Ultimate School Fundraising Guide

Ultimate school fundraising guide

School and fundraising have always gone hand in hand. Not only is it a time-honored tradition used to pay for necessities – and plenty of extras – it’s also a great opportunity to teach students responsibility and teamwork. This handy guide will be your go-to resource for exploring both tried-and-true methods of school fundraising and new and creative ideas.

Whether you’re new to your PTO’s fundraising committee or a seasoned school fundraiser pro, JustFundraising’s Ultimate School Fundraising Guide has got everything you need to take your school fundraising efforts to new heights with tips and tricks designed to maximize your profits and set your students up for success. Read on to determine what type of fundraiser is right for your preschool, elementary school, middle school, or high school group, and get started today.

School Fundraising Is The Kryptonite That Keeps Your School Running!

The school experience doesn’t end when the bell rings, and neither does the need for fundraising. Let’s take a look at some of the main reasons your school and your students might want to hold fundraisers.

In-school needs: This can include raising funds for much-needed classroom, art room, and library supplies, as well as for activities taking place on school grounds, such as assemblies, visiting speakers, and musical and theater productions.

Extracurricular activities: Field trips are a source of fond and lasting memories for students, and fundraising is a great way to ease the financial burden. It can also allow your students to attend off-campus events, such as science and robotics competitions, spelling bees, or job fairs.

School sports programs: Perhaps your school’s basketball team needs new jerseys, or maybe they’ve made it to state finals but aren’t sure how they’re going to get there. Sports teams have long benefitted from fundraisers, and people tend to give generously.

Special events: From preschool graduation to prom night and everything in between, fundraising can help you plan extraordinary events and create memories that your students or classmates will cherish for years to come.

We Raised $2,800 for Playground Improvements

This was our first time trying the cookie dough fundraiser program and we were very happy with the result! Our daycare ended up making over $2,800 profit which will help pay for various improvements to our playground.

What Are The Benefits to School Fundraising

There are loads of benefits to fundraising, some more obvious than others (such as, well, raising funds).

Fundraising gives students the opportunity to develop and hone new skills, such as sales, communication, math, and organizational skills. It also teaches them responsibility and accountability, and helps shape their character.

Students can also learn the value of working as a team, which will help them achieve success throughout their lives and future careers.

Fundraising also allows kids to see the cause and effect of their actions. As they learn to see projects through, they’ll witness their hard work paying off in a tangible way.

How To Overcome Your Biggest School Fundraiser Challenges

How to run a school fundraiser

Like everything, there are downsides to fundraising which are important to acknowledge to get a realistic sense of what to expect.

Fundraising can be time-consuming. With families’ combined busy schedules, it can be difficult to find the time to attend a car wash fundraiser or participate in a bottle drive, for instance.

It can also distract from other important activities, such as chores, work responsibilities, family obligations, and schoolwork.

Finally, not all PTOs are supportive or open to new ideas, which can make the fundraising process discouraging or frustrating.

Let’s take a closer look and some of the challenges that school fundraising presents, as well as some tips to conquer them and smash your fundraising goals.

My students/parents/teachers are unmotivated and not participating. Before students make their pitch to the public for funds, you have to sell the idea. One way to make this easier is to come up with a clear and concise plan and communicate it effectively to parents and teachers, so they know exactly what is expected of them. As for students, let them take the lead. They are more likely to get excited about their own ideas. As well, discuss incentives with your students. Is it an ice cream party that will excite your primary school students, or $20 Subway gift cards that will motivate your high school students.

My fundraising chair is disorganized and lacks leadership. Your PTA/PTO’s fundraising chair is usually a volunteer, and often must juggle work and parental responsibilities alongside school fundraising duties. Approach them in a non-judgmental way and offer to help. Little things like setting up before a meeting so it can start on time, or typing up and emailing the agenda to members ahead of time can go a long way in helping keep things on track.

