By all accounts, school fundraising efforts should never work.

They usually sell over-hyped goods at a massively bloated price point and the people that are trying to convince you to buy them are not professional salespeople – they’re children.

3 business principles that are present in school fundraisers

But, believe it or not, these children are experts at using business principles to sell chocolate bars.

What the world sees as a simple way to generate some extra income for the school to buy much-needed supplies is actually a booming $1.4 billion business.

And the reason it’s so successful has very little to do with either the product or the salespeople; it’s because consumers genuinely and fervently believe in supporting a cause that we believe is worthwhile. That’s why we buy overpriced chocolate wrapped in tiny plastic bags: for the kids.

There are some amazing lessons that salespeople can learn from these types of operations. If you’re like most people, you simply support the cause and move on; if you slow down, however, you’ll notice some very sound business practices afoot.

1. Incentivize the sales process

Kids are relatively easy to incentivize. Whether it’s a cool-looking pencil for being the highest seller in their class or a pizza party for the class that sells the most, rewards for sales goals are usually not very expensive or hard to implement.

They are surprisingly effective though. The psychological effect of one child attaining a reward for their efforts and then other kids seeing it and wanting it is a strong motivator, and the effect doesn’t wear off as we get older. The rewards might change – from a pencil to an extra vacation day – but the effect is the same: when we see an opportunity to be rewarded for our efforts, we usually pounce on it.

Just make sure that whatever you offer you can deliver and possibly even on a larger scale. A company that promises an elaborate espresso maker for every department that meets their goals is nice until every department succeeds. Then you’ll be shelling out thousands for a return that may not be as great. Make sure the reward makes sense.

2. Set specific goals

By their very nature, fundraisers don’t last very long. They’re usually to achieve one specific purpose, whether that’s for new computers, new books, or even a class field trip. Once the goal is met, the fundraiser is over, and the whole process is over in a few weeks or a month at most.

Any longer than that and you have a potential burnout situation on your hands. Nobody wants to be in a constant state of competition for months at a time, but this doesn’t mean you have to shut down the ambition every couple of weeks. Set short-term goals in addition to long-term goals for your BPM process and watch your people compete with – and against – each other.

3. Tell a story

As mentioned above, the reason school fundraisers are so successful is because everyone gets on board with the mission, no matter what it was. We all want to help children succeed, so if that means buying a three-dollar piece of chocolate that we can buy down the road for one dollar, so be it.

As a business, get your story front and center with your customers. Why should they pick your brand when they can get almost the exact same thing a couple miles away? Why should they support your company instead of others? By talking about who you are, where you came from, and how you operate, you create an emotional connection with your customers that is hard to destroy.

The next time you attend a school fundraiser, take a step back and honestly evaluate why you’re even there in the first place. Most likely, you’ll uncover some very key business principles that you can implement in your own company, whether that’s buying a set of new books for classrooms or closing a multi-million deal.

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Craig has been in the real estate and sales business for most of his professional career. He graduated at UC Berkeley with a bachelor's degree in Marketing. He now is the founder of Treetop Real Estate and enjoys building connections with other professionals.


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