilities of those roles may be all you can do until people show up. At that time you can easily hand out duties with understandable instructions. Take heed: As the person running the show/event do not assign yourself duties. All events will need propping up here and there and so you need to be able to jump in and assist where necessary. You will also be hammered the entire event with questions and issues so if you are busy doing a dedicated duty (where someone else could have signed up for the task) then you can’t help prop up the event. Allow a lot of time for setup. It will take 1.5 times longer than your estimate. On time is 5 minutes late. Also make sure you have a clean up crew assigned… don’t expect people to stick around. If you are lucky you will get some people that are working the last part of the event to help clean but for the most part those people have had a long day of it and would jump for the door at first opportunity. I have found it best to have a sign up sheet for breakdown/cleanup and have those people do that only. They come in fresh, they work fast and their contribution is just as important as those working the main event. Get a dedicated clean up crew once and you will plan for it for all time after…
- Have a backup plan: “Luck favors the prepared”. Have a few scenarios planned for and bring extra supplies, or schedule extra resources. If your entire event is based outside and is totally dependent on the weather, then have alternatives or expect low turnouts of workers and donators. It’s always better to have a few extra people on a shift to handle surprises or to change out roles or shifts quicker. Extra supplies, extra people and extra time are the key three here.
- Find a special way of doing things: Put a spin on what your fundraiser is. Make it interesting or fun or both! There are a lot of fundraisers out there and they are doing the same thing. People have only so much money they are willing to donate to just donate for a cause. They have other funds for stuff they like doing and look for ways to reason on why to spend it. Fundraisers which cater to this have a much higher degree of success.
- A percentage of the profit to your unit: Unless everyone pays for all the costs associated with scouting on their own, your fundraising profits should be divided between the unit (as a whole and those working the event). That is agreed upon and accepted by the business end of things (The troop committee along with the adult leaders). For an example, its agreed that the unit will share 50% of the profit and your fundraiser makes $1000 profit. Well done! The unit will receive $500 and the other $500 will be split among who worked the event. If 10 people worked the event, they will receive $50 each. I really didn’t get this as a parent or an assistant scoutmaster at first and thought “what the heck, why is the troop getting that share?” That’s because I didn’t realize how much the troop spent on administrative tasks, registrations, etc. Make sure you plan accordingly and everyone is aware that your unit will be getting a percentage of the profits so there are no surprises and animosity later.
- A donations bucket: A donations bucket is always a good thing to have on standby. You will run into people who are having an absolute brilliant day and then runs into your organization’s fundraiser. They have had positive experiences with scouting or your troop specifically and had a few extra dollars to give. I’ve seen that a lot. I have done that a lot. Be prepared and set that donations bucket off to the side (out of sight) but have it ready just in case.
- Stay legal: I have gotten that email 2 weeks before an event asking about permits and certifications… not fun. Nothing like taking a food certification course one night after work in order to do a fundraiser of which you have been planning. Remember you are also representing the scouting way so it would do it harm if your unit broke the law. Have someone contact the city and county governments to know exactly what is required.
- Decide on legacy or “one-off”: So you have picked out a fundraiser and a goal. Awesome! You work the event and it’s a success! Even better… You now have to make the decision about it being something your unit is known for or will it be a “one-off or “one and done” type of thing. If you want this to be something your unit is known for you will need some planning and take some considerations to help make that a reality. Here are some questions you will need to ask to see if this fundraiser can be a good legacy candidate. Can this be done at the same time of the year? Only once a year or more? Is this event dependent on a partnership or access to a resource (place)? Can I host it somewhere else or partner with someone else? Is this event dependent around another, bigger event? What if that event moves or dates change? Is this event dependent on access to a manufactured product (thing)? Can I get something like it somewhere else? What was the public response? Some events are good “one and done” events and you really appreciated the partnership and resources of it. My advice is to run through it once before making that decision on making an event a legacy event. Remember legacy events take time and each year should get better and better profits if done well. You may need to invest in resources for the 2nd time the event is done but only rent or borrow anything for the first time.
If fundraising is planned and executed properly it can be a very enjoyable event for those attending and working it. I have seen some very creative fundraisers from all kinds of organizations. The most successful ones were those that drove need, provided excitement, and delivered on promises. My wish for the readers of this post is to take my lessons learned to make your fundraiser more successful and to drive a better scouting program. I would also love to hear some of your success stories on fundraising or how you made the event your own. Please share those through comments on this blog.
Good luck out there scouters!
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The author, Tony Zizak, is a long time scouter, Eagle Scout, and the scoutmaster of Troop 119 Ellettsville, IN. He has been to scout camps across the country and was a certified Program Director, Aquatics Director and a Scoutcraft Director. As a youth Tony received his Vigil Honor and served as a Lodge Chief for Tseyedin Lodge #65. Reach out to him for any questions you may have on this article.
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