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Date last updated: Thursday, January 4, 12:37 PST
Last week we looked at fundraising basics, and as promised, this week we will browse through the submissions at VolunteerFD.org to pick out the 'cream of the crop.'
When I did my research through the over 400 submissions at http://www.volunteerfd.org/fund.php I found that four fundraisers seem to be very popular, and pass the ‘McDonald’s’ test. These four include: Bingos, Raffles, BBQs/Bakes, and Letter Drives.
Most states allow non-profits to hold bingo or casino nights, and fire departments have done a good job of capitalizing on this opportunity. Bingos usually raise between $500 to as much as $3000 in one night. Even if you had to use 10 people to hold the bingo, a $500 night passes the McDonald’s test.
The Liberty Fire Co #1 holds a weekly bingo on Thursday nights. (http://www.volunteerfd.org/fund_display.php?did=288 ) They raise between $300 to $2000 a night. On the high end, that would be almost $100,000 a year! One of the important things they state is that this is a steady income. By doing an ongoing fundraiser once a week, they have developed an income source that they can count on, and it essentially markets itself.
The requirements to hold a bingo vary by area, but the bottom line is, the devil is in the details. Make sure you track everything, and keep play fair for everyone. There can be no playing favorites, and no ‘free-plays’. Check with your state as to what permits you may need, and file in advance. Realize that while doing a weekly bingo is a great cash source, it can wear out members to do one every week, so duties should be rotated. To accomplish this, the Stephen’s City Volunteer Fire and Rescue assigns ‘bingo teams’ to each member on the night they are voted in. (Nice method.. http://www.volunteerfd.org/fund_display.php?did=519 )
Raffles require much of the same work with the details and your state as a Bingo. Raffles range from big prizes such as a Dodge Durango raffled off by the North Haven Fire Company #2 (http://www.volunteerfd.org/fund_display.php?did=210) to the turkeys raffled off by the Patterson Volunteer Fire Department. (http://www.volunteerfd.org/fund_display.php?did=768 )
The Dodg Durango raffle raised $19,000 while the turkeys raised $200. This is an area where you need to know your market. The Cornplanter Volunteer Fire Department raffled off a gun, and raised $3500. (http://www.volunteerfd.org/fund_display.php?did=1236) I know that while their gun raffle went well, it wouldn’t do half as much money here in my suburban area. One of the most unique raffles I have seen is the Beddington Fire Department’s raffle of an Orange County Choppers custom motorcycle. (http://www.bvfdfair.com) I would be interested to see what the results of the raffle are, especially after they pull my raffle ticket as the winner. ;)
The goal with raffles is always to get the prize donated. If you can get the prize donated, your only cost is ticket production and distribution. Some states allow you to mail raffle tickets, and in others you may have to go door to door to hand them out. There is a debate between having one big prize, or a bunch of small prizes. You may have to try a few different arrangements to find the right combination. I do suggest limiting your raffles to once, or twice a year as to not saturate your market.
It seems that fire departments like to play with flames and cook things, because most have some type of BBQ, bake, feed, or whatever you want to call burning food to sell to others… ;) While politicians may have the market on rubber chicken dinners at $1000/plate, fire departments love to BBQ chicken. The Damascus Volunteer Fire Department holds a chicken bbq during their Appalachian trail days, and raises $4,000! That’s a lot of chicken… (http://www.volunteerfd.org/fund_display.php?did=310 )
Others like to get up early in the morning to flip pancakes… (I’ve flipped my share, and dropped more then my share…) The Corinth Volunteer Fire Department does a Christmas breakfast with Santa. (http://www.volunteerfd.org/fund_display.php?did=541 ) By doing a ‘themed’ breakfast, you can draw additional traffic, and don’t forget to sell pictures with Santa and the fire truck.
Whatever food you sell, this is an area where marketing is key. Be sure to sell tickets in advance, and do the best you can to promote the fundraiser before. Remember last week when I said to plan ahead? I found a great example of a check list and planning document submitted by the Osage Fire Protection District. (http://www.volunteerfd.org/fund_display.php?did=695 )
Many departments send out an annual request for donations in one form or another. The concept is simple, write a letter, beg for money, and hope the public sends you a check. The South Polk County VFD does it right, they send a letter stating the departments accomplishments and activities, with a ‘gentle’ reminder that they operate on donations. (http://www.volunteerfd.org/fund_display.php?did=716 )
If you want to save money, and not have to taste stamps forever, go door to door to hand out your letter. Be sure to take your apparatus with you, and be dressed in your best uniform. This is a great public relations event, and I can guarantee that when little Tommy gets his picture taken with the truck, a donation will follow.
While we have looked at the top four, there are many other options. (I plan to write a follow up column next year with more…) But I thought I would leave you with a few ‘unique’ fundraisers.
Our department sells ‘Flowering Onions’ at our local fair. You may know them better as Blooming Onions or Awesome Blossoms from your local chain restaurants. The onions themselves cost less then $1 to make, but do require blood, sweat, and tears, in order to make. When you figure that it takes 15 minutes of prep time, and they sell for $6 or more, that’s a profit of $20/man-hour. Not bad.
How about the Chase City Volunteer Fire Department’s Motorcycle Show and Poker Run? (http://www.volunteerfd.org/fund_display.php?did=628) And of course, my favorite, the Wurtland Fire Department’s Car beating. (http://www.volunteerfd.org/fund_display.php?did=941 ) One day I’ll have to host a computer beating around here. ;) Creative fundraisers work, but as with any fundraiser, make sure they are worth your time.
What are your thoughts? Discuss this column at: http://www.volunteerfd.org/fund_display.php?did=716 Also, be sure to attend VolunteerFD.org’s Cruisin for Solutions fundraising roundtable.. (http://cruise.volunteerfd.org)
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