Fundrasing Best-Practices from a True Believer
Interview with Carol Blake
This week we sat down with Carol Blake, and discussed her fundraising efforts, the lessons she learned, what to avoid, and best practices, in order to share them with the fundraising community at large.
fundrazr.ca: Can you tell me a little about your fundraising project?
Carol: Well, it’s mostly aimed at grade 8 trips for most of the schools…
fundrazr.ca: There’s more than one school?
Carol: Yes, we actually have all our schools in this area on the program, and we all ship [the FundScrip gift cards] together so we save on the shipping and we all order on the same day. It’s actually pretty neat how it’s all worked out: we have the order delivered to one of our offices and all the schools come and pick their order up after we’ve separated them, and any that are left we leave at a downtown pickup location at a store that’s also actually involved…
fundrazr.ca: I see; so how many schools are actually involved?
Carol: In this area we have the high school and three elementaries.
fundrazr.ca: So how many people would be involved in fundraising for your respective schools?
Carol: It varies. Sometimes we have around 40 orders from one school, but I would say it averages around 30, though at this time of year [holiday season] we’ll have a lot more. Now, that doesn’t sound like many; but every week we at least have 20-50 orders and I was just looking at today’s and it was for almost $10,000.
fundrazr.ca: That’s excellent
Carol: Isn’t it amazing?
fundrazr.ca: So what made you get involved?
Carol: Well I was sick and tired of fundraisers where there’s no real product that I actually use. It’s always a candle or cookies or some other garbage, and I wanted to utilize what I’m buying now [in support of fundraising]. I was going to set it up myself, but then I came across the site FundScrip.com. I sat down with FundScrip and had a good long chat with them. They didn’t initially want to take us on because we were so remote…
fundrazr.ca: Where exactly are you located anyway?
Carol: We’re right on Lake Huron between London and Owen Sound – Kincardine. So, FundScrip initially was concerned about taking us on because we were so rural and so small, but I promised him that within two years we would make it work. So they gambled with me and ultimately our school alone had among the highest gift card sales that year. Isn’t that amazing? But we really focused on it, and then we invited the other schools to get involved with us and offered to share the shipping, to save costs.
fundrazr.ca: So did you have a child in the school at the time?
Carol: At the time I did, and I wanted to pay for his trip and any other child that couldn’t afford to go, so our family alone raised enough money to send four kids on this trip… and we started in November and they went on the trip in May.
fundrazr.ca: Wow that is amazing
Carol: Isn’t it? So, that’s how we kicked it off… so far we have raised over $30,000 for that school.
fundrazr.ca: So how do you get supporters to participate and maintain their interest?
Carol: Well that is the hardest part. I started out with just our grade 8’s, because I needed to prove that they could do it. We started in November; I had wanted to be rolling by September but it took us a little while and by the time we got it all set up it was November. So I had 10 parents that ordered all their Christmas presents through FundScrip; and that was our big kickoff. And of course those 10 parents told the rest of the parents, and while we didn’t get them all on, we did get a great number of them by June. I only promoted gas and food.
fundrazr.ca: I see, so just the staples…
Carol: Yeah, ‘cause that’s the stuff you use every week and it even helped people on budgets to actually stay on budget. So that’s how we started until people got comfortable with the program – because everyone was a little nervous at first, asking “this is too good to be true, right?”. So then, once they got comfortable with their gas and food, of course once they went in to order more cards they could see [gift cards from] all the other stores. and then they chose to do either recurring orders or just order more product each time.
You see, we were very aggressive – we didn’t have a lot of time and we needed to make it work; and when I get something in my teeth I don’t let it go. So we bought everything for the school – food, any events – anything we would have normally bought, we got with FundScrip cards. We had this fridge box, and we cut it out to make it look like a toll booth, and you’d come up and see that it was totally covered in gift cards – over a million dollars worth of gift cards – and we sold out of that box. And so it became a visual… people could see it… and then they’d know it was in the school and remember “oh, I’ve got to order today”.
fundrazr.ca: So, you have the visual element; how do you handle communication with all your supporters? You have more than one school, different fundraising goals – how do you keep in touch and keep everyone interested in the program?
Carol: Well I have no children in school now, but I continue to stay involved because I see the value of this project – and so do so many others which is why they’re still involved. But you still have to be always promoting it. So I use the school newsletter, and what I’d put in there is how much we made – our rebate each month – and where it was going, ‘cause we had it split to grade 6 through 8. You see when you were in grade 6, you could put your money towards outdoor education. When you got to grade 7, you could start raising money for your grade 8 trip, so you’d actually have 2 years to raise the funds. Now I don’t like to blow my own horn, but somebody has to be the recruiter; and I make cold calls to everybody in grade 8, and I had to explain the program to everybody. You also really need to have a principal that gets on-board with you, and it has to be seen as part of the package of joining our school: this is our school fundraiser, please get on-board.
fundrazr.ca: So you were saying you’d tried other fundraising methods in the past – what did you try?
Carol: Well actually I home-schooled my kids up to grade 8 and I was inundated as a home school mother by all the neighbour’s children selling candles and chocolates and cheese… and I thought “this is crap!”, but I felt obligated because they were my neighbours. So when I put my kids back into the system, I was not going to get caught up in that, and that’s why I really pushed to see if we could do something more common sense and raise money from what everyone was buying anyway.
fundrazr.ca: So let’s say you were talking to someone who was setting up their FundScrip fundraising program for the first time – what one piece of advice would you give them?
Carol: Recruiting – it’s the hardest part of this whole thing. You have to call them, you have to have someone who sees this as their job. You have to get people comfortable and get the paperwork to them because that EFT [electronic funds transfer] paper needs to be filled out and you need to get that cheque… a lot of people are only carrying debit cards now. So I try everything to get that paper into my hands and then I fax it out. For instance, on BBQ night, I pre-warned them to please bring cheques for the FundScrip registration, and then we all moved down to the computer room so I could help each one of them sign on that night. You have to walk them through it, and you know what I even try to do? – get that first order right then. Because you’ve done all that work, and then they haven’t placed an order, so I ask “Do you think you could use $100 worth of groceries?”. I usually place that first order for them too.
fundrazr.ca: Do you do a follow-up after they’ve registered and placed their order?
Carol: Definitely. I email them and ensure that everything went ok, and then see if we can get them on recurring [orders], so then I know they’re taken care of.
fundrazr.ca: So are there any pitfalls you’d warn people of that you experienced in getting the program running?
Carol: Well at first people were skeptical. Nobody had ever heard of FundScrip, and people were a little leery of doing anything – especially online. The EFT was a little scary for people… to have money coming directly out of their bank account. So at first we collected cheques, and we had them all come to the school… and I’d never do that again. That was dreadful. You can’t imagine the work involved. So you get them all signed up with EFT and then the packages come to us all sorted – FundScrip’s amazing at the work that they do.