I’m finding it difficult to get my community involved. There can be a lot of competition for charities and fundraisers, which can lead to donor fatigue. If that’s your case, think of doing 1 or 2 outstanding fundraisers, instead of 3 or 4 lack-lustre ones.

As well, make sure your timing doesn’t compete with other highly popular local fundraising events – you can’t expect your donors to be in two places at once.

In such cases, you may find your donors will respond better to product fundraisers, which offers them something they can use or enjoy, rather than event fundraising or another request for a donation. Consider selling gourmet cookie dough or coffee instead of another fair, casino night or dance.

Or you could ask them to donate used products for a rummage sale. It’s an easy, cost-free way for people to help and your profit is 100%. Maybe offer a raffle with some jaw-dropping prizes (try to get them sponsored), to get more of your community to show up. Finally, don’t forget to express your gratitude!

The price of my product fundraiser items is too high. JustFundraising has a wide range of products to suit every budget. Some are priced as low as 50¢ a pop (lollipop, that is, one of our best sellers). Reach out to your school or community’s fundraising veterans (parents, teachers, or older siblings) to see which products and retail prices worked best for them before you choose your school fundraiser.

My students live in different neighborhoods with different average incomes. If some of your students live in lower-income neighborhoods, your best option is a product fundraiser with lower-priced items, such as scratch cards or candy bars. This gives everyone the chance to participate, and those with more financial flexibility can simply purchase more. You might consider keeping students’ tallies private and avoid incentives based on sales, focusing instead on rewarding students for their enthusiasm and effort.

I’m feeling burnt out from fundraising. With all the activities kids are involved in, it’s common to feel like you don’t know where one fundraiser begins and another ends. The best way to avoid this is to come up with a game plan for the school year. Focus on one or two big fundraisers rather than a non-stop stream of small ones. JustFundraising’s wide range of products and high profit margins will ensure that your students get the most out of their fundraising efforts.

Now that we’ve established what to expect when fundraising for your school, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get started!

Our elementary school raised $8,500, more than double our goal!

Our cookie dough fundraiser was so easy. We had not fundraised in several years, so we didn’t know what to expect. We were hoping to raise $4,000 profit, and we ended up earning over $8,500 profit!
Gina, Fundraising Coordinator, Elementary School, Wyoming

Determine the Objectives For Your School Fundraiser?

The first step in a successful school fundraiser is to determine your primary and secondary objectives. In other words, the ‘Why?’ This will help you choose which type of fundraiser is right for your students.

I want to raise the most amount of money with the least effort. Product fundraisers are a good option for students, teachers, and parents whose time is limited. JustFundraising offers an extensive array of products at varying price points, which are perfect for selling to friends and family, door-to-door (with a parent), or at the office. Many of our options, like our biggest seller, cookie dough, are risk-free, meaning you only order what you’ve sold. And with the guaranteed highest profit margins in the industry, it’s a no-brainer.

I want to raise school funds while building school spirit. This requires a little more investment and involvement, but the benefits reach beyond simple fundraising. Students will learn to work together toward a shared goal while having fun. From a color run, to movie night, to a pancake breakfast or a car wash, the list of activities is endless. It’s also a good opportunity to instill autonomy by letting the kids take the lead.

I want to raise funds while nurturing community spirit. A pledge-a-thon is a great way for students to raise money while giving back. Your local residents can pledge a certain amount for every bag of trash collected from a park, for instance, or for every hour volunteered at a seniors’ residence. Your community will feel a second dimension of giving and will feel their donation went further than usual. Similarly, your students will see their efforts pay off in more ways than one. And you can let your students get creative in terms of what local services they may want to provide.

Can’t choose just one? You don’t have to! Turn your car wash into a pledge-a-thon, or sell pretzels and lollipops at your color run. You have the freedom to make it fun, make it profitable, and make it yours.

We’ve got the Why, now let’s take a look at the What, as in what you’d like your fundraiser to be.

What Are The Best Fundraisers For Your School?

