How to Recover from a Failed PTO Fundraiser

What happens if disaster strikes and your fundraiser totally flops?

There’s so much planning and preparation that goes into fundraising.

There’s also so many different like pieces parts that all have to come together.

If you know anything about cars and how they work, you now that it’s pretty amazing that cars do work! 

Cars have a bunch of moving parts.

If even just one of them is off, the car’s going to have trouble.

The thing is, PTO fundraisers are very similar to cars!

There might not be a million different moving parts, but it is more complicated than it seems at first blush.

There are probably at least 20 different elements that go into making a fundraiser successful:

  • Selecting the right fundraiser
  • Lucking out with the right fundraising company representative
  • Getting the right prizes.
  • Picking the unicorn products that every parent will want to buy
  • Timing your sale just right
  • And about two dozen other things as well!

But in reality, not all fundraisers do go well. 

Not all fundraisers hit their goal.

And you know that because you’re reading this post!

But then what?

Today’s post is going to give you some strategies to help cope with a failed fundraiser!

I’ll explore both things to do in the short term, plus long term for fundraising success!

Cut Expenses

First, you gotta get real with your PTO finances.

Unlike your personal finances where you can float some expenses on a credit card or get a loan, the same isn’t true for PTO.

Your PTO bank account can never fall below zero.

There’s not the same amount of wiggle room most people have personally.

If your fundraiser has failed to meet the goal, you’ll need to start cutting PTO expenses ASAP, unless the fundraiser was supplemental.

How much you’ll need to slash the PTO budget will depend on the size of the fundraising flop.

If the fundraiser was just a small one, added on in the Spring, then you won’t have to cut much or anything possibly.

But if it was the main fundraiser that failed, you’ll have to make some major adjustments.

Learn from my situation

Several years ago, the Fundraising Chair at one of my kids’ schools didn’t do her job.

The one and only fundraiser of the year brought just 30% of the goal.

It was a devastating result, but not surprising given the lack of dedication from this volunteer.

This particular PTO doesn’t have a lot of participation and is always struggling to find parents to fill roles, so that’s why this parent was in the fundraising role to begin with!

This PTO also doesn’t roll over a ton of money year to year (no PTO should, by the way!)

As a result of her failing so, so, so hard, we had to eliminate the vast majority of our plans for that year.

It was a sobering experience.

I was the Family Events chair and knew I could still pull off really fun programs with very little money.

I know how to stretch a buck and make things happen!

So we still had family events, but they were bare bones operations.

No frills or extras.

We also cut the staff appreciation budget and playground equipment.

Not the best case scenario by any means.

It was the most depressing PTO meeting I’ve ever had to endure!

The worst thing was that the Fundraising Chair didn’t look too upset and acted like it was no big deal!

Everyone else was mad and nobody was trying to hide it.

Schedule Another Fundraiser

The next possibility for recovering from a disastrous fundraiser is to get another fundraiser scheduled ASAP.

Look to see what the possibilities are and if there are none in the current school year, look to add an additional one next year.

Setting up a backup fundraiser isn’t a bad idea to do proactively, especially if your PTO is trying out a different type of fundraiser.

Because the fundraiser is new, your participation levels might not be the same as they’ve been in the past.

There could be a miscalculation of one of those many, many elements that need to be right and the fundraiser under performs.

With Plan B in already place, it’ll take a good amount of stress out of the equation!

Get Introspective

Your PTO is at risk of making the same mistake twice if you don’t take a look at why your fundraiser flopped in the first place.

Was the Krispie Kreme Donut sale the first week of January not such a great idea after all since so many people make a resolution to lose weight during that time of year?

Did the school fundraiser that you didn’t know about when you scheduled the PTO fundraiser beat you to the punch (and wallets) of parents?

Has your community not quite recovered from the latest recession?

Don’t assume you know why the fundraiser failed.

Go back and look at everything from the fundraiser type to the promotion of the fundraiser right on through and including the pick up date.

All of those things and everything in between those milestone matter when it comes to successful fundraising.

If you’re unsure about what you should be considering, you’l want to scroll to the bottom of this post and check out the Fundraising Formula guide I’ve put together!

Switch Gears Going Forward

Finally, to avoid another disaster going forward, switch up what didn’t work.

If it was the person in charge, like the without I told you about earlier, switch up volunteers or add in helpers to ensure there’s a different result for the next fundraiser.

Perhaps the timing was off like in the donut example?

Figure out a more suitable time when your fundraiser supporters aren’t still sticking to their New Year’s Resolutions.

If the fundraiser was promoted correctly, but people weren’t interested in the product, switch up your offerings.

The worst thing you could do is to not change anything and assume it was a weird blip.

That’s never the case, so you’ll want to come together as a group to figure it out without placing blame on anyone.

Watch this!

For even more on this topic, watch this video that goes into what I’ve talked about in this post a bit more!

What happens if your PTA/PTO fundraising falls short?

Even more help

Looking for the shortcut to fundraising success?

Follow the Fundraising Formula and you’ll spend less time getting all the pieces together and won’t stress out about forgetting a step in the process!

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