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Guidelines for Chapter Fundraising

From ChapterGram Newsletter, June 2014

So, your chapter wants to raise funds! “Why?” should be the first question you ask. Chapters have done fundraising as long as there have been chapters, the most common fundraising activity being the good old fly-in breakfast. But chapters have come up with many other creative ways to raise funds. However, one of the most frequently asked questions from chapters is “Do you have any good fundraising ideas?”

How to plan and manage fundraising activities is a common concern among all chapters. There are several things to consider. In many ways, these points are more important than the details of the fundraising program itself. Therefore, before going into details on individual fundraising programs, let’s take some time here to discuss these important points.

What’s the Need?

Before your chapter decides to raise money, you should first clearly determine what the money is needed for and how much. Are you trying to raise funds for general chapter operating expenses or a special project? Examine the chapter income and expense budget to determine what the total financial needs are and how the proposed fundraiser fits into the overall budget.

This assessment requires a good understanding of a chapter’s goals and what the organization is trying to accomplish. Be specific in what the needed funds are for and it will be easier to plan and implement the fundraising activities.

Get the Whole Chapter Committed and Involved

One of the biggest mistakes a chapter can make is not getting the whole chapter committed to the fundraiser. Stop for a second and consider this: Let’s say your chapter needs to raise $1,000 to put in a new concrete patio next to the clubhouse. Will the whole chapter get behind a fundraiser for this amount, or might your chapter be better off asking everyone in the chapter to donate $10?

This amount of time and energy, not to mention some costs for fundraising materials, might involve more energy than simply asking everyone to throw in the $10. On the other hand, if your chapter is trying to raise a larger amount of money, it may be necessary to do a multiyear fundraising program. Here your chapter is going to need solidarity and total commitment among the members to keep the effort going.

There are several approaches to get everyone in your chapter committed, but one of the best ways is to bring everyone together and open up discussion on the need for the money and the value the end result will bring. When this discussion leads to a consensus, the hard part is done. A common goal is the foundation of commitment.

Achieving this could involve something as basic as having every member sign a big sheet of paper with a pledge on it that says, “We (our chapter) are committed to this fundraising effort so that we can reach our goals of having our own chapter clubhouse and hangar. We pledge to give this effort our total commitment.” (Sounds a little like what those guys did in 1776! I think they called it the Declaration of Independence!)

Again, the bottom line: Make sure everyone in your chapter is committed to the fundraiser and the goal it will make possible!

Make It a ‘Fun-Raiser’

Fundraising activities can involve a lot of time and hard work. So why not treat them as a “fun” activity, with an emphasis on everyone working together, having a good time, and accomplishing a worthwhile objective? Select fundraising activities that reinforce your members’ areas of interest. This is why fly-in breakfasts are always popular and successful - we enjoy the airplanes and association with pilots so much that the “hard” work and stress are greatly diminished.

Get plenty of volunteers so no one is overburdened. Make sure the tasks are well planned and organized. Try to get people working together as teams. People will volunteer and willingly work very hard on things they consider “fun,” so try to approach the project with that attitude and make it another fun chapter activity.

Make a Plan

With the fundamental elements of need and commitment set, now it is time to make a plan. Just how big or how small will depend on your chapter and the need your chapter is trying to fulfill. Regardless of the size of the project, there are several planning elements of your chapter you will need to consider.

Goal. This step ties directly back to the need. Here your chapter needs to clearly determine exactly how much money you’re trying to raise. If your chapter raises $10,000 and it turns out your chapter really needs $20,000, even though you succeed in raising $10,000, the members of the chapter are going to be disappointed and less likely to try again if their success ultimately turns out to be a failure. Make sure your chapter knows how much money it aims to raise and that it is enough.

Concept. The term “concept” is synonymous with “idea.” In other words, what is your chapter going to do to raise funds, i.e. pancake breakfast, raffle, recycling drive, etc.? The concept must meet the need, so if your chapter is trying to raise $10,000, the question must be asked: “Will a pancake breakfast raise that much money?”

Maybe it will take several fundraisers over time to achieve your chapter’s goal. In the concept step, your chapter can do a reality check to make sure the plan or plans will meet the identified need.

