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Fundraising Reflections: Thoughts From the Field

Jul 15, 2019

Thomas Ruggieri, director of bands for Boardman High School in Youngstown, Ohio, offers insight on raising funds for student travel.

Then and Now

I paid for my freshman band trip to New York and the Macy’s Parade by selling boxes of M&Ms door-to-door. In 1979, the trip cost around $300 per student; a similar itinerary today would cost about $800. Likely, few of my students would be allowed to go further than one or two houses to sell anything.

Fundraising for my band program and trips has been affected by many changes, yet we travel each year. Amid many fundraising projects in my career, I’ve learned the only sure thing is change.

Boardman Band and Orchestra Parents ran a weekly bingo game, bringing in more than $80,000 yearly. We stopped when local internet cafés started popping up. A citrus fruit sale was big; a couple of bad crop years sent customers to grocery stores, rendering the project more trouble than profit. Despite most every brochure, coupon book and discount card project, nothing replaced bingo.

No single fundraising project will give us what we once had. Unique products are rare and don’t remain unique for long. Gone are the days when customers willingly paid more for something, for the students. We’ve changed with the times.

What Works for Us

Brochure, Flyer and Coupon Sales: We try to deal with local companies, such as food vendors and a greenhouse that won’t inflate prices. Their incentive to donate a portion of their profit comes from increased traffic.

Annual Events: Night at the Races, Pasta Dinner, Tag Day, Car Wash, Band Night and Casino/Winery Bus Trips bring revenue, while basket and 50/50 raffles during some events increase profits.

Corporate Sponsorship: Local businesses donate funds or services in exchange for links on our website and print acknowledgment and announcements at performances.

Dine-to-Donate: Monthly, we distribute coupons or flyers for a local or national restaurant. When diners present the flyer, a portion of their purchase comes to us.

Donations for Performances: We charge a nominal admission fee for most school-year band and jazz concerts. The jazz ensembles continue with four or five summer performances. We’re in high demand at local parks and arts festivals and receive nice donations for these appearances.

Who Really Pays for Trips?

I encourage students to broaden their customer base beyond immediate family and friends. I don’t want parents feeling obligated and burnt out by countless fundraisers. Those students and parents less likely to stray from their comfort zone still sell mostly to family and co-workers.

We scrutinize our efforts to find products and events that appeal to band families. We evaluate quality, convenience, value, necessity, uniqueness and fun, to provide value for supporters.

Most parents realize they can more directly pay for their children’s trips by writing a check instead of buying cookie dough, yet fundraising has other benefits. Sometimes, it’s the only way a family can afford a trip. It’s an excellent way to make students—especially younger ones without jobs—more responsible for the privilege of a trip.

I hope my students’ customers always see the true value of music education and student travel.

Written by Thomas Ruggieri.
Edited by Amy L Charles, Editorial Director for
 Teach & Travel.
This article originally appeared in Teach & Travel.