It’s time to learn about the wide world of fundraising. To pull in a lot of cash in a little time, you’re going to need a diverse array of funding sources, from generous individuals and businesses to foundation grants and gala banquets. If we could only give you one piece of fundraising advice, it would be this: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!
Learn more about fundraising basics. Learn the terminology and the theory, then use it to liberate piles of playground cash in your town!
KaBOOM! recommends using a wide mix of fundraising strategies. Every community is different, and it’s hard to know what will work until you try it. Keep an open mind, and constantly evaluate your progress so you can adjust your strategy as needed.
Also remember that some of the more complex strategies require months of advance planning, so consider all your options and get started on those grants now!
Here’s your primer on 21st-century community fundraising:
Did you know that the majority of charitable donations nationwide come from people who give between $10 and $20? Cash donations from individuals or families can be solicited through letter-writing campaigns, phone calls, door-to-door canvassing, and a project website. You’ll increase your chances for success if you offer people something tangible for their money – for instance, having their names engraved on a memorial brick or a permanent playspace plaque. You can also attach a dollar value to various building materials, such as a box of bolts, wood for a bench, ten square feet of surfacing, or a swing. When people are “buying” a piece of the playspace, their money seems well-spent, and they feel a lasting sense of attachment toward the space. This “Buy a Swing” fundraiser has proven to be one of our best secret weapons – and it’s easy to do! (Note: the “Buy a Swing” campaign doesn’t have to be limited to individual donors; approach businesses about buying larger items like a swingset or a slide.)
Don’t forget: individual donors are also an important source of talent, materials, and services for your project! Use town meetings, fundraising events, and direct-request campaigns to solicit these “individual donations” and raise the level of involvement in your community.
These are your classic community fundraisers, and they put the FUN in fundraising! You might plan car washes, auctions, sports tournaments, special holiday events, or a booth at the county fair. Many groups sell a company’s products and retain a portion of the profits (search online for formal programs in your area). Community fundraisers are also a great way to provide “investment” opportunities to a large number of people. You’ll be able to raise awareness, recruit volunteers and solicit donations both large and small. Don’t forget to involve children as much as possible!
A word to the wise: Special-event fundraisers are extremely labor-intensive, and if they’re not planned carefully they can offer a poor return on your investment. If you’re doing fundraising on your own or with a small group of helpers, carefully consider whether a big gala event is really worth your time and effort. You don’t want to wear yourself out planning fundraisers…save that for the playspace build! And whatever your fundraiser, always make sure prices are set high enough to guarantee a decent profit. People won’t feel cheated if they know it’s for a good cause!
When done correctly, working with businesses requires relatively little effort for a potentially huge return. Local, regional, and national businesses that operate in your area may be willing to donate money, materials and/or services to your project. They have plentiful resources, and their support sends a strong message to the whole community. Start out by researching which businesses regularly contribute, how much they give, and to what kind of projects. Then, you’ll want to find out who in each company is responsible for making those decisions, and how the process works. It’s important to establish a personal connection, and to tailor your approach to each business’s needs.
Larger corporations typically have formalized programs for supporting community projects, sometimes requiring a grant application. Businesses of all sizes often request a certain level of recognition and publicity in return for their support. Your project can be great advertising for them! This mutually beneficial partnership is more commonly known as “company sponsorship,” and it’s one of the best ways to raise money for your project.
Find a talented grantwriter, and you’ll be made in the shade...remember that money is out there waiting to be claimed! Your city or county government, school board and/or parks department may be able to contribute a significant amount to your playspace fund. Most communities also have access to regional and local grant-making foundations that support citizen initiatives (e.g. the Anytown Community Foundation). Consult your library, mayor’s office, and your local United Way to find out which organizations and agencies operate in your area. You can also contact the Foundation Center. Thorough research is the key to finding the right foundation. It’s important to focus your efforts on those organizations whose missions and giving patterns are a good fit with your project – for example, agencies that support child welfare, public health, community development, public lands, and/or recreation. Many organizations also target projects of a certain size and budget; make sure yours falls within that range. Finally, be aware that the grant application process can be quite intensive and may take six months to a year...so start now!
