A New Kind of Bake Sale: Ditching prices for donations to encourage and reward generosity

Bake sale cookiesIf you’ve ever participated in an extracurricular program or know someone who has, chances are you’ve been to a bake sale. A classic, bake sales have been a staple fundraiser for teams, clubs, and groups of all kinds for many years. While they’re a reliable go-to event, they can come off as stale. And while some bake sales are very successful, many cost more in ingredients and effort than they’re worth. However, one elementary school shook up the traditional bake sale model, with amazing results. An elementary school group  set up a bake sale at a local street festival, but didn’t set prices for the baked goods, instead giving buyers the option to leave a donation of an unspecified amount in a jar. Surprisingly, the sale was a great success. And it wasn’t an anomaly; all over the country, pay-what-you-will restaurants, coffee shops, and retail stores have sprung up, and many are thriving. So what’s the secret?

A recent study attributes the success of the pay-what-you-will model largely to pride. Scientists found that we’re willing to pay much more for products when given the option to choose their price and we’re told their purchase will benefit a good cause. Giving generously of our own accord makes us feel good about our charitable spending, more so than if we’re asked for a specific donation. For example, a customer might perceive himself to be more generous if he voluntarily hands over $10 for a cookie than if he’s charged half the price for the same treat. Removing the set price makes the “sale” all about the donation and the giver’s generosity.

Cash DonationsAt the elementary school’s pay-what-you-will bake sale, a second factor contributed to the event’s success; the baked-good reward. Customers were rewarded with the positive feeling of having donated as well as given the tangible benefit of a sweet treat for their kindness, a bonus for their generosity. The baked good had no set value, and the donation was not being asked in exchange for the treat, so there was no limit to the donor’s spending. Instead of being asked to give enough money to get a cookie, donors were asked simply to give as much as they liked to the school, putting the cause front and center.

This simple and unexpected spin on the classic bake sale is an interesting way to boost the productivity of the old reliable of fundraisers, and gives it an interesting new twist that will catch a donor’s eye. Booster clubs can take this inspiration to consider how their own go-to fundraisers can benefit from a little shaking up. Could the pay-what-you-will model work for any other fundraisers? Is there another way that clubs could encourage and reward donation, instead of making a sale?



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