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August 2005 How to Choose the Best Product Fundraiser
By: Sandra Sims

Many groups including schools, scouts, and churches have used product fundraisers.  Some have achieved great success with huge profits.  Other programs have left volunteers wondering, "Is this really worth it?"  Let's find out if fundraising with product sales is right for your group and how to find the best program.

Is a Product Fundraiser Right for Your Group?
There are several factors to consider when deciding if a product type fundraiser is right for your church or organization.   

Be aware if selling products could cause conflicts with your church's accepted practices or with its members.  Discuss product fundraiser ideas with church leaders and anticipate the level of support the congregation would have for various types of programs.  If you have done product fundraisers in the past perhaps you can use previous experiences to create a better program this time around.

Consider the purpose of the fundraiser and how much money will need to be raised.  There are certain occasions where product fundraisers would not raise the amount needed.  For example, a candy sale would not be appropriate for a building campaign. 

Product fundraisers can actually be used to compliment the mission of your church or organization when planned well.  A church sponsored weight loss or wellness program could sell cookbooks that focus on healthy recipes.  Holding community wide sales such as a pumpkin patch in October or a flower bulb sale in the spring provide an excellent way to connect with people in your community.

Generating Product Sales
Product fundraisers usually take a lot of sales to generate a good income.  Consider how many people will be willing to help with the sale.  Who can you count on to coordinate orders and delivery?  Some types of product sales require more sales people while others can be successful with just a few volunteers.

Having group sales or booths can dramatically increase the number of sales.  Depending upon the type of product you may be able to set up a table at local grocery stores to solicit sales.   Holding a table before and after church services for several weeks in a row will provide a convenient way to reach your congregation.  Choosing a type of product fundraiser that will work well at a booth will help the program be successful.

Type of Merchandise
The type of product can greatly affect your outcome. Here is a brief list of popular products:

  • Gift merchandise (usually through a catalog)
  • Coupon Books or Discount Cards
  • National Brand and Specialty Candy Bars
  • Boxed Candy, Cookies and Nuts
  • Other Food, Such As Pizza or Cookie Dough
  • Flowers, Bulbs or Plants

Besides some of the factors we've already discussed consider what type of product would most appeal to your congregation.  Offering appealing products will make it easy for them to support your sale. No matter what kind of merchandise you choose it should be of good quality.  Especially when it comes to food products the available flavors, ingredients and perceived quality are important factors.  Name brand products may sell better than off brand or generic label items.   

Having an exclusive product could also be a big incentive for purchasing.  Find out what fundraisers other groups in your area are doing.  You don't want to be competing with the sale of similar items.  Is the merchandise easily available in retail stores?  If so this could negatively affect your program. 

The time of year of the sale could either help or hinder a fundraiser.  Many products do better in the fall because of holiday buyers.  Poinsettia sales at Christmas and Easter lily sales in the spring are often popular products for churches to sell.

Another factor to consider in regard to the type of product is the ease of delivery.  Some foods like cookie dough require refrigeration.  Other products, like candles, could be heavy or breakable.  Be prepared for these types of storage and delivery needs.

Commission Rate and Profit Margin
Fundraising programs vary in the amount of profit given to your group.  Commission rates range anywhere from 30% to 75% of the sale price of the products.  For example, for a $10 product on a 50% profit program, your group would keep $5.  Programs with 50% profit or more are usually preferred. 

Commission is only one factor, however.  If you find a program that you think will sell like crazy, but it offers less than 50% commission, you could possibly make more money in the long run because of the high quantity of sales. 

Some programs offer a stepped scale that delivers a higher commission based upon total sales.  This can be an advantage if your group has the capacity to sell a large number of items.  However, when considering stepped scale base your projected income on the lowest scale.  If the fundraiser will not be worthwhile on the lowest commission rate consider other options.  

Determine if there are any other costs associated with the program such as shipping or product brochures.  Find out if the fundraising company offers these free to your organization or if you have to pay for them.  Extraneous costs will influence the overall profit of the fundraiser program.

Price of Products
Having an acceptable price for individual merchandise will make it easier to make sales.  Products that are priced too high could discourage people from buying, while prices that are too low reduce your profits.  Compare the product fundraiser prices with other fundraiser programs and with similar items which are locally available to determine if they are competitive. 

The price per item will also help determine the number of total items that need to be sold.  Let's say you want to raise $1,000 with a 50% profit program.  You could sell 2000 $1 candy bars or 400 boxes of $5 candy.  Which do you think would be easier for your group?  If it's a 300-member youth group that can sell at school the $1 candy bars could be easy.  If it were a 20 member club the boxed candy would be better.

Evaluate the Fundraising Company
In addition to the factors listed above consider the following aspects when choosing a company: 

  • High Quality Products
  • How long its been in business
  • Responsive Customer Service
  • Clear, written policies and procedures
  • Refund and return policy
  • Timely shipment of your order

Add It All Up
After evaluating available fundraising programs on these criteria, narrow down your selection to the two or three top programs.  Now compare the relative advantages of each.  Which program would produce the most funds?  Which fundraising idea would most capture the attention and support of your congregation and/or community?  Consider the factors discussed and then choose the fundraising program that best meets your needs.

In summary, if you have a team of dedicated volunteers, a program with high-quality and popular products that are easy to sell and deliver, with a good average price and a high profit margin from a dependable fundraising company, you are on your way to a winning fundraiser!

Sandra Sims, "The Fundraising Coach," has been raising money for various charities for more than 10 years. She shares her fundraising tips for all types of non profit organizations on her Web site, StepByStepFundraising.com.

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Religious Product News