These include the local charities that you’re probably most familiar with – churches, temples, and service clubs such as Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, and Junior League. Because these groups are organized around community service, they often contribute substantial amounts to playspace projects. Even if your local chapters or congregations can’t give money, you might approach them about donating materials and/or property, co-hosting fundraisers, or recruiting volunteers among their members.
Perhaps your organization already owns the space where your playspace will be built. If not, are the owners of your property actively involved in your project? They should be! Build a collaborative relationship and encourage them to “invest” in the space in a meaningful way – after all, a new playspace usually raises the property value significantly!
This includes profits from selling playspace T-shirts, calendars, cookbooks, or any other locally-made products that help support your project. Once again, make sure the selling price brings you a healthy profit! Souvenirs can be a no-fuss way to raise money throughout the life of your playspace.
Although "fundraising" usually refers to bringing in cash, don’t neglect the other resources your community has to offer. Many of the peripheral items needed for your project can be donated directly. These are called “in-kind donations,” and they can include food, tools, construction materials, babysitting, office supplies, craft supplies...almost everything on your expense sheet! Remember that in-kind donations can be particularly valuable when it comes to professional services: a local business that can’t donate cash may be willing to lend you an accountant, a lawyer, a publicist, a grantwriter, or a team of volunteers! These things are worth their weight in gold.
Remember that you can also collect in-kind donations totally unrelated to your playspace, and then auction or raffle off the items at a fundraising event. This is a great way to ramp up community involvement!
Before you and your committee become totally cash-crazed, it’s a good idea to take a few steps back and set fundraising goals that have nothing to do with money. What do you want to accomplish? What do you want your committee and your community to learn through your efforts? After all, a community-build playspace project can become a catalyst for so much more, and your fundraising team will be its most visible ambassador.
Here are a few ideas about what you can achieve through fundraising. Brainstorm your own ideas and let us know why you’re fundraising!
Great fundraisers can generate lots of publicity, which is sometimes just as valuable as cash. Remember, every person who becomes aware of your fundraising campaign becomes aware of your project and your mission. Even if they don’t give a penny, they may be able to help in other ways, and they’ll spread the word among their own network of friends and family.
“Awareness” also extends to some of the broader issues you’re raising, like the need for physical fitness among children, the budget crunch on local schools, and the state of public park space. Take this opportunity to promote healthy living and learning for everyone!
Through your fundraising effort, you’ll have an opportunity to establish working relationships with elected officials, public employees, media personalities, business owners, volunteer organizations, and neighborhood leaders. In the short term, this will help get your playground built; in the long term, it will create a living blueprint for enacting real, positive change in your community. The more people you involve, the better! (And be sure to treat them like people, not like ATM machines!)
After all, people who become involved in one successful project often catch the social-change bug. You’ll be amazed at the resources found lying dormant in your own backyard, and you’ll find people saying, "If we can do this today, what can we do tomorrow?"
A big, visible fundraiser at the beginning of your project can give you just the oomph you need, even if it doesn’t raise much money. KaBOOM! worked with one community in California that decided to stage a spaghetti dinner and charge only $1 a plate. Even though they didn’t break even that night, they got the names and contact information of 400 interested people. All of their planning committee members came from that one dinner!
Who can resist the face of a child? Not many people, which is why involving children in fundraisers is a practical, savvy thing to do. But there’s more! Involvement in fundraising can give kids the opportunity to learn real-world lessons in math, accounting, civics, architectural design, media relations, letter-writing, personal responsibility, and other valuable skills.
Involving children also gives them a sense of ownership toward their playground – once they’ve helped make it a reality, they’ll be much more likely to protect and maintain it. And they may go on to lead community projects of their own!
We know that fundraising can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be a chore! Fundraising events should be something for everyone (even the organizers) to look forward to. Give your community something to remember! We’ve seen numerous playground fundraisers, from a “Bubbles & Burps” auction to a Halloween haunted house, become beloved community events that outlive the project itself.