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Royally Avoid Fundraising Failures: 7 Strategies for Success
Avoid fundraising failure

Written by King Fundraising

August 22, 2023

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Well-Intended Wilma felt both honored and nervous the day her board elected her vice president of fundraising. Ideas to solve the committee’s financial problems and avoid fundraising failures immediately started swirling around in her head.

On the one hand, she thought she’d been crowned queen for the day. When the announcement came, everyone clapped and cheered. Then, after the meeting, several other attendees even congratulated her saying they couldn’t wait to see what she would do.

On the other hand, she had a big and very important task. She needed to find a way to make enough money to fully fund their parent organization’s projects. That meant finding the right fundraising program, organizing parents and student sellers, collecting money, and distributing products. She had a lot on her plate.

Avoid Fundraising Failures So This Doesn’t Happen to You

Months later, standing in the school cafeteria with boxes of products waiting for parents to pick up, Wilma started feeling defeated. The excitement from the beginning of this project faded like the applause did after they announced her name on that fateful day. She did her part and the product had been delivered, but no one had arrived to pick up their orders.

“What went wrong,” she thought. She sent out a note. Wasn’t that good enough? These people are adults after all, right? That’s when she realized she had made assumptions that led to hundreds of nicely organized boxes lining the cafeteria ready for parents to distribute to their customers—neighbors, teachers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and team moms. Unfortunately, not enough parents showed up to collect their orders. The worst part, it was nearing time to lock up, and she didn’t have any way to refrigerate all that product.

Those boxes certainly wouldn’t fit in her freezer at home. 

Well-Intended Wilma had a royal mess on her hands that could have been prevented with a little more organization and better guidance.

Fundraising should be easy, fun, and profitable, but if you’re not careful you can royally mess it up, too. Tips to the rescue: These 7 ways groups can inadvertently ruin their fundraisers and tips to avoid fundraising failures will help.

1. Waiting Until the Last Minute

Procrastinating Patricia has a habit of putting things off until the last minute and then rushing around to get them done. She often stresses herself out along with everyone around her in the process. She’s well-intended though short-sighted. As a result, every time she conducts a fundraiser (or any other major event) her volunteers often find themselves frustrated. They end up harried, trying to complete last-minute tasks while under unnecessary stress.  This leads to bigger problems later on as the number of supporters she can count on for her next fundraiser shrinks. 

If only her volunteers had enough notice to set aside time to complete the necessary work. They wouldn’t have to take time away from their families. Nor would they feel the stress of a fast-approaching deadline. In fact, timely notice would have given them a better chance of success and the positive feelings of accomplishment that come with it. 

Even if she had picked a great product with a helpful fundraising specialist like King Fundraising to guide her, she may only find her fundraiser marginally successful. She could have avoided demotivating her helpers and making them reluctant to help the next time she called for assistance. 

Solution: Start Early

Follow Mark Twain’s advice:

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” 

When you avoid procrastination, you give yourself time to organize and delegate tasks in advance.

Instead, follow Vancleave Lower Elementary’s example. Four to six weeks before their fundraisers, Vancleave Lower Elementary, a public K-3 school in Vancleave, Mississippi, schedules a meeting with parents willing to commit to participating in their fundraiser. During the meeting, they discuss what they need to do to make the event work well enough for everyone including the parent volunteers. They take notes when meeting with their King Fundraising consultant. Their years of experience have helped Vancleave Lower Elementary avoid fundraising failures they might not have foreseen otherwise. 

Because Vancleave Lower took early action to avoid fundraising failure with strategy and communication, they benefited from $30,000 in World’s Finest Chocolate bar and Classic Cookie dough sales with King Fundraising. 

2. Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

Powerhouse Patty and Robust Robert have lots of prior leadership experience. Their big personalities and strong opinions sometimes clash when they have differing ideas. Despite Robert having been elected president, factions form among the ranks of parent volunteers. Some of the group follow Patty’s lead while others follow Robert’s. The rest just hang out because they don’t really know who to follow. As a result, everyone loses focus on their fundraiser’s goals. 

Some people naturally lead and some follow. We need both types, but when egos get in the way, feelings and productivity get hurt. Unfortunately, the volunteers in the middle feel torn between staying for the good of the community or leaving for the benefit of their sanity. 