Consider Which Fundraisers Would Work Best For Your School So Many Options

Aside from being veteran fundraisers ourselves, we at JustFundraising have spent countless hours researching as well as talking to PTA/PTOs, parents, students, and teachers to help you reach your fundraising goals as efficiently as possible. Here’s a list of what we know to be the best school fundraising ideas for all school levels.

Best product fundraisers for all school levels

1. Cookie Dough Fundraiser

How it works: Donors choose from a variety of flavors and options (in a tub or pre-portioned, for example) from one of our free color brochures, and place their order. Once all your students’ orders are in, you place a bulk order with us, and voila! Delicious dough to eat and plenty of dough for school expenses.

Cookie dough fundraising program

Why we like it: There’s a reason it’s our most popular seller. You don’t pay a cent up front, and you only pay for the cost of the cookie dough, allowing you to keep up to 55% of the profits. The biggest reason, of course, is that no one can turn down cookie dough.

Who it’s best for: Cookie dough is a hit because it works well for all school levels, from preschoolers (with help from parents, of course) to high school seniors.

2. Popcorn

How it works: Choose from our year-round or seasonal caramel popcorn order-takers and have friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers place their orders over a period of two to three weeks, then place your bulk order with us.

Why we like it: This is a crowd-pleaser for sweet-tooths and those with a more savory palate. Take your fundraising even further by pairing it with a movie night once your orders have arrived!

Who it’s best for: Elementary school and up.

3. Scratch cards

How it works: Donors scratch off as many scratch dots as they wish, each revealing an amount ranging from $0.50 to $3.00. In return, they can receive a coupon sheet with $50 in savings, or simply an inspiring quote and the feeling that they’ve done something good.

Scratch card fundraising program

Why we like it: Scratch cards are customized with your group name and logo, and are small enough to fit in your pocket for donations on the go. Plus, each scratch card gives you up to $100 in profit!

Who it’s best for: Scratch cards are perfect for elementary school students who are learning math, as well as high school students whose on-the-go lifestyles demand a pocket-sized option. They’re also a great option for lower income communities, as donations start small and there is no initial investment.

4. Pretzel rods

How it works: One case of chocolate-and candy-coated pretzel rods includes four convenient carriers containing 60 rods each in various flavours. Supporters purchase individual rods at $1 each, and you keep up to 47% profit.

Why we like it: Sweet and salty together? Yes, please! Supporters will not be able to buy just one. It’s a great low cost option and rewards supporters with immediate gratification. Plus, they can always come back for more. A great accompanier to event fundraisers, too.

Who it’s best for: School groups of all ages will love this option, although you might have to keep an eye on the littler ones!

5. Candy bars

How it works: Choose from an assortment of candy bars at price points ranging from $1 to 2$, order as many or as few cases as you want, and start selling!

Why we like it: With 90% of American households buying candy regularly, candy bars are a sure bet. Each case includes convenient and visually attractive carriers for easy transport, and shipping is free. Plus, you can potentially keep up to 65% of profits.

Who it’s best for: Candy bars are perfect for middle and high school students to sell at school, sporting events, or to combine with event fundraisers. They’re also an easy and convenient way for parents of younger children to raise funds at the office.

Tips to optimize your product fundraiser results

Communicate with your donors. Send an email blast to parents, coaches, and church leaders, and let coworkers know ahead of time, so they can help promote it and so that they know to carry cash. Make sure to communicate the reason for the fundraiser. And, if you’re a parent selling at the office and it’s permitted, have your child swing by for a round of sales.

Easy and popular DIY elementary school fundraising ideas

Have a color run fundraiser

While DIY school fundraisers are a bit more involved than product fundraisers, they allow students to get creative and plan an event that is both rewarding and fun. Here are a few of our favorites:

Restaurant takeover:

Get in touch with a local kid-friendly restaurant and reserve a block of time for your group, their families, and other members of the community, during which the restaurant donates a certain percentage of their profits. Many popular national chains, such as Chuck E. Cheese, have programs specifically for school fundraisers and even have a ready-made flyer.

