Bake Sale for school fundraisingThere are a lot of bake sale haters out there. You may even be one yourself. I know it’s easy to dismiss the most clichéd, most over-done, most dreaded of all the fundraisers in the known universe.

But, I’m here to defend the lowly bake sale. I’m here to champion the 8’ folding table parked out in front of the grocery store on a Saturday morning. I’m here to beat all the haters back and prove that there is still life in the timeless art of the bake sale.

First, however, let me begin by reminding all the nay-sayers about the profit margin at a bake sale- 100%. Not 40%, not, 60%, not even 75%. You heard right- it’s 100%! You don’t have to share your loot with anyone. No investment on the part of your school. Parents donate the material and labor, while the grocery store donates the retail space and the customer base. It’s the perfect deal.

Second, in my experience as an elementary school principal, there is no volunteer duty more popular with parents than “baking”. I’d get like three people to work the auction and one for writing thank you letters, but I’d have to spill over onto a second sheet of lined paper to make room for all the moms and dads who were willing to bake. You have to admit, a willing work force is hard to argue with.

Third, a bake sale is free PR. For those four hours or so on Saturday morning, everyone who walks into the store will see your sign advertising your organization. If you play it right, you’ve got a great opportunity to represent your school in a very cost-effective way.

Ok, but this bad reputation has got to come from somewhere, right? My guess is that the people who have become bake sale haters have experienced the lowest form of the art. I’m sure they’ve witnessed sorry looking Rice Crispy treats, poorly presented fruit cakes, and tired moms selling their wares with all the enthusiasm of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. The haters have probably looked at the receipts from such a bake sale and thought the effort just wasn’t worth it. $100, $200… Surely there has to be a better way to raise some quick cash.

And there is, I tell you! Have a good bake sale! The following nine items will add spice to the entire experience and will result in dramatically increased sales.

Plan Your Sale for a Big College Football Game Day
I suggest that when picking the date for your bake sale, visit the web site of your biggest local college football team and study their TV schedule. Try to peg your bake sale date to the biggest game of the season, preferably the most heated rivalry game. In my area, we’ve got the Michigan-Michigan State game or the Michigan-Ohio State game. These games have become a communal experience for most of the population. And, what does every self-respecting football fan want during the game? Yep you guessed it- food. Much of this food is purchased last minute on Saturday morning before the game. If you have your table out there at this time, you’re likely to see a lot more traffic looking for snack-y items. You’re in a great market position.

I would also suggest decorating your bake goods in the football team colors. Or perhaps someone could make football-shaped cookies with icing in the school’s colors. I know this may seem silly, but it’s marketing, baby!

Only Sell by Donation
I know this may sound risky to some folks, but trust me, it really works. Do not set any prices for any of the bake sale items. Make a large attractive sign that tells everyone that there is no charge for any of the items. However, you would greatly appreciate and welcome all donations.

Will you get someone who just walks up and takes a bag of cookies and doesn’t leave any payment? Sure, that’s possible, but really unlikely. Instead, you’re much more likely to get someone putting in a $10 bill for a small bag of cookies and not asking for any change.

By not setting any prices, you’re leaving it open to the generosity of peoples’ hearts when they approach your table. My feeling is that most people are generous and fair, and you’ll actually make more money by only taking donations than limiting yourselves to a fixed pricing structure.

Only Let People with Good Personalities Work the Table
Have you ever heard about that business book called “Fish!”? It’s about the Pike Street Fish Market in Seattle, Washington. The owners turned that market from a dilapidated, stinky old hanger into one of the most popular and profitable tourist attractions in all of Seattle in a very short period. How did they do it? One of the primary factors was the attitude of its fish mongers. The owners realized that the fish mongers were their sales force, and they were able to convince and train them to become engaged with their customers. They laughed while catching and throwing fish, they interacted with each other and with the customers, and they made that place fun. It was an amazing transformation.

I would suggest being very careful in choosing the people to work your bake sale table. Like the fish mongers, they have to be extroverted individuals. They can’t be shy little wallflowers, hanging back, letting customers blow by them. They can’t be afraid to create a little scene. Once they do, people walking by will stop to see what all the fuss is about. Once they’ve stopped by, your chances to make a sale greatly increase.

