Is a Non Selling Direct Donation Fundraiser Right for Your PTO?

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When our PTO first tried a direct donation fundraiser over five years ago, I was really nervous.

Our regular volunteers and families in general were feeling overwhelmed and busier than ever. A growing number of parents was asking the PTO board to hold fewer fundraisers, especially ones where they had to sell things. They were asking us if they could just write us a check or donate online as part of an annual direct appeal campaign.

I loved the idea! I was tired of selling cookie dough and magazines and I was really dreading the idea of helping organize another golf tournament fundraiser or school carnival. But I was also nervous that an alternative fundraiser wouldn’t raise enough money for our school and families would still want all the same PTO programs.

Just to make sure parents would support replacing our top PTO fundraisers with a donation drive fundraiser, we sent them a survey. Not only did a large majority of families fill out the survey (far more than usual!), but 80% of families responded saying they strongly supported trying a non selling PTO fundraiser.

So we listened to families and tried our first direct donation campaign. To every board member’s relief, it was a huge success!

Parents were thrilled that they didn’t have to sell things and even happier that the PTO would keep 100% of the profit. The kids loved the fundraising incentive prizes we offered, all of which were either really cheap, like stickers, or completely free, like a raffle drawing for Principal of the Day. And our hardworking volunteers were delighted by how easy and hassle free a direct donation fundraiser was to plan and carry out.

The direct donation campaign remains the biggest money fundraiser at my (old) school and very popular with families.  

What You Should Know About Direct Donation School Fundraising

Direct donation fundraisers go by many names, including: alternative fundraiser, arm chair fundraiser, cash drive, check writing campaign, direct appeal, direct dues campaign, hassle free fundraiser, no brainer fundraiser, no product fundraiser, no selling fundraiser, no show fundraiser, no stuff fundraiser, pass the hat fundraiser, unfundraiser, and probably others!

What these all have in common is that the PTO asks families to donate money directly to the group.

Why Direct Donation PTO Fundraisers Are So Successful

  • Highest profit PTO fundraiser - Even with PTO fundraising prizes and credit card processing fees, expenses for direct donation fundraisers can be kept very low so that PTO groups keep 100% of donations or very close to it. I don’t think product PTO fundraising companies are ripping anyone off when they keep 50-75% of the proceeds from a product fundraiser. They have a lot of costs to cover and are operating a business after all. But once your PTO has banked 90-100% of the profit from a direct donation fundraiser, it’s hard to go back to a much smaller slice of the pie.

  • Very easy on PTO volunteers – The number of hours needed to plan and manage a direct donation fundraiser is very small compared to product sale fundraisers, thons (like walk-a-thons, read-a-thons), school carnivals, holiday shops, and other types of school fundraising ideas. At our elementary school of 300+ families, two volunteers share the work of planning and managing the fundraiser, which takes them about 15 hours total spread over August to October. (Some product fundraising companies will say that their fundraisers require the fewest volunteer hours of any type of fundraiser, but they never seem to count all the hours that FAMILIES spend selling and delivering products -- just the time volunteers spend managing the campaign. Funny how that works!)

  • Popularity of no selling or buying anything - Families don’t have to sell anything -- and our relatives, friends and neighbors don’t have to buy anything either! Sure, there are some great PTO fundraising products out there. If your families are fine with selling candy, gift wrap, and other things to raise money, and your friends and family like the quality of the products and don’t mind the prices, stick with what’s working for you. If you’re hearing more complaints and getting resistance to selling and buying things, however, consider a non selling fundraiser.

  • Big money fundraising potential - In Facebook groups for PTO / PTA leaders, school groups across the United States report raising thousands up to tens of thousands of dollars through direct donations in a matter of weeks (typically less than 2 months). To see direct donation fundraising totals and other tips, enter “direct donation” in the search box of your favorite Facebook group for PTO / PTA volunteers. (Mine is PTA / PTO Super Star Leaders hosted by Christina Hidek of PTO Answers. You should definitely check out this super helpful and friendly group.)

The two main keys to raising big money through direct donations fundraising are:

  • Exciting fundraising prizes and incentives - Having a fun school wide prize, like sliming the principal, if you hit your PTO fundraising goal, always boosts participation. Offering a mix of fun incentives for students, families, classes, grades, and teachers, will send your participation and donation totals soaring.

  • Smart marketing and communications – Clear, positive repetition is the key to reaching busy families. Promote your fundraiser across all your marketing and communications channels, in person, in print, and online, to keep excitement high and donations rolling in. Tell them exactly what you need them to do (e.g., Donate now online) and give them a firm deadline for being eligible for incentives.

Ready-to-Use Direct Donations FUNdraising Kit

Think you want to try direct donations PTO fundraisers and don’t have time to waste? This Direct Donations FUNdraising Kit includes everything you need to set up and launch a successful direct donation fundraiser:

  • Fully editable donation request form + easy-to-follow steps for tailoring your fundraiser.

  • Family donation thank you letter + thank you letter/tax receipt.

  • Business prize donation request letter + thank you letter/tax receipt.

  • Fundraiser information letter for teachers to help get them involved.

  • Incentive strategies that will max out family participation and donation totals.

  • 88+ Fundraising incentive ideas that boost results and excitement without hurting your bottom line.

  • Surefire marketing plan for motivating busy parents.

  • Recommended resources for increasing donations by accepting credit card payments.

  • Email support - Every group has its specific challenges, so please feel free to contact me with questions!

Jen B. Cosgrove, SchoolVolunteersShare.com, PTO volunteer leader and coach

What would you like to know more about direct donation fundraising or other PTO fundraisers. Let me know!

I’m here to help :)

Jen Cosgrove

Just in case you're wondering...

Sharing is good, within your group - Yes, you can share this guide with the other school volunteers in your group. Other groups must purchase their own copy. 

14-day Money-back guarantee - If you're not fully satisfied with this guide, I will gladly refund your money. :)

Questions? Happy to help! Just send me an email using the link below. 

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