Color run:

Purchase color powder online and have students dress in old white clothes. Donors can pledge an amount for every 100 meters run, and the best part? Teachers and volunteers get to pelt the kids with color powder as they go. Pair this event with a pretzel rod or lollipop fundraiser for a colorful snack at the end of the race.

School BBQ, ice cream social, or pancake breakfast:

The beauty of this type of fundraiser is that supplies are relatively inexpensive, and local grocery stores are often happy to donate food, toppings, and condiments. Make sure to give parents plenty of advance notice, especially if you plan to invite them.

School fair:

Fairs and carnivals are a popular elementary school fundraising event, but they require quite a bit of planning, so be sure to get started early. Choose a few simple games, like a ring toss, potato sack race, or a pie face game (kids will gladly pay up to pie their teachers), and canvass the community for volunteer face-painters. Fairs go hand-in-hand with product fundraisers, as well.

School garden:

Not only is a school garden a great way for students to learn about healthy eating, science, and community, once it’s off the ground it can be a great source of income. Ask local merchants to donate supplies to get you started, and once you’ve got a good yield you can start selling plant cuttings, flowers, veggies, and herbs.

Car wash:

This is a great option when raising money for a sports team or a field trip. Not only is it fun for kids (water fight, anyone?), it can be quite profitable, too. And those waiting in their cars present a perfect opportunity for selling candy bars or pretzel sticks!

School movie and popcorn night:

Kids will love getting cozy in their classrooms or gym after sundown to watch a movie with their families and friends. Sell tickets in advance and at the door, and preorder popcorn to portion out and sell at the “concession stand” for $1 or $2 a bowl.

Tips to optimize your school’s event fundraiser results

Your best shot at a successful school event fundraiser is to start planning early, and to keep everyone in the loop. Email reminders throughout the various steps of your planning so parents and community members can plan ahead to attend. Many donors will likely have stopped at an ATM on the way to your event, so be sure to have plenty of change. And finally, send out a heartfelt thank you from the kids after the event to show your appreciation, and to show that their contribution made a difference.

Our 2 Classes sold $2500 of popcorn!

Our 2 classes sold $2500 of popcorn between them. I’m really proud of them. I hyped them up by telling them that the best-selling class will get a class party. They both did so well, that I decided to throw them both a party. Thanks JustFundraising.
Adventist Academy, Texas

Online donation or pledge-a-thon fundraisers for schools

In the digital age, much of our lives are conducted online. So why not take fundraising to the web, too? Here’s a look at some of the trusted platforms that can make your online school fundraiser a breeze.


Already a household name, GoFundMe is a reliable site that donors know they can trust. It also gives students the opportunity to tell their story and explain why they’re collecting donations, and is easily shared across social media, giving you a wider reach. Just be sure to set a goal and timeline that are attainable.


Pledge-based fundraisers are slightly more involved, but can also be more rewarding, both financially and in terms of personal achievement for your students. 99pledges is the easy way to set up a pledge-a-thon, and features a host of fundraising ideas for your school group or team, such as a hit-a-thon, for example, where students take turns at bat and donors pledge a certain amount for each hit.

Tips to optimize your online donation fundraiser results

While social media is a godsend for spreading awareness about your school’s online fundraiser, don’t forget to use traditional methods of communication as well for those who might not be as tech savvy or who check their social media irregularly. Communicate often (and not just at the beginning). And don’t forget to include plenty of photos or even a video on your donation page – it will help pledgers feel a sense of connection to your students and their goal.

Get sponsors for your school fundraiser

Sponsorship is a great way to mitigate some of the costs of holding a fundraiser, as well as to increase community involvement and exposure. There is no one-size-fits-all for sponsorship, either – there are plenty of ways to get local businesses to help out. Here’s how.

Send a sponsorship letter

to local businesses. A personalized letter that tells your story and outlines what you might need is a tried-and-true method of getting sponsored, especially if you can offer advertisement in exchange.

