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Show Me the $: Preschool Fundraising for Novices

I certainly went through a crazy experience volunteering for my son's preschool fundraiser.  The craziness involved sending out the thank you notes to 100+ donors using a mish mash of notes and manually tracking down addresses.  Certainly not fun especially since the budget was nil.  Lisa wants to hear if you have any sage advice.  She writes:

I am dipping my toes into the vast ocean of volunteer fundraising for schools.  Like most child care centers and pre-schools (and most other schools in America, I imagine), our staff could use a few more bucks for the important job that they do so well and so patiently with our precious children.  It’s the same old story with pre-schools everywhere: tuition is expensive for parents but staff is underpaid.  We hope to reduce staff turnover by offering real living wages that value our teachers.

Until this issue is solved in the public policy arena (maybe we’ll tackle that one through the Activistas forum!), I am hoping to learn from the many, many parents who have walked this path before me.  What worked fabulously?  What was a ton of work with low pay off?  A ton of work with high payoff?  Grant writing? Auctions?  Bake sales?  Picnics? What would you avoid like the plague, never ever do again?  If you were the development director at your child’s school, what would you do - and why?  Any thoughts on professional event coordinators working with parent volunteers?  Worth it or waste of money?


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I was intimidated by my first glimpse of preschool fundraising. I imagine that the role of fundraising will be constant as our girls move from preschool and through public schools. It supplements a school's operating budget, and it can be a substantive source of income for a school, either public or private. In the case of my first daughter's preschool, fundraising efforts helped fund specific items, such as new desks for all classrooms to replace the tattered and splintered existing desks. At our current charter school, fundraising efforts help fund school activities, outings, and classroom research projects. At our younger daughter's preschool, fundraising helps to fund scholarships.

All this to say that fundraising is a reality for many schools, both public and private.

I don't have real answers. Our first year at preschool, we were overwhelmed with book fairs, wreath/plant sales, magazine drives, and many other things I am probably forgetting. The year after, the school decided to focus almost all efforts on the school auction. Honestly, with all the parent coordination and effort that goes into all the smaller fundraisers, I thought it made comlete sense to do away with the sales/drives and focus strictly on the auction. I enjoy contributing to the auction, because it is a way for me to get to know other parents through working together on specific aspects of the event. And, since an auction has so many elements, there are so many ways to be involved. Many parents can find a way to contribute in a meaninful way.

The other really successful fundraiser is Run for the Arts, which most schools do. This year, our daughter made calls to friends and family herself, and we were proud of her. She even wrote her own script, which basically read something like, "I am raising money for Run for the Arts, which helps fund arts programs at my school. Some arts programs that we had this year included a performance by a hip hop dance troupe and African drummers."

An auction is a ton of work with potential for high payoff. The social payoff can be high, too. The planning can culminate into a nice evening out for us parents, though it can sometimes feel like lots of cash expended with costs of tickets, babysitter, then items purchased. Then again, it's all for the school, right?

Last fall, I attended an early planning meeting with Growing Gardens for their auction. They had tons of volunteer guidance, including an auction professional. I think fully exploring volunteer professionals is a great resource. Many folks are happy to contribute to causes they love. At a previous preschool, there was another auction professional/analyst who helped and she was a former parent at the school. Not sure if I would go with a professional event coordinator.

Grant writing seems to come into play for special projects, i.e., capital campaigns for a new building or expansion project. In the PPS system, this would be applicable to the charter schools, which are public schools that are responsible for paying for their own facilities. Grants are not typically used for operating expenses, so grants would be for a specific purpose or project. I believe our charter school recently received a grant from the Chalkboard Project for a school connectivity project - a school intranet to keep all teachers, parents, and students appraised of important information on a regular basis.

Hope sharing my family's experiences helps.

Wow - chock full. Thanks so much, it definitely helped me.

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