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 Volunteer Firefighting Fundraising

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Date last updated: Wednesday, August 22, 9:58 PST

Fundraising: Work Smarter, Not Harder

If your department is anything like mine, you probably spend more time planning and executing fundraisers than actually fighting fires. This is simply due to the fact that while we may not have a fire every month, we will have electric bills.  

I'm sure you also have your "normal" fundraisers that you have been doing for 50 or so years. But there are ways to work smarter, rather than harder, for your money. 

Let's start with the basics. Our goal in fundraising is to make the most money with the least amount of work. As a gauge for this, I use my "McDonald's" theory. Simply stated, if you can make more money per hour working at McDonald's, then you need to do something different. 

Whenever you do a fundraiser, you should track your man-hours. You will then be able to concentrate on those fundraisers with a higher man-hour rate. To figure out the man-hour rate, take the number of personnel who worked, multiply it by the hours put in, and then divide the profit by that number, i.e. 10 people working four hours each to raise $1,000 would be $25/hour.  

If you look at your current fundraisers, I am sure you will immediately find that some pass the McDonald's test and others don't. Those fundraisers which either have a low man-hour requirement or high gross profit — gross profit is equal to total sales, minus cost of goods — will be the ones that pass the test.   

Crawfish fry
While you may have been doing a crawfish fry every year, you may find from this test that your time would be better spent on a raffle or other event. Ideally you're looking for something that will raise the most money for the least work. I know it will be hard to get some to understand that you should do things differently, but in the long run you will be better off.   

Once you have decided to look at other fundraisers, how do you make sure they will work and be profitable? The first step is to take a good look at your department. What do you need the funds for? How much do you need? Can you show the public the benefit of supporting you? 

If you are raising funds for a specific need, let the public know.  Remember, we are doing a sales and marketing function here. It is much easier to get the public to fund a project that they can see and understand. If you need a new fire truck, show them why and what you are doing to fund it. It's a very strong motivator for people to know that the new apparatus may end up saving their family's life and home one day.   

Next, look at your manpower situation. While we all have a core group of people who usually help out, the big question is how big is that core? The fundraisers you're able to do will differ if you have a group of 10 people versus 50 people. If you have the luxury of a large mass of manpower, you should look at fundraisers that are manpower intensive, but with high returns. But it's crucial to remember not to bite off more then you can chew.  

Finally, look at your target market. You need to understand what your market is looking for and willing to buy. In some areas, a gun raffle or crawfish bake might not do well, but in others it would be a hot product.

Bounce ideas
Before you do any fundraiser, bounce the idea off of your members, their families, and friends.  If you get a positive response, try it. Anything other then an immediate positive response should be looked at and analyzed.   

Now that you have done your research and chosen a good fundraiser, the hard part starts. A great idea, without good execution, is just an idea and will not raise a penny. The fire service loves to use the saying, "prior proper planning prevents piss poor performance," and this goes doubly for fundraisers. 

Planning and execution should not be done by just one or two members, or even a committee. Someone should take the lead and develop a list of tasks that need to be done. These tasks be split up across the department and assigned to those members that may have the best skills in each area. Everyone has a skill — it is a good leader's job to find out what it is. 

One of the most overlooked aspects of a fundraising program is marketing.  When you are assigning tasks, make sure marketing is covered well.  It may include signs, flyers, newspaper articles, making contacts, and inviting important people in the community to the event. Remember, you will only make money if people know about your function and actually attend it.

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