Tuesday Talkback: Share your pack and troop’s fundraising secrets

Tuesday-TalkbackThe battle for fundraising dollars is on.

At offices everywhere, parents peddle pizza dough, flower bulbs, Christmas wreaths and more to their coworkers in the name of financing their kids’ extracurricular activities. It seems every orchestra, soccer team and stamp-collecting club in a 50-mile radius wants your money.

In this sometimes-cutthroat world, surely there’s a way for packs and troops to make their fundraisers stand out from the crowd. But how? 

Scouters who have come before you have had success with two types of fundraisers: events and product sales.

Events might be cake auctions, pancake breakfasts, flag subscriptions and yard sales. Products include the obvious — Scout popcorn — plus Christmas trees, cookie dough, candy bars, coupon books, candles, batteries and every kind of snack or household product imaginable.

Once you’ve filled out a Unit Money-Earning Application (PDF), your fundraising options are practically limitless. You’ll want to look for something that offers a low upfront cost and a healthy percentage of profits for your unit.

And location matters, too. I’m interested in learning where packs and troops had the most success selling. Did setting up booths outside of grocery stores work? Or was pounding the pavement a better strategy?

Discussion questions for today’s Tuesday Talkback:
  • Which kinds of fundraisers have been most successful in your unit, event-based or product-based? Why?
  • Which products sell the best, and why?
  • Which fundraisers have you given up on because they didn’t work, and why?
  • Where did you have the most success selling?
  • How do you decide what to sell or what kinds of events to plan? Were Scouts involved in the decision?
  • Do Scouts get a portion of the profits allocated to them for Scouting-related purchases, or does everything go into the same pot?

Answer these questions or ask your own in the comments below.

Previous Tuesday Talkbacks

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    • I believe that, if the public is aware of the reason for selling the product, the program of scouting itself, they will buy. We have experienced great sales from every corner.
      However, understand that it is also the council that helps in setting then price. Some of the higher priced items, such as the double crunch, are sold for a lower price. We pay the council the full price and receive the commission, realizing that we actually lost some of the profit due to lessening the price:
      $30 * .38 = $11.40 (.38 is the bonus level )
      Drop the price to $20 and realize a profit of $1.40 or $6.40 at $25 a bag.
      Our scouts, 8 or 9 active sellers, sold almost $30,000 this year and $35,000 last year.

  1. We support the council Trail’s End Popcorn sale. That is our only fundraiser. The Scouts exceeded their goal and we had a reward party with games, inflatable obstacle course, pizza party, and movie. We hit our sales marks with a lot of show & sells – the trick was to make the arrangements early and look closely at previous sales performance to avoid getting stuck with too much product.

  2. Always do a major local improvement project get publicity out we have our own Facebook page just for service projects we do. Show up at other fundraisers for good causes (Note showing up in uniform has to be approved) We do suckers from Ozark Delights with 60% profit and selling only for a dollar scouts move them fast. We always encourage each scout to earn their own way. Especially for Troop and BSA fees.

  3. Our troop has been selling Christmas trees at the same location for almost our entire 80+ year history. It is the one and only fundraiser we do and provides us with enough operating revenue to get us through the year. We do well enough to send one to two scouts (troop size of +/- 20) to NYLT, fully paid. We subsidize approximately 2/3 of the cost of summer camp to those who want to go. We do not charge dues, as our revenue covers rechartering and other council expenses. With the long history of sales at the same spot, we have customers who have supported our troop for 20, 25 even 30 years! Former scouts are now coming back with their kids to buy trees. The sale is manned by the scouts and gives them an opportunity to work on interpersonal communication skills, teaches them responsibility and we even tie it in to requirements for the Salesmanship Merit Badge.