Ask your parents

if their employers have a sponsorship program or initiative. Some businesses will match donations dollar-for-dollar – an easy way to double your funds!

Ask for discounts on any supplies and equipment

you might need to carry out your fundraiser. A helium tank for balloons, a barbecue, or a cotton candy machine, for instance, would be welcome additions to a school fair, and could help generate profit.

Put a call out for free or discounted items

to be used as raffle or incentive prizes. Gift baskets are popular, and an easy way for local merchants to donate while advertising their business.

Tips to maximize your sponsorship results

The main thing is to keep it local. Target stores and restaurants that might draw interest from your donors. Try to offer them something in return, as well, such as their logo printed on a t-shirt, or social media shout-outs. Be sure to start early to give potential sponsors time to respond, and so you can include them when advertising your fundraiser. And don’t forget to thank them afterwards – a heartfelt thank you goes a long way in ensuring continued sponsorship.

Easy high school fundraiser ideas

High school is teeming with activity, from sports, to FFA and FBLA competitions, to, of course, the end game, prom and graduation. Here’s a quick look at three easy and popular ways high school students can raise funds while maintaining their busy academic lives.

Scratch cards:

Want an easy on-the-go fundraising option that fits in your purse or back pocket? Each scratch dot reveals an amount ranging from $0.50 to $3.00, and donors can scratch as many dots as they wish. Perfect for sports teams or other groups of 10-30, this fundraiser is both engaging and highly profitable.

Pizza fundraiser:

It’s hard to find a person who doesn’t like pizza, which makes our gourmet French bread Zap-a-Snack pizzas a fun and easy item to sell. Perfect for taking home or to sell at your movie night or pep rally. All you need is a microwave! At $20 per 6-piece box, and with 40% of profits going directly to you, that’s a lot of dough!

Jack Links beef sticks:

With so much academic and extracurricular activity happening, it’s no wonder high school students are always snacking on the go. Hungry students will love this protein-filled alternative to sugary candy bars. Perfect for selling at the concession stand at lunch, or at your basketball or football teams’ home games. While we can’t predict the outcome of the game, we do know that your fundraiser will be a winner.

We’ve covered the Why and the What. It’s time to get into the nitty-gritty: the How.

How to Organize and Execute Your School Fundraising From A to Z

Whether you’ve chosen to raise funds by selling a product, holding an event, crowdsourcing online, or through sponsorship – or any combination of these – you’ll want to make sure your fundraiser is executed properly. In order to do so, communication and organization are paramount. We’ve developed a set of guidelines (many of which summarize sections written above) that your PTA/PTO, school fundraising chair, or fundraising leader can follow to ensure your school fundraiser stays on track – and, of course, to optimize your profits.

Step 1: Know Your Why, Who, and What

Why are we fundraising?

This should be your first step, as it will help you determine what your financial goal is, and it will help you stay on track throughout your planning. The more specific you are, the simpler it will be to communicate with your stakeholders. Plus, you’ll generate a better response if you have a specific goal, like new paints for the art room or a field trip to Six Flags, for example, rather than a vague ‘supplies’ or ‘student outings’.

Who will be participating?

Who is in charge of planning? What are each of their roles? Will students be doing the fundraising themselves, or will parents be involved? Is the fundraiser for a single class, an entire grade, or is it schoolwide? Nailing down all this info will be useful when it comes to choosing a fundraiser, and will keep everyone accountable throughout the process.

What type of fundraiser do we want?

The more specific you are with the Why and the Who, the easier it will be to determine what kind of fundraiser is right for your group. Does your group consist of younger kids? This means parents might have to do the bulk of the fundraising (with help from their little ones, making a product fundraiser or an online fundraiser the most appropriate options. Conversely, older students are more able to take the helm and plan an event fundraiser or seek out sponsors, or even combine two or more types.

Step 2: Outline all school fundraiser details

Establish your fundraising goal(s)

Break out the calculator! Depending on what you’re raising money for, whether it’s attending a sports championship or new costumes for the school play, for instance, you can break down the cost per item to come up with an attainable goal, rather than an arbitrary number. For example, if you need 30 new jerseys at $30 each, you need to raise $900. It helps to be able to break it down to your supporters, as well.

