Guidelines to Prevent Common Fundraising Mistakes
A Peer Q&A on common mistakes made in fundraising and advice on how to prevent them.
By Danielle Catalano
Danielle Catalano is a writer for FundraisingforSports.com.
Cynthia McMannon, CMAA, Assistant Executive Director of Finance and Human Resources of the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) talked with FundraisingForSports.com recently about her work at the association. Some of McMannon's accomplishments include having coordinated the AIA's equity activities since 1989 and enhancing the AIA's leadership role by formalizing membership procedures, strengthening AIA's overall financial position, developing written materials, articles, and publications, and conducting various financial workshops.
At the national level, McMannon was a featured speaker at the 2004 NFHS Summer Meeting (state association finances), the 2005 NIAAA Winter Meeting (fundraising), was a contributing editor to the NIAAA's LTC511 (Interscholastic Athletic Budget Concepts and Supplemental Fundraising) course, was the first state association administrator asked to join the NIAAA's national teaching faculty, and has taught the NFHS LTC511 (Budgeting and Fundraising) since 2002.
Although fundraising is not her primary duty at the AIA, McMannon points out the common mistakes made in fundraising and offers advice on how to prevent them.
FundraisingForSports.com: What are common mistakes athletic directors and booster club officials make when fundraising?
Cindy McMannon: There are two different types of fundraising, short-term, like a one-day fundraising blitz such as a car wash, and long-term, which would be the yearlong fundraising efforts by a booster club. Some of the things I will talk about pertain to both short- and long-term fundraising, while the others are some mistakes that can lead to bigger problems for long-term fundraising:
Planning. Schools and booster clubs do not spend enough time planning to develop strategies to use in case something goes wrong while fundraising, nor if the outcome of the fundraiser doesn't turn out as expected.
Pricing. Groups sometimes don't consider the entire cost of a fundraising project, including supplies, facility costs for meetings, storage costs of goods, shippingetc. They should also conduct a cost-analysis of selling less expensive merchandise versus more expensive merchandise.
Inadequate preparation, such as no sales scripts for booster clubs to follow when asking for donations or selling a product.
Communication. More often than not there's a lack of adequate communication among club members and between the school, club, and community. It is crucial that there be good communication before, during, and especially after a fundraiser takes place. Keep in mind that when asking the community for money or its services, the community needs to know what is going on at all times. Make sure you tell the community what happened to the money or services it provided.
Publicity. Are you getting the word out and how are you doing it?
Inadequate fundraisers. Are you choosing the right fundraising for the size of your group?
Community relations. Does your fundraiser relate to your community and its needs?
Unrealistic expectations. What happens if you don't sell as much of a product as you thought? Is the club prepared to cut its losses if the fundraiser doesn't reach the club's financial goal?
Record keeping. Aside from who is doing the tracking of who gave money and how much, clubs should keep track of how payments were received (cash or in-kind services) and keep good records of those payments.
FFS: What are guidelines to follow to prevent these particular mistakes?
CM: Consider liability and insurance.
These are the most important ones that I can't emphasize enough. Booster clubs should make sure they go through the proper channels and check all school policies on liability insurance before beginning any fundraiser, advises McMannon. A booster club should have coverage that protects its members and the school district if anything bad happens during a fundraiser. Check the legalities with the school's lawyer if you're unsure of what the club is responsible for, including:
- Student safety
- Food safety at the concession stands
- Vehicles used during the fundraisers and driver coverage
- Bylaws of the community, such as peddling permits and sales tax
- First aid
Students safety isand should bethe biggest concern during any fundraiser. If students are selling door-to-door, make sure they have proper adult supervision. I encourage the use of cell phones in case there's an emergency. When it comes to younger children, the standard of care increases, so make sure extra parents or school staff members are available for adequate supervision. It's also important that school and booster club officials know what to do and who to contact in case a child needs immediate medical attention.
Consider the entire fundraiser process, including obstacles, efforts, and achievements, from start to finish. Think about a contingency plan for what the group will do if something unexpected happens or if something can't be followed through. Know your profit margins. Is what you're getting in return worth what you're giving or providing? Also, provide different opportunities for donations related to your project. Some people may not want to participate in a fundraiser, but they still want to help the cause. What can that person do?
- Working with volunteers.
Everyone involved should know his or her mission in the fundraising effort. Have a written job descriptioneven if it's jotted down on a yellow padabout what his or her job is during this effort and what their time commitment will be. Clubs should also make sure they have enough volunteers to make this effort a success.
- Merchandise. If you're selling a product, get a sample. Look at and judge it's quality to make sure it is exactly what you want to sell.
- Pricing. Again, consider the whole cost of the entire fundraisernot just the product itself.
- Sale preparation. Create a sales script, so when someone asks, booster club members and student-athletes know immediately what to say.
- Publicity. People are good at getting the word outbut are they getting enough of the word out? Are you using the local media, like newspapers and radio stations, to the best of your ability?
- Timing. Consider the actual "time" your fundraiser occurs:
The season. Do you really want to sell chocolate in the middle of August? And how will you store the chocolate so it won't melt?
Holidays. This is usually not a good time to sell items because people have already spent their money buying presents or other holiday items.
Tests. Make sure you don't diminish your help. Will student-athletes be available to participate in fundraisers if they're taking or preparing for tests?
Community activitiesTake a look at the local community calendar before you start any fundraiser to see what factors will affect your efforts. Are other fundraisers happening at that time? Is a parade happening that day? Will roads be closed for maintenance work?
- Appropriate fundraisers. Make sure the fundraiser is size-appropriate. A small group might be better off with a bake sale. A large group has a larger work force, so selling products such as calendars can be more profitable for larger groups.
- Food/Concessions. Booster clubs should to take extra precaution when it comes to food services, such as:
Storage. Where are you storing goods and will you have access to those goods?
Longevity. You don't want to sell spoiled or out-dated food.
Training. Will you have to train people to prepare food, such as a griller for hamburgers, and who's making sure food handlers are following hygienic guidelines? Does everyone know what to do in case of a fire?
Local codes and state health department guidelines must be enforced. This includes maintaining proper sanitation, obtaining permits to sell foods, and maintaining the permit. Also, will you be subject to health inspections?
- Cash. Dealing with money is a big area for which to plan in advance. I don't believe one person should be working by himself or herself. I advise two, preferably three, people handling the money. This way, you're reducing the risk of something dishonest to occur and major mistakes from being made. Things to prepare for when handling cash:
1. When selling items, know payment deadlines and what the late fees are.
2. Determine what you will do should you receive bounced checks.
3. Know who's counting the cash, maintaining the bookkeeping, who's in charge of collecting, turning in, and depositing the money.
4. Find a secure place for storing money. Do you really want to put cash in an unlocked file cabinet?
FFS: What is the most common concern athletic directors or other school administrators have expressed during your workshops?
CM: I think there's been a climate of cultural change recently. Liability and security are being more scrutinized because of big-name cases like Enron. Everyone wants to know what's happening to the money, and to make sure the kids are all right at all times. My biggest advice is to plan ahead to prevent things to the best of your ability to get better results.
Cindy McMannon maybe reached via e-mail at: email@example.com. You may read more about the Arizona Interscholastic Association at: www.aiaonline.org.