Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
Yes, spring is here, and you know what that means! Student fundraiser project opportunities!
Spring is a great time of year to fundraise because we're in the final stretch of the school year. I don't know about you, but my kids get super squirrely!
This is also due to the fact that the weather is starting to improve around here, so my kids want to get out of the classroom, get out in the community, and get their hands dirty!
And what better way to do all of that than with student-led fundraiser projects?
As an experiential educator, I love to have my students host and run their own community fundraisers.
The purpose of the fundraiser project is to be determined by you and your students. In the past, my students have raised money for spring field trips and travel experiences, classroom materials, and issues or causes that are important to them.
I was heavily involved in our school travel program. I have traveled with students to Costa Rica, Hawaii, Colorado, Texas, California, Florida, the U.P., and many very close to home.
These trips were not free, nor were they cheap. They weren't possible without significant fundraising efforts, not by me, but by my students.
I have been facilitating student fundraiser projects for over a decade, so have a lot of experience. There has been a lot of trial and error! A LOT OF ERRORS.
What I have found is that the best fundraisers are those that are student-led; entirely planned and executed by students (with some guidance).
There are enormous benefits to student-led fundraisers, one of which is the load it takes off of your already spread-thin plate, especially if there are one or two really ambitious, organized, motivated students that can take the reigns.
There are also many benefits to the students that organize and host the fundraiser projects.
I had many students that wanted to organize fundraisers, so I created a planning resource to help them streamline the organization process, and you can find that resource here.
Now for the fundraiser project ideas. Some fundraisers are better than others when it comes to those that are student-led. I have listed the top 11 student-led fundraisers in my experience.
I'm certain there are many other great ones, and I'd love to hear about those in the comments!
Let's start with a few fundraising tips!
Student-Led Fundraiser Project Tips:
1) Make your life easier:
Great student fundraiser projects are those that require little money upfront, are local/require light travel, the fundraiser location is easily accessible, and the product for sale is made by the students (baked goods, candles, t-shirts, etc). People are more likely to buy when they can see the effort put in or the service provided is student-led.
2) Encourage students to connect with their community:
Hugely important. That might mean students spending some significant time just setting the stage for future fundraisers. Their neighbors will be their biggest allies when it comes to raising money because those neighbors could be future customers, help you spread the word, or provide valuable resources or material for student fundraiser projects.
3) Encourage students to collaborate with the school board or parent group:
Ideally, you will have members on the school board that are well-connected with potential big donors. Keep them in mind when fundraising. Ask student fundraisers to speak with or present to their school board or parent association, and ask them how they can support student fundraiser projects.
4) Make marketing a priority!
Making marketing a part of the fundraiser planning experience. This not only gets the word out ultimately leading to more money raised, but it is also a great learning experience for your kids. There are a variety of ways to market fundraisers. Students know better than anyone how to use social media as a marketing tool! Work with that. Creating a marketing plan is one feature of the fundraiser project resource mentioned earlier.
5) Students should have a specific outcome in mind that can be shared with stakeholders:
Donors want to know where their money is going. Students should create a portable presentation (poster board) that they can put on display wherever they are fundraising.
6) Encourage students to start planning early:
Marketing takes some time, and you don't want to spring a fundraiser on anyone. Give people notice so they can plan to be there!
Ok, here we are. Finally to the guts of this post. I have tried A LOT of different fundraisers with my students. The following 11 were the most successful in terms of student involvement, money raised, and efficient use of time.
7) Take advantage of the season or timing:
Is it fall? Students can organize a leaf-raking fundraiser. Is it almost valentine's day? Students can create their own take-bake-and-frost Valentine's cookies. Is it almost graduation day? Try graduation merch or party planning services!
11 Effective Self-Directed Student Fundraiser Project Ideas
1) Donors Choose:
If you are an educator and you have not yet donated to a project on Donors Choose OR created a fundraising project of your own, you are truly missing out!
Donors Choose is crowd-funding for educators. The best part? The website is deliberately designed to get students involved in their own fundraisers.
