Kill Bad Fundraisers

Sometimes fundraisers stop generating value. Good booster clubs must know when to kill them.

FlavorGraveyardBehind the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory lies a peaceful graveyard of discontinued flavors. Marked by grey headstones, they sit memorialized on a windswept carpet of fallen leaves. These ideas were put to rest after they ran their course, buried but remembered. For Ben and Jerry’s, the graveyard’s humor suits their quirky brand image, a kind of anti-corporate, self-deprecating humor engraved in the  company’s culture. What epitaph do you write for a fallen ice cream flavor? Below is a real example reported by the Daily Mail:

EconomicCrunchDFor booster clubs, the graveyard reminds us to bury fundraisers. Two types of flavors push daisies, those that have run their course, sometimes after a decade, and those that never quite worked, even after many months on the market. “Economic Crunch” is an example of the latter. Ben and Jerry’s promoted Economic Crunch for about one year. They experiment with novel flavors like this to see what might take hold. Like Ben and Jerry’s, innovative booster clubs try things out. In a future post, I’ll write about patience in creating new fundraisers and creating traditions. Unlike ice cream flavors, they often need more than a year to test their potential. In this post, however, I want to introduce ways to talk about phasing out a fundraiser that has clearly failed to function.

How does a booster club decide to send a fundraiser to the chopping block? One booster club I visited this spring finally nailed the coffin of a golf tournament that had declined in popularity. At its peak it brought in $14,000 in fees and sponsorship money. Last year revenue had dropped to a mere $4,000. Golf tournaments can take hundreds of hours to organize and run, so if it’s not pulling in revenue it’s not worth the work of calling sponsors, selling tickets, preparing the site, etc. (Though clearly, in areas with big appetites for golf, tournaments are growing and gaining lots of resources for booster clubs.) This particular club decided to replace the golf tournament with 3 seasons of raffling. The result was a better return on volunteer energy. Other clubs looking to fine-tune their fundraising strategy should ask these questions of their events:

  • Is the event growing?
  • Is the execution of the event becoming more or less effective?
  • Does it happen too often? And if it happened less, would a similar amount of attendance be achieved?
  • What social role does it play beyond fundraising?
  • What changes could be made to make it more effective?
  • How could the event be effectively phased out or turned into something new?

Just because that golf fundraiser was discontinued doesn’t mean that it was a failure. It’s important to keep that in mind when discussing the decommissioning of an event with fellow volunteers, especially when they might be emotionally invested in an event. So when broaching the subject of phasing out a fundraiser, acknowledge the contributions it brought in the past. The golf tournament, for example, raised tens of thousands of dollars over a period of a few years. It also created relationships with businesses that want to support the raffles. That is, the new fundraiser built on existing groundwork.Emotional sensitivity is one thing, but there’s another problem to killing fundraisers: inertia. People tend to fear change, and venerate their predecessors, even when their predecessors were also flying by the seat of their pants. The strength of the Flavor Graveyard lies in the knowledge that ideas are mortal. There may come a day when even Cherry Garcia stops flying off the shelves (I hope not!). Likewise, booster club officers might finally realize that bake sales are usually a waste of time (I hope so!).

I hope I don’t give the impression that booster club events, like ice cream flavors, can solely be assessed by the funds they raise. There’s more to a booster club event than that. Consider again that golf tournament that I mention above. Was it a lively tradition of the club, attended by dozens of supporters and students each year? What if the only cause for the drop in revenue was sponsors, not attendance? In that case the golf tournament could have been preserved, not as a crucial fundraiser, but primarily as a community event. A good booster club values both, but knows the difference between the two. For more on tracking intangibles like community spirit, as well as tangibles like financial indicators, check out the series on metrics.

 Looking for fundraising ideas? Here are over 90 fundraising ideas.


Photo Credit: Flavor Graveyard from Ben & Jerry’s website.

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