Solution: Minimize Power Struggles to Avoid Fundraising Failure

To minimize power struggles, delegate and define roles in writing for each person with protocol for dealing with disagreements. For example, when confusion arises, the protocol can be to present the problem to your volunteers. That way, everyone has a voice with the elected leader breaking any ties. 

That’s what Daphne East Elementary PTO in Daphne, Alabama, does to create the needed hierarchy for effective leadership, so they can avoid fundraising failures. Everyone’s voice is heard, but the buck stops with their president and principal. It also creates a sense of ownership as committee members have the freedom to self-govern the fundraising event.

Daphne East Elementary’s active community of interested and engaged parents allows students and parents well-run activities that maintain and garner greater levels of support each year. 

3. Indecisiveness and People-Pleasing

Sweet-hearted Susan wants to please everyone. She comes up with tons of ideas hoping to meet everyone’s preferences. Unfortunately, Susan doesn’t realize that making everyone happy is an impossible task. Rather, her main focus should be on what’s good for the school rather than the individuals. 

In the process, she wears herself out and discovers that she can’t please everyone. Furthermore, too few people appreciate the effort she’s gone through to accommodate their wishes. Finally, because she has so many great options, no one can come to a consensus on what to do. As a result, they either do nothing or guess at what they can do. They often get frustrated when their efforts go to waste.

Solution: Vote with Limited Choices

While you may have a maxed-out idea bank with many great fundraising options, when presenting those ideas to your committee, limit them to only 2 or 3. Adults are not much different than children when it comes to choices. They get overwhelmed with too much information and land in a state of “fight, flight, or freeze.” As a result, they either make knee-jerk decisions or no decisions at all.

When you choose majority rule over total control, you gift yourself with the ability to maintain some control over decisions while also ensuring that the majority has a voice too. In the end, you reduce everyone’s stress and have more productive meetings.

Saucier Elementary in Saucier, Mississippi, meets with King Fundraising at the start of every school year. They focus on choosing fundraising options their PTA’s executive board might consider doing. After selecting the 2 or 3 fundraisers they feel will bring the most success, they present them to the parents. They avoid fundraising failure with a vote rather than overwhelming volunteers and dragging out meetings with too many product lines. Saucier’s fundraising programs end with success because they start with success. From the beginning, they make quick and easy decisions. As a result, everyone feels confident enough to run great sales.

4. Putting Personal Interests Ahead of Group Objectives

Pushy Peter has started a new bounce house business and has a seat on the parent fundraising organization board. He wants what’s best for the school, but more importantly, he’s invested in making his bounce house business a success. He sees donating the use of a bounce house for the grand finale prize event as a win-win for both him and the school. The school gets free fun and he gets an opportunity to promote his business.

At the same time, while the school doesn’t mind using his services for their fall festival, the fundraising committee realizes that the bounce house idea will lose its novelty if used too much. Instead, they recommend a separate prize option to further motivate students to participate in the fundraiser. 

Because of his influence in the community, Peter sways members to vote in his favor. Unfortunately, by the time they run the fundraiser, students have already enjoyed the bounce house at the Fall Festival. Because of the children’s low enthusiasm, several parents decided not to work as hard for the fundraiser. Worse, many decided not to participate in it at all. In the end, they lose money for the school while lining Pushy Peter’s pockets.

Solution: Focus On the School Needs to Avoid Fundraising Failure

It’s human nature to make decisions in your own personal interest. It’s how we survive. What many people neglect to see, however, is often what’s best for your own personal interest lies in the good of the group. In other words, a choice for greater fundraiser success leads to better school programs, happier children, and stronger educational opportunities. 

To address these issues and avoid fundraising failure beforehand, explain that personal interests can’t interfere with the group’s goal. Remind parents of that goal and the benefits their children will get. In the end, everything trickles down to the individual (in this case the parent volunteer) in one way or another.

 5. Trying to Do It All Yourself

Going-solo Sally, a self-proclaimed multi-tasker, says she works best on her own. As a perfectionist, she gets frustrated when things aren’t done to her standards. Because of her need for perfection, she often finds herself redoing tasks to get them “done right.” She struggles with making time or developing the patience to explain things to people. When asked to head up this year’s fundraiser, she agrees but only if she can run the fundraiser on her terms. 