  4. Volume is the key. A cute little Cub scout in his uniform might be able to peddle $20 popcorn but our Boy Scouts don’t sell nearly as much. The $5 option has gone over very well at Show & Sales. We also opted to take credit/debit cards this year and that actually helped our sales a ton. Our Council does a discount card “Camp Card” for $5 that is very easy to sell and the boys keep half the money. Most of our boys pay for at least half, if not all, of their summer camp fees with the camp card.

    We do two troop fundraisers each year: a yard sale and Chick-Fil-A calendars. The troop fundraisers help to keep the cost of dues for everyone low and pay for adult fees.

  5. Our (MidWest) Pack found that the Popcorn sales typically has long-time followers in the community. We found people not associated with BSA tell us that they have been waiting most of the year for it to be resold. Having a good desired product help. But that also means you have to get out in the public by a table outside a grocery or “big box”/chain store (with permission). We do not always like these but they do work.

    With the Popcorn sells, our pack committee made sure that 2/3 of all popcorn “profits” were credited to the individual cub scout so they could help pay for Day Camp or Webelos Overnight. Many parents expressed their appreciation because it helped many scouts that would not be allowed to otherwise. This also allowed for us to hire a school bus for the Day Camp and while many of the parents appreciated not having to drive, this allowed us more time to bond as a unit and it also increased the number of parent volunteers. Also keep in mind that a school bus rental also allows for parents other “young ones” to participate and can be a great recruiter of the younger brothers.

    Many of the “package” catalog sales tend to not do so well. IE gift wrapping, cookie dough, toys, etc.

  6. Our troop (located in Omaha, NE) sells Scout popcorn with all but 2% of the profits going back to the scout who sells popcorn. We finance the troop expenses with a Christmas Recycling project for 6-7 days after Christmas (length depends on what day Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on). We have been doing this for 15 years and each year gets bigger. 4 years we teamed up with another troop(in a different section of town) and together we picked up and recycled almost 1,200 trees. We do not charge for this community service. However, we do solicit voluntary donations to the troops. In 2012-2013 campaign my troop received a very high 4 figure in donations. I don’t know what the other troop received as we do not share financial figures. If you would like more information on this project you are welcome to contact me at wallyf21@yahoo.com.

  7. I realize money is tight however, sometimes starting with what is the amount you need to raise and seeing what are the possibilities of raising it through Parent/Family Donations you just may find it not much you have to raise

  8. Every year out pack sells popcorn, both individually and collectively in front of the grocery store. One of the successes we’ve found in selling popcorn is taking the individual packages out of a box of 18 and sell them in bundles of 5 for $5. You can sell a whole lot more of those than a box @ $18. Give it a try.

    • Be careful! We have been warned that breaking open the boxes can become litigious as the individual packages do not have warnings on them and have been told not to do so!

  9. Our Troop provides a flag service to businesses in the community … we have more than 100 3×5 U.S. Flags on poles that we place in front of businesses on seven specific patriotic holidays during the year, charging $25/year for this service. It generates enough funds to send our boys to camp each summer.

    In addition to the flag subscriptions, we place approximately 25 flags at the city cemetery on these holidays as a public service to the community.

    • Can we please hear more about this? Having heard about this in passing we are left with some questions.

      What are the specifications for the poles?
      How were the poles and flags acquired?
      Where are they stored?
      When are they set up and taken down?
      How many people are involved?
      Do you actively solicit subscribers? Is this continuous or at a certain time if year?
      How are the proceeds allocated?

      • The Profits must go into the troops treasury and not kept for individual scouts to benefit from.

        As individual scout accounts put your Chartered organizations non profit or not for profit status in danger.

        The tax laws are confusing and you should consult a tax attorney. But it you show individual benefit then must issue a tax statement to each scout so their parents must claim it on their taxes.

  10. Trails End popcorn has been our one and only fund raiser for 25 or 30 years in our pack. This year we tripled our sales from last year with just over twice as many boy selling. The council (Ozark Trails) certainly helped by offering a lock-in at Incredible Pizza for every boy who sold at least $700. We never ask the parents for anything but small dues after the initial sign-up. The pack pays all re-registration fees and gives the boys their pinewood derby car kits for Christmas. It works for us!

