Fundraising: The Unique Problems for Small Schools

When it comes to fundraising, small schools not only have all the same issues confronting larger schools, but they have some extra challenges as well. In Australia, many of the smallest schools are isolated and rural, bringing with it an extra set of issues (see fundraising ideas for remote and rural schools here). However, there are many small schools, of less than 100 students in the major cities. Find out what problems they face as well as some solutions.

1.Limited pool of volunteers

Low numbers of students typically means low numbers of parents, and as a result – fewer volunteers. Even in the most community-minded of schools with high participation rates, you will still come up against small numbers.


There are plenty of fundraisers which can be run with small teams, sometimes with as little as one or two organisers. Engaging a company which offers products to sell can be a good option, as they often provide much of the marketing and accounting materials, such as letters, posters, tally forms and even the wording to put in newsletters. Many are also run online, removing the need for the students/school to handle cash or even distribute goods.

If you prefer to do a DIY fundraiser, you still have options. A unique idea is the Bieberthon (click here for a story about a school who successfully fundraised over a thousand dollars in a couple of days) – it requires an active school community, but as far as organising, can be done with one or two people.


2.Limited pool of potential donors/customers

Perhaps even more concerning is a small school’s limited customer base. Many fundraising efforts concentrate on selling something within the school community – to students, families and friends, or asking that community to sponsor, donate, buy tickets or attend an event. If you only have 50 students – that means you have only 50 families (often less if you take into account siblings) to act as the source of all fundraising income.


Fundraising ideas that you can sell to the wider community are the best option here for small schools and groups. This means that the event you are promoting, or the product you are selling must have broad appeal – you can no longer rely on tugging the heart strings of Grandma and the kind next-door-neighbour.

Products with broad appeal such as voucher books and unusual confectionary items are popular to sell to the general public, as are raffles with major prizes such as holidays. All of these are available through fundraising companies who assist with many elements of the fundraiser.

For those who prefer to DIY you could run a carwash or even consider a crowdfunding campaign if you are raising money for a specific cause. Check out an article on crowdfunding for schools here.



Having less people and less resources can be draining on a small community, and it is important that the school P&C/P&T find a good balance between fundraising ideas that are fresh and appealing, but are also guaranteed and can be achieved with the available resources. The loss of a key individual or family, or having an entire class (and their parents) graduate and leave the school can have a disproportionately large impact on a small school.


Having an approachable and welcoming parent committee is essential, with a strong outreach program to new families and groups within the school and greater community. This is critical to maintaining a constant supply of new volunteers and ideas.

Ensuring there is a well-considered succession plan for when key individuals leave is also important – and this also applies to teachers who may be particularly active and involved with school fundraising. Keeping good handover records is also important – saving future volunteers time and headaches as they can easily access files that document decisions made (what worked and what didn’t), suppliers and donors contact details, templates, check-lists and more.

4.Fewer fundraising options

The success of a fundraiser is not dependent on the size of the school, but choosing one that works often requires a bit of creativity. Due to the issues mentioned above, not all ideas will be possible in a small school – either you wouldn’t be able to make sales targets or you don’t have enough students to justify to a particular event.


There is no reason why small schools have to go it alone. Schools can combine their efforts to run a larger fundraising program, or join forces with groups within the community – who have their own fundraising needs.

Joining a small school with a local sports club or RSL would see a huge pool of ages, talent and ideas, and as long as each group understood their role and how the fundraising money would be shared, the advantage would be to vastly increase the size of the potential customer base for each group.

Although not all schools are chosen as voting stations when there are state or federal elections, a small non-voting school could approach a larger school known to be a popular voting spot and ask if they can run some market stalls alongside their inevitable cake stall/sausage sizzle. Alternatively, they can find a voting station that doesn’t traditionally hold a sausage sizzle/cake stall, and ask if they can help ‘host’.

Small schools can also consider ‘renting’ their space – such as a school oval, playground or undercover area to another group wishing to hold an event – such as a vintage car show, a pet show, seminar or fashion show. You could also rent your school oval for a car boot sale or movie night.

Are you part of a small school? What fundraisers do you find most successful?

Author: Shannon Meyerkort

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