The Art of Raising Funds: The Pay Your Way Guide

Ryan Oelrich

Written by
Ryan Oelrich

When I was 8 years old I organized my first lemonade stand. We lived in the small town of Helena, Montana, so attracting crowds wasn’t always an easy task. I’d watched friends sell lemonade before and make $5-$10. I decided I wanted to make at least double this amount, but I realized I’d need some sort of attraction that my friends didn’t have. At 8 years old, I had already come to the conclusion that the younger you are the cuter you are perceived. I knew I wasn’t nearly as cute as my 5-year-old sister and 2-year-old little brother, whom relatives were always fussing over and referring to as “absolutely adorable!” As such, I recruited (or perhaps bribed with candy) my two younger siblings to act as my marketing team. My sister I put in a pretty Sunday dress and matching bonnet with white lace gloves. In her hands I placed a baby guinea pig whose name was Snickers and a sign advertising my lemonade. My baby brother I put in a cowboy outfit complete with cowboy hat and little boots. I tethered him to the table (he had a habit of wandering off) with a jump rope, also holding a sign. They both waved and smiled at all cars that drove by. In an hour’s time we’d attracted a smiling crowd, and I had a coffee can full with over $25. Some individuals gave money without even taking lemonade.

This was my first venture into the world of fundraising. After that I moved onto bigger and better events and projects to raise funds for causes and organizations I cared about. In my early teens I discovered online auctions. I would spend hours looking over items that were selling on eBay and other auction sites and the prices they were selling for. I started creating lists of such items and then started visiting yard sales every weekend, where I purchased items off of my list.

I purchased an antique World War 1 medical kit for $5, which I turned around and sold for $75 online. I purchased an entire lot of old wagon wheels, mining pick axes and equipment left over from an old mine for $100. I turned around and sold most of the wheels for $100 each and the axes for $50 to $75 apiece. I contacted a merchant in California who had provided a lot of medieval armor and weaponry for a Hollywood movie, and I made him an offer for all of the used items once the movie was over. He sold them to me, and I resold the items for profit.

I certainly made some mistakes along the way, but I learned some very valuable lessons in return. I performed puppet shows at my church, and to purchase new equipment I was up at 4 a.m. every Sunday baking cinnamon rolls. Every Sunday I’d sell several dozen, but I thought if I baked four times as many I could then make four times the profit. I baked several hundred rolls one Sunday morning and only sold three dozen. The rest all had to be given or thrown away, which ate up all my profit for that week. That’s how I learned the important lesson of supply and demand.

Fundraising is now an integral part of my professional career, and I find it very rewarding to help an organization raise the funds needed to carry out its mission of improving the world. As such, I was very excited when we started writing the “2014 Pay Your Way Guide” to aid students and individuals in fundraising for their own charitable causes, educational trips, and rewarding projects. We asked students from across the United States to send us their fundraising ideas that had and hadn’t worked. We then worked with a committee of students to review the ideas, stories, and suggestions and choose those that would be the most helpful. Utilizing students in every stage of the process assured that the guide would be easy for any student to understand and use. I also reached out to colleagues in the fundraising world to ask for their advice, ideas, and warnings. All of this information we then poured into the fundraising guide.

The 2014 Pay Your Way Guide is an excellent resource for students and adults alike who need to fundraise. It includes over 100 of the best fundraising ideas, step-by-step instructions, tips, templates, resources, stories, and more to aid you in reaching your money-raising goals. The stories include both successes and approaches that didn’t go well, so you can learn from the experiences of other fundraisers. Plus, all proceeds from the guide go to support the Ambassadors Foundation Scholarship Fund, so by helping yourself you’re also helping another student who needs it.

The Pay Your Way Student Guide is available online for $10 at http://ambassadors-foundation.myshopify.com. Pre-purchase yours today and it will be sent to you in November. All proceeds from the sale of the guides go to support the Ambassadors Foundation Scholarship Fund.

Here are some basic fundraising tips I’ve learned over the years:

  1. Choose a fundraiser that’s capable of raising the funds you need. For instance, if you need to raise $1,000, operating one lemonade stand is not going to raise the funds required. Be realistic when making your selection.
  2. Recruit your friends, colleagues, and family and utilize their resources. Educate them on what you’re trying to raise funds for and why it’s important. Ask for their help in advertising your fundraiser as well as helping to operate it. You never know what resource someone might have that you can use to help you reach your goals.
  3. If it’s for a good cause never be afraid to ask for a donation. If you want to hold a spaghetti dinner for a good cause, don’t’ just charge for the meal; ask a grocery store to donate the supplies.
  4. Be wary of the weather! I’ve seen many a perfectly planned fundraiser meet its demise and even lose money because of the weather. Have a backup plan if the weather frowns on you, and try to steer away from fundraisers that are too reliant on good weather.
  5. Closely watch and track your expenses. I was hired to help with a fundraiser that had a goal of raising $250,000 for over a dozen different charitable organizations. Already over-worked staff members from each of these nonprofits were required to help with the event. A professional event organizer was hired to oversee the event. Elaborate decorations were purchased, delicious food ordered, terrific entertainment hired, and an amazing venue booked. The event was well attended and over $250,000 raised, however, more and more expense receipts started to trickle in. After all was said and done the event cost the organizations money. Closely monitor your expenses as they can add up very quickly. Create a budget in advance, and always ask yourself if an expense is really needed to achieve your goals. After all, every dollar spent is one less dollar raised.

For more fundraising tips, purchase the Pay Your Way Guide online at: http://ambassadors-foundation.myshopify.com