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Fundraising 101: A Step-by-Step Guide for School Success

School fundraising is a rewarding and lucrative endeavor when done right. Use these best practices to host a revenue-boosting school fundraising event.

Whether you’re hoping to invest in new technology for your school’s library or send your robotics team to a national competition, a well-designed fundraiser can help! Schools across the country find success with fundraisers of all types, from in-person walkathons to high-energy auctions for parents, and your institution can emulate this, too.

However, school fundraisers have many moving parts and require a concentrated effort from everyone on your fundraising team or parent-teacher association (PTA). If you don’t have a strong plan in place, it can be difficult or even overwhelming to put an inspiring event together.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to become a fundraising expert and reach and exceed your goals. Backed by the right strategies and tools, you’ll be well on your way to improving your school!

Determine your fundraising goals

Goal-setting isn’t exclusive to your teachers’ lesson plans or your students’ educational development! Establishing concrete goals for your fundraiser can help you develop a clear roadmap to bring your objectives to fruition and foster accountability across your team.

To guide your goal-setting, use the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) model. Let’s take a look at a SMART goal in action:

  • Specific: Our school’s goal is to raise $10,000 during our peer-to-peer walkathon, with all the funds going towards updating our computers in the library.
  • Measurable: We’ll use dedicated fundraising software to track incoming donations in real-time and determine if we’re on target for hitting our benchmarks. We’ll also measure the percentage of donors who are new versus recurring to inform our cultivation and stewardship strategies.
  • Achievable: When we hosted a peer-to-peer walkathon last year to renovate the school gym, we raised $7,500. By upgrading our communication strategy to boost attendance and increasing our gamification tactics, we can reasonably expect to raise $2,500 more during our next event.
  • Relevant: The funds raised from our event will go directly towards the costs of repairing existing computers and purchasing new ones in the library. This way, students will have access to up-to-date tools to assist with homework, research projects, and other academic needs.
  • Time-based: We’ll plan to launch our peer-to-peer campaign six weeks in advance of the event and conclude the fundraiser by midnight following the walkathon. We’ll host regular check-in meetings to assess our progress and make any adjustments in our fundraising plans as needed to optimize results.

There are a variety of engagement and awareness goals your organization can set in addition to the dollar amount you’re hoping to raise, including:

  • Number of peer-to-peer fundraisers
  • Number of registrants for your event
  • Traffic on your event landing page
  • Social media impressions
  • Social media follower count

Think through your school’s most pressing needs and then set goals that will push your organization forward. Ensure your goals are ambitious yet within reach so you can keep team-wide motivation high and work together to maximize giving.

Pinpoint compelling fundraising ideas

With a concrete understanding of what your school is hoping to achieve, you’re ready to pick a school fundraising event that will push these goals forward. There are many fundraising ideas at your disposal, but here are a few of our favorite ideas to excite students and inspire generosity from families and community members:

  • School auction: During an in-person or virtual auction, your donors bid on an exciting line-up of items and give donations to your school in return—it’s a win-win! To make this event a success, make sure you have the right fundraising technology on your side. The OneCause guide to silent auction software recommends investing in a solution with streamlined donation processing, contactless check-in and -out, and mobile bidding capabilities to make it easy and rewarding for donors to bid.

  • Peer-to-peer walk-a-thon: Rally your entire school community together for a walkathon around your school’s track or the perimeter of your campus. In advance of your event, encourage students to raise money on your behalf by setting goals and sharing personal fundraising pages with their friends and family. To take this event idea to the next level, consider choosing a theme that will resonate with students, such as a “Pajama Walkathon” that allows students to dress up in their coziest PJs.

  • Fundraising gala: Gather your community together for an eventual night with a fundraising gala. Charge a ticket fee for admission and provide dinner, entertainment, and other built-in fundraising activities, such as a silent auction or raffles. Save expenses by hosting this event in your school cafeteria or gym and partnering with corporate sponsors, such as local restaurants willing to provide free meals in exchange for marketing.

