Last spring, Illinois PTA ran a series of articles on how to run your PTA when schools are closed. This fall, schools have opened in a variety of configurations, from online only, to all in-person, to some mix of the two, and may shuffle between those as local conditions change during the year. In addition, every school district has its own requirements for activities beyond the school day. Illinois PTA is starting a new series to help PTAs and PTA Councils navigate this unprecedented school year. You can find our earlier pieces in this series here:
If you have questions not addressed here, please contact your Region or District Director or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
General Virtual Fundraising Tips
We’re going to focus on virtual fundraising in this article. If local conditions allow your PTA to hold a fundraiser “normally,” we assume you already know how to do that. Your PTA should still consider adapting your past practices to the current situation, such as having drive-through pickup from your cookie dough or wrapping paper fundraiser rather than having everyone come into a location to pick up their orders.
The first, most critical item your PTA needs to consider when doing online fundraising is figuring out how people are going to contribute money to your PTA. While there are many online platforms offering donation pages, they may come with an associated cost, either through a percentage of the money raised or credit card processing fees. Your PTA may be able to use the MemberHub online store as a donation page, setting it up with items you’re selling (e.g., t-shirts) or donation levels. If your PTA has a PayPal, Square, or other online payment processing account, that can also be used for online fundraising.
Your PTA will also need to have a plan to market your online fundraiser. This plan should include using both e-mails, social media, and other resources (e.g., direct texting, press releases) to make people aware of the fundraiser before it starts as well as highlighting progress as the fundraiser continues. One advantage of virtual fundraising is that you are not limited to your school or local community. Encourage your members to let grandparents and other extended family members know about the fundraiser and what it will mean for your child’s education.
Finally, be aware that the pandemic has affected every family differently. Some may have been able to keep working virtually while others may have lost jobs because of the pandemic. Make sure that your families know that your PTA is aware of this, especially if your PTA has budgeted some of its funds this year towards helping struggling families (e.g., through food drives).
- Direct Donations: The easiest fundraiser of all. Your PTA can highlight the fact that you’re not asking people to buy products they don’t necessarily want. You will, however, want to showcase what your PTA will be doing with the funds to support every child in your school.
- Virtual Run/Walk/Bike: If your PTA normally does a walk-a-thon or similar fundraiser, consider doing a virtual one where participants walk, run, or bike on their own at home on a specific day (or range of dates to allow flexibility) and report their mileage. Each participant signs up sponsors and directs them to your donation page. This could be set up on a MemberHub store page with different pledge levels (e.g., $.10/mile, $0.25/mile, $1.00/mile) with sponsors purchasing the number of miles their participant completed.
- No Run Run: A combination of the two ideas above. Participants donate for the number of miles they are not running in a race to cross your fundraising finish line.
- Virtual Class or Workshop: Partner with a local business person to offer a virtual class or workshop. This could be a chef teaching how to cook a specific dish from their restaurant, a yoga class, an exercise class, a photography class, a learn-to-knit class, or a holiday craft class. Make sure that participants know the materials they need before the class or sell ready-to-go kits in addition to the cost of the class.
- Behind the Scenes Tour: Similar to a virtual class or workshop, partner with a local business to give a behind the scenes tour of how they do what they do. For example, a local candy maker could film a video of how they make their chocolates and then have an online tasting after the video. Participants would get the login for the video and a sample kit to taste along with the candy maker.
- Coupon Books/Cards: Your PTA partners with local businesses to create a book of coupons or a discount card that you sell. Many local businesses and restaurants may be especially willing to participate this year in order to help increase sales.
- Cute Baby Contest: Participants provide your PTA with a silly, cute, or even embarrassing photo of themselves as a child. Each photo then goes up anonymously in your MemberHub store, and people donate for their favorite pictures. The person whose photo raises the most money wins a prize (e.g., gift card). This could also be done with pets as well.
- Online Bake Sale: Just like your regular bake sale, but with the baked goods sold online. Make sure you have high-quality pictures to capture the treats at their best.
- Online Silent Auction: Similar to a regular silent auction, but using an online platform. See this article on how to set one up. National PTA also has some information on running an online auction.
- Online Gala: Partner with a local restaurant to provide a fixed or limited menu to go. Participants purchase tickets to the gala, pick up their meal, and then join in online for dinner (formal attire or casual, as your PTA prefers). Provide some online entertainment.
- UnGala: Much like the No Run Run above, offer participants the opportunity to pay to not have to go to a gala dinner, rent a tux, or buy a new dress. They then get to stay home and curl up with a movie or book in their jammies instead, and donate the money they would have spent to your PTA.
- Restaurant Take-Out Night: Can’t have your PTA’s usual dine-in fundraiser at the local pizza place? Work with the restaurant to set up a take-out night fundraiser with a portion of the proceeds going to your PTA. Remember that PTAs can’t endorse businesses, but you can say that a business is sponsoring the PTA by donating 10% of the proceeds ordered on a given date when you mention your PTA.
- Sell Graduation Yard Signs: Plan for the end of the year by creating an attractive “Congratulations Grad!” yard sign to sell online. This doesn’t have to be limited to high school seniors. Consider having signs for each grade at your school. Come the end of the year, have a volunteer drive by to place the sign in the recipient’s yard.
- Streamed Events: Use Facebook Live or some other platform to host a live-streamed event. Perhaps one of the most famous of these events is John Krasinski’s Virtual Senior Prom from his Some Good News series last spring. While you likely won’t get the Jonas Brothers to perform, you may be able to get local musicians to do so. You’ll also need to include a specific donation request in your invitation to the event or sell tickets. You may also want to have several donation requests during the event, as well as sharing what their donations mean to your PTA.
- Wish List Drive: Rather than asking people to donate money, ask them to donate items on teacher wish lists. You can still offer a donation option that will go towards purchasing things that don’t get donated from the wish lists or for a big-ticket item that is unlikely to be donated.
- Social Media Campaign: Social media can be a powerful motivator, as the Ice Bucket Challenge demonstrated in raising funds for ALS research. Come up with a fun idea (e.g., video dancing to the high school fight song or lip-synching to a popular song related to your school’s mascot), create a relevant hashtag, have some PTA leaders create the first videos that they share on social media and challenge others to donate to the PTA, do the same style of video, and challenge their friends.
Has your PTA run a successful virtual fundraiser? Share the details with your District or Region Director or at email@example.com, and we may feature it in a future article.
Graphic © 2012 by John Haydon.