For example, there might be a "project" created on an educator's site to raise $1,000 for classroom Chrome Books. Students can create the project, market their project to friends and family, and are required to write a thank you letter if the project is fully funded.
I have used Donors Choose for several school traveling experiences. One of my students created a "project" on Donors Choose asking for enough money to pay for student passports to get to Costa Rica.
She met her goal in only two weeks. Passports paid for.
The interesting part is that corporations looking to fund interesting projects surf the site. Our passports weren't paid for by donations only from friends and family. A big chunk of the money was donated by businesses.
The projects below are the fundraising projects, written by my students, that have been fully funded.
2) Hometown Calendars:
Several years ago my boss, a long-time loyalist to St. Paul, MN, noticed a lot of changes happening in our school community.
A light rail was going in right in front of our building that would connect the two major downtown areas.
He asked students to take photographs of some of the work, then had them go back into archives to find photographs of those same areas from decades ago to see how it has changed over the years.
That is how the calendar fundraiser project got its start.
The students formatted their photos into a calendar to sell. The students take the photos, find old photos to compare and contrast, create the calendars, AND sell the calendars. They worked closely with the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce as well. Check out their latest calendar below!
I love this fundraiser because it doubles as an incredible PBL. The deep learning, networking, and skill-building that took place were incredible.
3) Class or School T-Shirts:
For years, my advisory students have created school t-shirts to sell to students, teachers, parents, and community members. All t-shirts are designed and created by the students and are different every year.
This type of fundraiser involves students from a variety of backgrounds with various talents, and it's fun if you make it an annual thing that the school community can look forward to each year.
The picture below is a student-taken and edited photo of the St. Paul skyline that was printed on sweatshirts and t-shirts. It's a great student-created product for a student-led fundraiser.
4) School Store
I like a school store fundraiser project because it is mostly student-run, and they take pride in being a part of it.
My students survey the student body asking for store product suggestions. In the store, they sell snacks, our school shirts, and some quick and easy breakfast foods.
The downside to the school store option is that the funds raised come exclusively from students. This did work for my students because we didn't have vending machines in the building. We served breakfast and lunch and that was the only access students had to food throughout the day unless they brought their own snacks.
The school store was the only place to get a quick snack in between meals.
If the students aren't doing the bulk of the work for this fundraiser, it isn't worth doing. It is an enormous undertaking if you're doing it alone. The students can take charge of stocking, book-keeping, selling, etc.
It’s an incredible learning experience and a great real-world math PBL, which teachers are often looking for!
5) Take-and-Bake Holiday Pies:
My students do a lot of fundraisers near the winter holidays. For Minnesotans, apple picking season lines up nicely with Thanksgiving, which means apple pies!
Several years ago, one particular student who was raising money for a school trip to Hawaii, took charge of this fundraiser. We went to an orchard to pick apples, created fliers and order forms, spread the word on social media, and made freezable, ready-bake pies for pick-up.
We wrapped them up and printed out holiday-themed baking instructions.
Making pies isn't cheap. The ingredients can get especially pricey. Challenge students to bring down the price, such as working with an orchard in the community to arrange a discount or work exchange arrangement.
Your fall-back could always be pumpkin pie. Canned pumpkin puree is fairly cheap. If you and your students are ambitious, consider extending this concept to start a school garden where you can grow pumpkins, blueberries, or whatever climate-appropriate fruits would make for great pies!
This fundraiser is great because it could be and should be almost entirely student-run.
Students can create all of the marketing materials, design an order form, collect the ingredients (or start a garden), organize orders, make the pies, sell, etc.
This was one of our most successful fundraisers because the community wanted to support student-driven endeavors. How good does that pie look!?
Now, it is spring, so the holiday pie season is nowhere in sight. But what is coming up that students could take advantage of? What is happening in the community? What holidays or events are on the horizon? Graduation? Summer? The growing season?
Let them get creative!
6) Venue Events:
There are a variety of venues and/or sports teams in the Twin Cities that support local schools and want to see them succeed.