Activity. How do you determine what type of fundraiser to conduct? Here again, the best way to do this is through a group effort. Take stock of the skills and resources of the chapter members. Your collective abilities are a major factor in the ultimate success of the effort; try to select fundraising activities that capitalize on your strengths. Regardless, working as a group will go back to getting everyone committed to the fundraiser, and it will help your chapter ensure you have a winning idea. Figure out what makes sense, which usually means don’t let one person decide, unless you are sure that he knows what he is doing!

You’ve likely heard the old adage “That’s like trying to sell ice cubes to an Eskimo.” There is some real truth in this saying. Several chapters have made the mistake of assuming non-aviators want to buy a raffle ticket for an aviation product, such as a handheld GPS or headset. Think for a second; why would a non-aviator want to spend $1, $5, or even $10 for a chance on something he has no idea how to use, let alone where to use it?

If your chapter is going to have a raffle, figure out what people want to win. If your chapter is going to put on a meal, figure out what people want to eat.

Get the permits. Before launching any fundraising effort, make sure what your chapter is going to do is legal! Fundraisers, such as raffles, casino nights, bingo, 50/50 drawings, auctions, breakfasts or dinners, swap meets, etc., all may require licenses, fees, or inspections.

The silent approach is not a good idea. The first thing your chapter should do is to ask about these legal issues. In many states, it is necessary to have a license in order to hold a raffle, bingo, or casino night. The required license for a nonprofit organization might only require that your chapter follow some basic rules and pay a minimal fee. The downside to ignoring the license requirement could be a sizable fine!

If the fundraiser is going to be some type of meal, it may be necessary to have the kitchen - where the food is prepared - inspected. Make sure to follow a few health rules, such as wearing plastic gloves and making sure people who handle money do not handle the food. The last thing you want to happen is for someone from another local club to raise a health-related issue in the middle of your program because his organization got slapped with a fine.

Remember that it may not only be the inspectors you have to watch out for. Someone who belongs to an organization that was forced to follow the rules may turn into a “watchdog” and give your chapter a hassle in the middle of your event. Even worse, he may report your chapter to the authorities. The bottom line: If you are going to have a fundraiser, make sure it complies with the law and official rules or regulations.

Budget. As mentioned earlier, budgeting is important. If the goal is $10,000, make sure to add in a reasonable amount for expenses. Remember that you have to spend money to make money, but make sure your expenses are not more than is needed. In fact, if at all possible, get someone to donate the money necessary for expenses. This will send a valuable message to all of the chapter members that the chapter leaders are committed to not wasting the chapter’s money. Nothing will turn off chapter members quicker than if they believe the leaders are wasting money while they are trying to raise money.


Rally. The successful launch of any fundraising program is like the successful launch of an airplane on its first flight. If the pilot pulls the airplane off the ground too early, it will wallow along on the ground until it has enough lift to fly away. If your chapter’s fundraising program gets a bad launch, it may take a while before it really takes off, or worse, it may not get off the ground before the end of the runway.

Be sure to carefully plan the launch of your chapter fundraiser; make it whatever your planning group thinks is appropriate, but remember this is a launch. You want it to go up with a big fanfare, energizing the members - even the few doubting ones - so that your fundraiser will succeed.

Updates. If you have ever participated in a community-wide fundraising effort, you will notice the planners often erect a sign in the middle of town indicating its progress. This is important because it keeps members inspired. Obviously, if your chapter is doing a breakfast, it is more difficult to put up a sign; however, it is possible.

Here’s a little secret. During EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, there are several goals set in various areas of the event, such as food sales. There is a flag on one of the restaurants which few people, if any, notice. However, that flag is not all the way to the top of the pole. Do you know why? Better yet, do you know what it means when it goes to the top of the pole?

You figure it out, but it is a rallying point for those people who set the goal and are working very hard to reach their goal. Your chapter could do this at a pancake breakfast to let all of the members know your goal has been reached.

Celebration. This is a “no-brainer”! If your chapter wants to do future fundraisers, be sure to have a celebration when you finish one. If this isn’t included in the budget, it should be. Better yet, get someone to sponsor this. Regardless, make sure to celebrate your success.

What qualifies as success? The total fundraising project - even if your chapter does not quite reach the goal, the fundraiser should still be celebrated. After all, your chapter ends up with money that it did not have before. You’ll always learn from the experience what worked and what didn’t. And you should also be looking for those who did an outstanding job - they may be future leaders.

But celebrate your successful fundraiser and move forward. Your chapter will be stronger after a successful fundraiser where everyone commits to the goals and the effort in trying to get there.

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