Guest blog post by Ann Garrett, Executive Director of CISPA (California Independent Schools Parents Association)
I recently asked a group of approximately 30 Parent Association Presidents: What is your single most successful fundraiser with the lowest cost and “headache”? The response was unanimous – PARTY BOOK. What is a Party Book? It is a fundraiser consisting of an assortment of parties that families purchase to attend. Party Book allows you to create a community within your school body and raises money at the same time. Here are some tips on how to put together a highly successful Party Book Fundraiser for your school.
- Online Sign-Ups: This not-so-sexy part of the Party Book is the first decision you will make. It’s crucial for the fundraising success to get it right. All Party Book’s need a hosting platform with these requirements – easy to use, high functioning features to keep sales at a peak, and low cost so your school can make money. Most of the CISPA member schools and many other schools use Online Party Book (onlinepartybook.com). There is a one-time fee of $500. You can customize the Party Book with your school’s look, logo, colors, themes, etc.
- Party Hosts and More Hosts: Now it’s time to find your party hosts. Start the ask for families to host parties. Send out a list of ideas – mother/daughter tea, dad’s poker party, day at the museum with a private tour guide and lunch, family outdoor movie night, ice skating, and so much more. It’s essential to have a nice spread of kid/family parties and adult parties.
- Quality over Quantity: This is true for two reasons. One, a school calendar is always busy and so are family’s personal lives. You don’t want to sabotage your parties by competing with other important events or Saturday morning soccer/baseball. Second, you will dilute your sign-ups with too many parties. While an array of themes is important to appeal to your diverse community, it’s also impossible for families to free up the time to be at a party every weekend. Many schools have said that between 15-20 parties are the sweet spot. Depending on how large your school community is, you could go higher or lower, but I highly recommend for you to stay on the conservative side.
- Party Themes: The ideas are endless. Make sure you have a variety. Parties for little ones, parties for older kids, family parties, mom’s parties, dad’s parties, couple’s parties. Tapping into a parent’s personal experience or connections is always a great starting point. You may need to make some phone calls to ask for their help to host. Think – do you have a parent in your community who’s connected to a local museum? Offer a private museum tour. Is there a flower arranging guru in your school? Ask them to host a flower arrangement party around the holidays.
- Pricing: Pricing parties can be tricky. You need a range of pricing to offer different levels of affordability. For example, a kids cooking class can be priced at $30 per child while a family outdoor movie night with dinner, drinks and dessert can be priced at $150 per family.
- Timing is Everything: The launch timing should be strategically scheduled as to not interfere with other fundraising asks. Many schools launch in January after the annual giving and holiday fundraising asks. The time of the party is equally important. Kid parties on a Friday after school that includes dinner are always popular. I also recommend having a week long preview before the Party Book sign-ups go live. There is always communication among families at that time as to who is signing up for what. It helps spread the word and build momentum for the launch!
- Sign-Up Tips: Make sure to show who’s signed up to parties already. This is a tremendous motivator to enthuse families to sign up with their friends or other class parents to get to know them better. The waitlist is equally important. Make sure you offer a waitlist. Most of the time the party host will open the party up to the waitlist, which ends up raising more money.
- Teacher Parties: One school incorporated their teacher parties in Party Book and reaped tremendous success with a sell-out of all teacher parties on day one. These include a party for a limited amount of kids with their teacher. For example, two teachers took a group of four student’s Geocaching for the afternoon. Another took a group of kids to the Pier for the afternoon to ride rides and play games.
- Party Not Selling: Be prepared for a party to have low sign-ups or not sell at all. It happens. And here’s the crazy part, I’ve seen the same party one year not sell at all and the next year have a waitlist a mile long. It was an Amazing Race party through Universal Studios. How “amazing” does that sound? I can’t seem to always figure out why a party doesn’t sell. I will say however that you do need to ask your hosts to hype and promote their parties. It helps immensely to create chatter and buzz. If a party doesn’t sell or has low sales, we usually cancel it and refund the money.
- Building Community: Fundraising is one component of Party Book. All of the schools I have spoken with about this fundraiser say that the community building and engagement it provides are the overarching win of Party Book. In our CISPA meetings, we discuss that the goal of the Parent Association is to connect your parents and engage them in your school community. Party Book is just the way to do that. Cheers to a successful community builder!
Ann Garrett is the Executive Director of CISPA, California Independent Schools Parents Association, a consortium of Parent Association leaders sharing best practices and problem solving. (She is not affiliated with Online Party Book and is not being paid to promote their service. She has been a happy customer of their platform.) To become a part of the Best Sharing discussion for Parent Association leadership, join our Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/groups/PALeadership/