  11. Troop 975 St.Charles,Mo adopts a family every Christmas. Last year it was a family of 6. This includes presents and a large Christmas dinner. We raise the funds for this by having a can, we call Pennies From Heaven, that we pass around at every Troop meeting. To spice it up this year. The Patrols have been notified that the Patrol that raises the most money gets to eat with the adults on the last campout of the year. No cooking and no cleaning. Just good eating. We raised over $500 last year. Pennies, nickles, dimes and quarters all from the scouts and scouters pockets. Helps the youth understand several of the scout laws. Helpful and Thrifty are the big ones.

  12. Our Troop’s most successful fundraiser has been a combined event at a large park. We hold a trail race (39k with 10k option) in the wooded section of the park, and a car show in the field. The car show has music that is loud enough for the runners to hear, which has received + comments from the runners, and after the race, the runners come up to see the cars (trucks and bikes). Its a win/ win for both events.

    A note on the popcorn sales… While popcorn is high priced, my son has sold since he was a Tiger Cub. He goes to the same neighborhoods each year, and has created his own market. He DOES NOT sell popcorn… he sells Scouts. His pitch goes something like this, “Would you like to support Boy Scout Troop 39 through our annual popcorn sale?,” as opposed to, “Would yo like to buy popcorn from Boy Scout Troop 39?” It’s a slight change of wording, but it’s been effective. When comments go to the high price, he reminds them that “70% goes back to support Scouting, and that’s why the cost is higher.”

    This is what works for him. I stand at the street, and he has learned how to answer all the questions asked. His usual sales totals range between $2000 and $3000 over the years, but we walk the communities every weekend, even after we’ve camped all weekend and get home Sunday mid-day.

  13. Instead of selling stuff to your coworkers, and buying products from them, why not cut out the fundraising companies, and simply make a donation to the charity of your choice instead. Many companies will even donations, but they won’t match purchases. Instead of spending $100 to buy products from your coworkers, in return for them buying your scouting product, simply donate $100 to scouts, get your company match of $100 for scouts, and $200 goes to scouts, none to the fundraisers, instead of $70 to scouts and $30 to fundraisers.

    • I would definitely do this but my company for example, only matches contributions to specifically-approved non-profits and BSA is not one of them, let alone our specific troop.

    • That idea will not work as well as it sounds as most major companies no longer support scouting. Even united way has pulled its support. Hopefully this will change in time.

      • Right. Subsequently, I do not support the United Way campaigns that our company pushes. I have no shortage of worthy charities to support otherwise.

    • It sounds as though you are cutting out the scouts actually doing any fundraising. Scout’s earning their own way is a HUGE part of being a scout. That’s how they learn to be thrifty. THe BSA guidlines even show that scouts should never accept money without providing a service. These fundraisers are their way of providing a service, whether its selling popcorn, carwashes, or whatever.

  14. Popcorn doesn’t sell well for us as we are in direct competition with another pack in town and the PTO and the HS sports teams which are out selling something similar and at the same time as popcorn sales. Our Pack does two other major fundraisers. A giant yard sale in early September and in January or February, depending upon weather, we hold an electronics recycling event. We hold the yard sale at the same time as two other major charities in town also hold their yard sales so it draws in crowds from all over. We hold both at the town parking lot. We don’t raise a lot of money but it brings in enough to cover what we need it to cover.

    • Could you explain the electronics recycling program to me? We hold a spring yard sale and I’m curious how this works. Thank you.

  15. We had surprising success with a Dairy Queen fundraiser on the day before school started. Our local Dariy Queen gave us 20% of the proceeds for all sales that day from anyone who mentioned Boy Scouts. Many local businesses do this.

