The Importance of Organization
At St. Helena (Calif.) High School, boosters take pride in their annual Fajita Fest, which can raise as much as $40,000 in a single evening. How? The three most important ingredients, says President Darrell Quirici, are planning ahead, keeping accurate records, and creating an effective organizational structure.
By Darrell Quirici
President, St. Helena (Calif.) High School Booster Club
For the past six years, we've held a Fajita Fest on the first Saturday night in May. It's our biggest spring fundraiser, and we usually draw 250 people for a silent auction, live auction, 50/50 raffle, cash bar, and all the fajitas you can eat. At $35 a ticket, it's a casual, fun way to donate to our program, and the reason it's been so successful can be summed up in one word: organization.
Begin preparations months in advance. Planning an event like this takes time, so it's important to have structures to oversee all the work that needs to be done. We have committees for food, beverages, tickets, and the two auctions. In March, we start soliciting donations to the auctions, using a list of results from the previous year. It's all about keeping accurate records and knowing who you can turn to for help. If people don't respond, we'll contact them personally and offer to meet with them. Sometimes, our request has just slipped through the cracks, and in most cases, people are happy to give again.
Maintain a running inventory of donations. Because we pick up auction items and store them in a central location ahead of time, we know exactly what we have in stock. That way, as the first donations come in, we're able to tailor a second wave of requests that will appeal to the widest variety of people. We make sure to get a little bit of everything, with some big-ticket items along with things anybody can afford. No matter how much money people have in their bank account, we want them to feel good about bidding at our auction--and taking something home.
Publicize the benefit systematically. There are lots of ways to get the word out, so we put a notice on the electronic signboard at school, include ticket info in the monthly parent newsletter, make announcements on the PA system during games, and send out notices to the local media. We sell advance tickets through a mass mailing to all our boosters and all the people who attended the year before, who we've added to our mailing list. The local newspaper is good about running a feature story before the event, where we can talk about the work we do and the ways our organization is contributing to St. Helena athletics.
Keep accurate records to eliminate the guesswork. By compiling a report after each event, we go a long way toward reducing expenses and maximizing revenue. We know how many people the hall can hold, and we rely on past experience to determine how much food we need. Did we have too much of anything? Did we have too little? There was a little tweaking after the first few years, but now we've now got it down to a science. In April, we take the number of advance tickets sold the previous year and compare it to the number of advanced tickets we've sold for the upcoming event. Next, we add the number of tickets sold at the door the year before, which gives us a pretty good sense of how many people are going to attend this year. That tells us approximately how much food to make, and if we follow that example closely, we usually hit the nail right on the head.
Run the event on schedule. We marinate meat the night before and start cooking early on Saturday afternoon. The doors open at 5:30, when people are shown to their seats, socialize with one another, and look at the auction items. We've told everyone the meal starts promptly at 7 p.m., so that's when everything is hot and ready to go. We serve buffet-style, with two lines going at once, which is the most efficient way to serve that many people. Coaches stand on the inside of the tables, serving tortillas, meat, onions, peppers, rice, and beans. There's a separate table for condiments, where we have cheese, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, and everything else you can think of. After everyone has had their fill, we announce the winners of the silent auction, which includes themed baskets from each of our teams, and hold a live auction for the biggest, most unique items.
End the event on an organized note. At the close of the evening, we double-check to make sure all the money from the auctions has been collected. If we're not organized, it can be a chaotic, anxious time, so we keep our team of boosters communicating with one another. We have a couple of people gathering up the lots and bringing them to checkout, where one person takes charge of credit sales and one handles checks. We fill out all the bid forms in triplicate, so everyone has a clear record of what was bought and how much money was spent. People go home feeling happy and knowing they've participated in a great event.
You can't run an event like this half-heartedly. You need a plan. You need people who are prepared to go to work and get the job done. It takes a lot of effort, but if you're well prepared, a Fajita Fest can be a very smooth, fun, successful fundraiser. By the time this year's event was over, we felt pretty tired, but it was all worth it. We raised $32,000 to support St. Helena High School athletics, which is what we're all about.