As the fundraising event progressed, Sally faced some personal challenges that distracted her from her fundraiser commitments. The fundraiser co-chair had to take over. Unfortunately, because Sally didn’t make the effort to delegate tasks, keep other committee members informed, and avoid fundraising failure the co-chair had no idea what needed to get done.

Solution: Remember Teamwork

There is strength in numbers. Whenever possible, recruit at least two people to help manage the fundraiser. Not only will it ensure the fundraiser has a backup plan should the leader have to step down, but it also holds everyone accountable. If a distraction keeps the leader from completing their duties, the second person knows what to do next, and how to do it. They can take charge if needed.

Dixon Elementary in Irvington, Alabama, has a small but dedicated set of parent volunteers who run their fundraisers and events at the school. These two women know their limits. They also know that they need and can rely on each other to get the work done effectively. They divide their roles and help each other. This helps keep things simple but moving forward towards their goals. Whether raising money for basic school supplies to help teachers or creating manageable community events during their school’s Open House night, these women are a powerhouse.

6. Not Having a Strategy

Flustered Phyllis has too much on her shoulders with her job, family, and volunteer work. Something has to give. What do you think she’ll let go of first? You got it. Her fundraising duties fall behind, and she passes her binder to someone else. This new person, however, doesn’t know what’s going on. 

Because their chosen fundraising company has a fundraising specialist to guide them through the process, the next person may have an easier time catching up. However, even with their guide, the new volunteer has trouble getting on task because each fundraiser is unique. 

They don’t have numbers available to call for help. They don’t know the delivery dates, who is participating in the selling, or to whom the products were distributed. That person quickly becomes overwhelmed and might not want to help in the future. 

Solution: Create A Repeatable Strategy

While not all crises can be prevented, having a solid repeatable strategy on paper will help to both keep fundraising activities on track and inform the person taking over in case of an emergency. Avoid fundraising failure before your fundraiser even begins with a strategy. The fundraiser committee should gather together and prepare the strategy so they too know what’s going on. Your strategy can include everything from meeting schedules, phone lists, budget sheets, and process guides needed for fundraising success. 

When you have a clear strategy, you avoid fundraising failure by eliminating the risk of passing on a problem to an uninformed volunteer. As an added bonus, that strategy can be reused from fundraiser to fundraiser and modified for improvement year after year.

7. Picking the Wrong Fundraising Company or Product

Enthusiastic Ellen found a novel fundraising idea online that the group had never tried before. No one had heard of the company or used any of its products. On the other hand, because Ellen believed the idea was so new and interesting, she let her excitement take over and convinced everyone that it would raise a lot of money. 

However, when orders arrive, they discover that the company’s products have poor quality and several items are missing or have been substituted. When she calls the fundraising company, the customer service representative apologizes but says the warehouse ran out of some items. Instead, they sent items of a similar price to make up the difference. She adds that there is nothing they can do. “It’s in the contract,” she tells Ellen. 

Irate, the parents say they’ll never support another fundraiser if they can’t get what they ordered. Ellen’s enthusiasm evaporates and she doesn’t want to help anymore.

Solution: Choose a Reputable Fundraising Company

Whenever possible, opt for a local fundraising company like King Fundraising that’s backed by years of experience. As a member of your community, a local company will have more vested interest in your success. Your online review will be more meaningful to them, and they will work harder for it. 

Furthermore, fundraising products repeat year after year because they’ve been tried and tested and have proven to work. Next time you find yourself at the checkout with a candy bar in hand, remember that you have bought it before, you will buy it again, and so will your fundraiser supporters because they trust it’s good.

Get the Royal Treatment

Everything that glitters is not gold, and desperation doesn’t mean you have to make a decision that can make your fundraising unnecessarily stressful. Following these suggestions will help you avoid fundraising failures while strengthening your fundraising efforts. 

If you’re new at fundraising and need some help, contact a King Fundraising specialist to keep from making a mess of your sales. With King Fundraising, you will get the royal treatment instead. 


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