  16. Our Troop (Fargo, ND) has a project that sorts palletized food to individual portions 6 times per year for my previous employer. Up here in the Norwegian section of America, we make and sell lefse for Thanksgiving and Christmas at the chartered partner and in the community. I expect this to be an annual event. Profit is nearly 100% as the major supplies are donated. We only have to buy ziploc-style bags. Proceeds to be used to replace our Troop trailer. We also sell Christmas wreaths at our chartered partner and door to door. Wreaths are assembled locally with greenery supplied from Minnesota, not the stuff you see in the magazines.

    Some employers will not donate to entities that are not 501(c)3 organizations. If your employer will donate to units, good for them, good for you. Gaining 501(c)3 status is time consuming with annual filing requirements to maintain the status.

  17. My son has sold wreaths the past 7 years in our own neighborhood, dating back to Tiger Cubs. We’ve made a map of the homes that have bought from him each year, so he has developed a good relationship to the point where they’ve been asking when he’ll be coming again the following year. Some ask how he’s doing in scouting and take a genuine interest in him. It’s all about relationships and having a good product they’d buy anyway. He has earned enough to pay for his entire year of scouting this way, and as a bonus, we know our neighbors better!

  18. Fundraising has always been a challenge for my troop. When I came into the troop about 4 years ago there was very little fundraising going on, not even the popcorn. Since taking over as Committee Chair I’ve gotten them to understand the need.

    The first thing I insisted on was the popcorn sales. The past three years have not been strong but I think we made a breakthrough this as we tripled our sales this year, selling more than we have the last three years combined.

    One thing they were doing at the time, and we continue to do, is work with Barnes and Noble. At Christmas time they provide a gift wrapping service for their customers. They provide the gift wrap and tape and recruit organizations to come in and provide the actual wrapping for donations from the customers who are having their gifts wrapped. We schedule times at several locations where we have parents and their sons scheduled to wrap presents. There is no set amount for the service, just what the customer feels is appropriate and they can afford. Sometimes it’s the kids wanting to have their purchase wrapped so mom or dad won’t see what they bought on the way home but they only have a few cents left. Sometimes it’s a single person who doesn’t know how to wrap gifts or have the paper. Sometimes it’s a busy person who just finds it easier for us to do it for them. The closer it gets to Christmas, the larger the donations are.

    Another fundraiser we do is sales of gourmet coffees and artisan teas. The only problem with this one is we tend to be our own best customers because the coffees and teas are that good.

    One we’ve just started, based on the success of another troop across town, is an early spring mulch sale. Initially it’s labor intensive, getting the word out. But as the customers get used to this happening every year, the repeat sales combine with new customers to make it really grow large. We’re hoping this will grow into a replacement for all other fundraisers (except for the popcorn, of course.)

    • Another troop I worked with picked up and disposed of Christmas trees. They received a donation for the service and the trees were taken to a local nursery where they were chipped and turned into mulch.

  19. All Walmart employees can get a grant from Walmart,if they volunteer for 26 hours or more for a quarter. This can be done through the Walmart Volunteerism Always Pays program. If they don’t know about this talk to your personal director..

  20. Our pack relies on popcorn for fundraising. The pack proceeds go directly into an account for each scout. This is used to pay for dues and registration, “class B” shirts, summer camp, day camp, pack campout, etc. The scouts that sell more popcorn are rewarded with less out-of-pocket expense for mom & dad the following year. This also helps convince the parents to encourage their sons to sell popcorn and participate in the store front sales.

    Another tactic that many nonprofit groups in our area use is the profit sharing from local restaurants. Many large chains, like Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Rubios, Texas Roadhouse, etc. will donate a percentage of the proceeds to the charity. Even a lot of mom-and-pop restaurants will do the same. Often, the patron just needs to bring a flyer with them for the sale to count toward the charity. Anecdotally, I have heard that this is relatively successful because you are not asking people to contribute anything up front, people like to go out to eat, they are ordering the same food they would normally order, they are paying the same price they normally pay, and it’s likely they will see a friend or neighbor there. The patrons like this because they don’t feel guilted into buying more wrapping paper or cookie dough, and the charities like it because it requires very little expense and management from them.