Advertise Your Cause
As I mentioned earlier in this article, you should definitely think about the best way to promote your school at the bake sale. If people walking by believe that you are working for a good cause, they will be more likely to drop that big donation for a small bag of cookies.

Not only should you have an attractive and professionally done banner with your school name on it, but you should also have material about your school ready to pass out. For example, you could have pamphlets and fliers ready that detail your school’s mission, your history, enrollment information, great achievements of your school, and current fundraising needs. Be ready to pass something out with each purchase. Give the people something to remember other than a tasty cheesecake.

A word of caution, be very aware of how your table is presented. If your signs are hand-lettered and home-made they could appear tacky, thus giving off a bad impression of your school. As a fundraising leader, you’ll have to find a tactful way to make sure you don’t allow signs made by people with good hearts but no artistic talents to be displayed.

Sell Pie of the Month Club Memberships
If you have a person in your school community who loves to bake and is actually good at it, consider selling “Pie of the Month” club memberships or something like that. Make a separate advertisement and make sure everybody making a purchase realizes that they can keep the love of the bake sale coming 12 months per year. Of course, all payments are expected up front, so you’ll have to feel confident your pie maker will deliver on the contract.

Decorate Your Items Well
I won’t mention any names, but I recently attended a function in my hometown that had a bake sale attached to it. I know the people organizing it meant well, and everybody’s busy, but, man, was that thing depressing. The people working it didn’t care, the people who baked the items didn’t care, and so the potential customers didn’t’ care either.

I looked down at the table and I saw Rice Crispy treats still uncut and in the beat up old pan; I saw store bought Chex-Mix unevenly distributed into low-grade baggies with no zip top; I saw a cake that looked like it had fallen on the floor and somebody has just picked it up and put it back on the table. They even had a cooler with soda cans inside, but no display telling us what kinds they were selling. I had to root around in the cooler to even see what they had.

I’m sorry to have to get down on folks, but if you want to do well in retail, you’ve got to think about your presentation. Think like Martha Stewart a little bit!

First of all, I would suggest asking parents when they volunteer to bake to make sure they decorate the items as much as possible. But, I would also recruit the craftiest person I know to be available when all the items first arrive for sale. Arm her with ribbon, bows, zip-lock baggies, pre-made sales labels, whatever you can think of to make your table shine.

I would also ask this crafty person to arrange items for sale so they are attractive and stand-out to customers. Think about adding small risers to your table to highlight certain items. A shoebox with a colorful linen napkin over it would be terrific for just such a use.

When in doubt, try to put yourself in the shoes of a potential customer.

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness
This point is closely related to the previous one about presentation. I would highly suggest asking your sellers to look as neat and tidy as possible and I would have some hand-sanitizer plainly visible and in use by your sales force. (Suggest your sellers wear school sweatshirts or t-shirts if they have them.) If potential customers see that you care about sanitation, you are more likely to convert them to paying customers.

Bigger Items Sell Well
In my experience, bigger items, like whole pies and cakes sell extremely well, especially on the day of a big game. It’s great to have little bags of cookies or individually wrapped Rice Crispy treats, but make sure to have the big ticket items out there, as well, prominently displayed. You could easily pick up $15-$20 for an apple pie alone. Mom looks like a hero, coming home with a big juicy pie on game day.

Sell Any Left-overs at School on Monday
With so many people baking, it is possible that you may have some left-over items from the bake sale. I would suggest that you bring all the left-over items back to the school and try to sell them on the first day back. Put up a nice display just outside the school office and place a big sign next to it.

Every time I’ve done this, we have completely sold out by the end of the first day back.

Conclusion
As I mentioned at the beginning, it’s easy for people to get down on the bake sale. In many ways, bake sales have been done to death, and it’s always fun to try something new.

However, with just a little imagination, creativity, and enthusiasm, I firmly believe that you can turn your tired old bake sale that generates little profit into a razzle-dazzle, must-see event that really rakes in the dough. In my time at the school, I never saw a bake sale that didn’t bring in a minimum of $550, and that was from a small school in only four hours in a small town. For the amount of time and effort put in by the fundraising team, this is a no-brainer.