The Minnesota Twins baseball team has a school fundraising program, for example. They put fundraising groups to work behind concessions at games and give them a large stipend at the end of the shift.
Valley Fair is an amusement park in Minnesota that has a similar program. They take students behind the scenes to do various tasks in exchange for a large stipend after the shift. My students raised $2,000 toward their earth science trip to Hawaii from Valley Fair alone.
This style of fundraising is great because the students did the coordinating and took the work shifts. I just chaperoned.
Check out local opportunities like this in your own community.
7) Rummage Sale:
Before I talk a rummage sale up too much, I'm going to say that this student fundraiser project requires some serious work for everyone, including you, even when it is student-led.
However, if it is done well, you'll see a serious payout. The reason for this is that it shouldn't cost you, students, or the school a dime upfront.
Items for sale should be donated. Students leading the fundraiser can ask students, teachers, parents, and community members for donation items to sell at the rummage sale.
A student of mine organized a rummage sale several years ago. She scanned Craigslist garage sale posts regularly, emailed garage sale hosts, and asked that they donate any leftover items from their own yard sales.
We had so many donations and ended up raising more money from this fundraiser than any fundraiser to date.
The last bit of advice for this rummage sale fundraiser project is for students to try to get their hands on baby and kids' items such as toys, clothes, and shoes.
8) Bake-Off or Cook-Off:
Bake-offs and cook-offs are by far my favorite student fundraiser projects. Students get SO excited about these events. Bake-offs and cook-offs are both fantastic, however, our cook-offs have generally been more successful than bake-offs. Here is the gist of a cook-off:
9) Yard Work Service:
Basically, a student fundraising team creates a lawn business. It's best to keep it simple. Students can offer raking services, shoveling, or weed pulling.
This is a great student-led fundraiser for several reasons. One is that few materials are required, therefore it is cheap upfront. Students would need rakes (shovels for snow removal), and some bags for leaf collecting.
Students would also need transportation. That is the downside. I encourage students to advertise their services in their own neighborhoods for that reason.
My students usually make fliers and pass them out around the school community. Local businesses often have my students shovel their sidewalks on snow days.
The key to this fundraiser is marketing. A lot of folks are happy to do their own yard work. Others hire professional services.
What we did was make it personal and meaningful. We advertised our fundraising goals, which means something to local supporters.
We also left the donation amount up to the customer. Typically they give more than we would have asked for. Your students can experiment with this.
Local yard service is also a great way for students to connect with the community, which is important for a variety of reasons.
A raffle is a great student fundraiser project to add to any other fundraising event, such as a cook-off.
My students wrote letters to local businesses introducing themselves, their fundraising goals, and their purpose for fundraising. They asked in their letters that these businesses donate gift cards to be used for a raffle fundraiser.
The students wrote these letters and mailed them right before winter break.
When we returned from winter break there were about 50 gift cards from various local businesses.
We used the gift cards as raffle prizes at our cook-off fundraiser. It didn't cost anyone a dime, and the planning and prep were fairly straightforward. Students just wrote letters and mailed them to businesses. Simple.
Something to keep in mind and look into is protocol or permits that may need to be acquired in your city.
11) Car Wash:
I probably don't have to tell you that a car wash is a great student-led fundraiser project.
We see them everywhere because they are straightforward, great money-makers, fantastic community-builders, and students love them.
Springtime is the PERFECT time for a carwash! I don’t know about where you are, but in Minnesota, the snow is disappearing, so road salt can be wiped clean off cars!
It is also about to get mucky! Scrub that mud from cars!
Encourage students to add smaller fundraisers to the car wash event such as a hot dog stand, drinks for sale, and/or a bake sale. They can also upsell their customers by offering interior cleaning or waxing for a few extra bucks.
Fundraisers aren't easy but are a little more manageable when they're student-led. The benefits of student-created, student-organized, and student-run fundraisers are enormous, especially for the students.
What successful student fundraiser projects have you seen or been a part of? Please share in the comments!
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To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.