Establish important dates and have them approved

Breaking down your timeline is crucial for staying focused and on track. Don’t forget to give yourselves enough time to accomplish your tasks, and make sure you have approval from the school to keep them in the loop and to avoid schedule conflicts.

Delegate responsibilities

No one can plan a fundraiser on their own. It’s important to ask for help, and to be clear and specific in the delegation of tasks. Try something like “I’d like you to visit 20 local businesses with the sponsorship pitch we’ve written by November 10th, please”, rather than “Can you try to get sponsors?” A Google sheet that everyone can edit is a great way not only for people to stay on top of their duties and check them off, but for you to see your progress in action.

Decide on any student or seller incentives

Participants need an extra boost? Decide whether you want to base your incentives on amount or enthusiasm. If you’re worried that some of your students might be disadvantaged when it comes to amassing donations, you can have students vote on who tried the hardest, or who had the most positive attitude. You can add to your prizes at any stage as you gain sponsors, as well – it’s the perfect reason to send out reminders and a great way to keep everyone engaged.

Prepare student, parent, and teacher communications

You’ll thank yourself for having done this in advance. Write out email templates for each important stage in your school fundraiser planning, and link them to your calendar so you know when to send them out. Make sure to include all important dates and be specific with your expectations and requests. Download our sample parent letter here.

Step 3: Motivate your sellers and supporters

Have an epic kickoff

An important part of planning a school fundraiser is to get students excited and motivated. Holding an assembly or pep rally at the start of your fundraiser is a great way to stoke school spirit and set the tone for the fundraiser. Be loud and silly, and have the principal and teachers lead the charge with costumes and dancing. Choose a theme song or put together a playlist to blast throughout the kickoff (Spotify has some great motivational playlists – we like “The Ultimate Nonprofit playlist” for its eclectic crowd pleasers). And this is the perfect time to announce any last minute incentive prizes (the opportunity to “slime” the principal at the closing ceremonies is always a hit).

Send out reminders

Don’t wait until kickoff to start sending reminders! Parents should be kept informed throughout the planning process, but be sure to send a heads up the week before kickoff so they know to expect their kids to be sent home with order forms, products, and other materials. Facebook is also a fantastic tool for keeping your fundraiser on the radar. Post pics from the kickoff party (with parents’ permission), as well as updates on your fundraising efforts, and any prizes donors can win.

Step 4: Wrap-up and thank-yous

Your students worked hard and deserve recognition for their efforts. Host a closing ceremony during school hours to celebrate their success and reveal the final amount raised. Be sure to make good on any incentives that might have been promised (read: don’t forget to bring the slime!), or perhaps duct taping your principal to the gymnasium wall.

Next, send out thank-yous to all the parents, teachers, sponsors, volunteers, and supporters who generously gave their time and money to your cause. Teachers or coaches can help their students record a video or take a fun pic with signs that spell out Thank You and post them to the school’s Facebook page. Remember to include the final fundraising tally as well as a message of gratitude and a reminder of where their donations will be going.

Along with all their newfound fundraising skills, a lesson in gratitude is one that students will take with them all the way to graduation and beyond.

Visit us to learn more on how to plan the perfect school fundraiser, and for a downloadable fundraiser planning checklist and other helpful tools.

We hope JustFundraising’s Ultimate Guide To School Fundraising provides you with the guidance and answers you need to accomplish your best school fundraiser ever.

About The Author

Jolian Grant, President and Owner of JustFundraising.com.

Jolian Grant and his team have assisted schools, youth sports, churches and charities with their product fundraising needs since 1998. We pride ourselves in providing quality fundraising products that organizations can be proud to sell. In 2020, we project helping over 4,000 schools and clubs reach their fundraising objectives. JustFundraising is always here to help and just a click or phone call away (1-888-440-4114).