  • Read-a-thon: Why not combine your fundraising needs with an activity that will push forward your students’ learning? With a read-a-thon, students set a goal to read a certain number of books or pages during a defined period of time. In the process, they can peer-to-peer fundraise, asking friends and family for donations as a way to cheer them on to meet their goals. Make sure you have the right peer-to-peer technology in your toolkit to smoothly facilitate giving and equip your students to become fundraisers.

  • Text-to-give: Text-to-give empowers donors to give in the most convenient way possible: from their phones! Advertise your text-to-give campaign among the community and your students’ parents and send out compelling donation appeals that specify how funds will be used. You can also use text messaging to send updates about your fundraising progress and your school in general to keep your community informed.


All of these ideas can be adjusted to fit your school’s budget needs and audience’s preferences. Mix and match fundraisers or use them as a baseline to inspire your own unique event.

Plan event logistics

Once you know which fundraiser you’ll be hosting, start planning out the logistics of bringing it to life, including:

  • Deciding on a date and time for your fundraiser: Pick a time frame that works best for the greatest number of people. For example, your school should avoid hosting a fundraiser during winter break or summer time since students and their families might be away. Instead, you might consider a back-to-school fundraiser when everyone’s in town and already thinking about school.
  • Recruiting an event planning committee made up of staff and volunteers: Assign roles and responsibilities to each of your team members to foster a clear sense of accountability. Decide how often you’ll meet to check-in on progress and any obstacles that may have come up.
  • Setting a budget that notes your estimated expenses and projected earnings: Depending on your fundraiser, you can expect to invest in fundraising software, event perks like catering, and sound or lighting equipment. However, keep in mind that you can offset costs by reaching out to prospective corporate sponsors.
  • Creating a multichannel marketing plan to increase touchpoints: Market your school fundraiser on your website, social media, email, and through flyers in your school hallways.
  • Using gamification to keep motivation high: Feature a fundraising thermometer and leadership scoreboard on your event microsite to spark friendly competition. To incentivize your students’ involvement if hosting a peer-to-peer fundraiser, you can offer a special prize to the student or school club that raises the most money, like free merchandise.

Try involving your students as much as possible in the fundraising process! For example, you can ask them to create marketing materials to get the word out about your event or even assist with event set-up and clean-up. This will contribute to your students’ skill-building and even earn them service hours if they’re in high school.

Conduct post-event follow-up

After your fundraiser is over, your school has to turn its focus from event planning to building relationships with the donors who attended. Use these tips to inform your post-event follow-up strategy:

  • Thank your donors for coming to your event: Kwala’s guide to writing donor thank-yous recommends sharing how much money you raised and reiterating how these funds will be used to benefit your school. You should also give shout-outs to your corporate sponsors so you can earn their support again in the future.
  • Reflect on whether you met your goals: If you fell short of your goals, identify ways to improve your strategy for the future. For example, if your marketing plan didn’t gain as much traction as you hoped, you might partner with influencers in your community in the future to amplify your fundraiser. If you met your goals, think about how you can raise the bar for your next fundraiser!
  • Share content to your marketing platforms: Share engaging content from your event, such as photos of individuals in attendance or video highlight reels. This is a great way to show off the value of attending your events and encourage even more registrants to sign up in the future.

You can also ask your attendees to provide feedback on what they liked and what they’d like to see in the future. Then, identify trends in your attendees’ feedback and use these insights to guide your future fundraising plans.

Wrapping Up

Fundraising for your school doesn’t have to be stressful! By following these simple steps, you can create a seamless planning process for fundraising events of all types. Make sure to invest in comprehensive school fundraising software to streamline tasks and maximize your ROI.

Guest Author: Sarah Sebastian

Sarah Sebastian is the Director of Corporate Communications at OneCause. She’s a marketer and brand geek at heart with eight years of experience in the nonprofit tech space. Outside of work, Sarah can be found reading, hiking, kayaking, volunteering for Florida Access Network, or getting lost in the woods while photographing birds.

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