The neighborhood elementary school PTA has an annual operating budget of $25K, the largest portion of which funds drama programming for every grade level, including 6-9 weeks of instruction and performance (when developmentally appropriate) per grade, with __ students in each class (every student participates in the program, which is endorsed by the grade-level teachers.) Additional PTA funding includes a highly-attended fall festival, art supplies, popcorn sales, and other classroom expenditures.
From my friend's enrollment estimates, costs can be divided as follows:
By comparison, the local privately-run youth theater charges $300 for a six-week course and performance (though they offer a low instructor-to-student ratio of 1:10). The parks department also runs a program charging $150 per student (of an unknown ratio, but one would presume there are more kids per class).
The resources at my friend's disposal include printing subsidized by the PTA, distribution by teachers to families via student backpacks, inclusion in the weekly PTA e-newsletter and monthly printed PTA newsletter, promotion through PTA social media, and use of the school district's auto-dial phone messaging. (By virtue of personal experience, we agreed that use of the latter would more likely repel potential donors than happily inform them.)
Also based on personal experience, she and I agreed that an "ask" letter for a purpose such as the annual fund is best conveyed in an easily-digestible single page. In the busy world of families and an overabundance of general information, concise communications are the most effective in grabbing attention and inspiring action.
We next discussed who, specifically, would sign the letter. As a fall fundraiser that is due to wrap up by Thanksgiving, we are too near deadlines to identify grade-level fundraising "champions," though that might be ideal to plan for the next year. However, a sprinkling of endorsements (for the drama program, the value of PTA, or the annual fund drive) representing a range of grades should suffice to connect each family to the contents of the letter. A signature by the PTA president or, alternately, the annual fund chairs, should suffice.
In addition to endorsements, the letter will include an overview of the items supported by PTA funding and ask for every family to contribute an amount that will be unique to each family situation, recognizing that some can give a $1 and others $1,000. We'll also be sure to include suggested giving levels (see sample letter, below).
Another popular approach is to tie giving levels to budget line items, such as "$2 buys a theater prop for one student." While this method offers a tangible connection for donors, one must carefully craft the message, lest tax audits question why each $2 donation wasn't matched to individual prop acquisitions. (Your 501(c)(3) status is valuable, so tread carefully!)
Here's our basic letter:
And with that, here's our timeline:
- Obtain teacher endorsements
- If you have a school supporter who is a graphic designer, invite him or her to jazz up a pie charge or create an infographic for your fundraising drive
- Set up online payment system (such as Amazon Simple Pay Donations) and embed in PTA website
- Confirm PTA's use of Square
- Craft printed letter (see above for sample letter)
- Obtain buy-in on method of public recognition (donation amounts could be added as paper leaves to an artful tree, donor names could be included on a continually updated thank-you list near the payment drop box, a fund thermometer could be attached to the front door - visit my Pinterest board for ideas)
- Echo letter language on website
- Create FAQs for website (including explanations about other school fundraising separate from PTA, such as the kindergarten aide fund and fifth grade camp)
- Schedule series of weekly e-newsletter and newsletter announcements that include links to online payment (hint: make URL visually palatable with Goo.gl), directions to the drop box in the front office, and dates when donors can physically hand over cash, checks, or credit cards (such as school events, publicized playground appearances, or PTA meetings)
- Create payment drop box
- Create promotional posters
- Schedule a series of social media promotions that link to online payment and encourage use of a custom hashtag
- Oct 3 - After final proof-reading, deliver to printer
- Oct 10 - Deliver printed letters to teachers
- Oct 13 - Have teachers send letters home with students, place donations drop box in front office
- Oct 14 - Present talking points to PTA board, hang annual giving posters in hallways
- Oct 15-17 - Check drop box daily during conference week
- Oct 24 - Provide credit card donation method at Fall Festival
- Nov 21 - Last push for donations
(Thanksgiving is the following week, after which the PTA historically sees a dramatic decline in donations)
We hope you find this useful for your school initiatives! Happy fundraising!