    • Dave, check with your council on the profit sharing idea. I have been advised that units are not allowed to use this process since it is the unit asking for donations. Other than Eagle Projects, only Districts and Councils are allowed to solicit donations.

  21. After failure at selling popcorn, discount camp cards, car washes and tickets to Arena Racing, we found our nitch. We work concession stands at Richmond International Raceway for both races in April and September. Now this is our first year, but we made enough money to almost pay for the troop to attend summer camp. We did much better in September after we learned the ins and outs in April. Only adults, 18 and over, can handle the concessions, However, there are youth groups keeping the area clean by picking up trash. We are looking into our boys doing this to earn additional funds. Should they not be able to do this we will find something for them to do.

    • So what are the boys learning by the adults only doing the fundraising?????

      Our local stadium does the same thing…..But we made the decision that the boys must earn their own way.

      • I believe only the adults can work behind the concession stand due to safety and legal (insurance) issues stemming from the state and/or municipality in which the stadium is located, other reasons are probably from the national level (OSHA). .

      • we did a pancake breakfast at our local Applebee’s a couple of weeks ago. the boys weren;t able to go into the kitchen at all, but the adult leaders could. the boys could only ferry the food to the customers, and clean up after them. The above story sounds very similar in that respect.

    • Im glad you guys have found a nitch, but I promise you there is popcorn that can be sold there. Our family is military and my husband is originally from the RIchmond area. We are now stationed in FL and have sold several hundred dollars worth of popcorn this year alone to family and friends in the RIchmond area. You just have to know where to set up show and sells…in the well established neighborhoods.

  22. Like Bob mentioned above, our Troop has run a Christmas tree lot for about 25 years. It’s a lot of work, as we basically put on a full scale business for 3-4 weeks. However, it’s also a wonderful experience for the boys and most of the adults seem to enjoy it too. It’s really great to see the people that come to our lot year after year to support the Troop. From the amount we earn with the tree lot, we can subsidize many of our activities and not need to do anything else the rest of the year.

  23. Our troop has three major fundraising sources — the Scouts sell holiday wreath products (wreaths, crosses, canes, garland, etc) in the fall, potted plants (flowers and some vegetables, decorative grasses, baskets) in the spring, plus we have an ongoing aluminum can recycling initiative which is year-round with two collection trailers in town. Special fundraisers are held on occasion for high adventure crews which may include bagging groceries, working local dinners and similar events. These efforts keep us in the black; a state many troops in our area have a problem with. The success all depends on the participation of the Scouts — the more participation you have, the better your results will be, no matter what the fundraiser.

  24. In addition to annual Popcorn and Camp Card sales, our Pack has found a way to earn money without dipping into the pockets of our family’s, friend’s, or co-worker’s pockets. It isn’t enough to fund the unit but we earned a few hundred dollars last year, enough to pay for an event and offset the cost for others.

    We have an online shopping portal that our friends and families click through and we “earn” donations from the retailers. It does not us cost anything, no up-front costs, and does not cost the buyer anything extra. They can even use any coupon codes they have. This Halloween, the online costume shops were donating 8.5% to our Pack for every dollar spent. We get a donation check every four months. We just started a year ago and have received over $250 in donations and should get a check in a couple weeks for about $80. It is truly free money.

    Here’s a link to our Pack’s shopping site so you can see it: http://www.moxietude.com/pack222

    You can click on the MoxieShop logo in the upper left corner for more info. And you can buy thru our site if you want to, we’ll take any sales we can 🙂

    Thanks for all the GEAT ideas in this post, there are a few that may help our Unit too.

  25. These are all really great ideas. I know that my pack sells popcorn but that’s about it. Maybe I can bring these ideas to the committee and see what they think.

  26. We of course sell popcorn. A couple years ago we started a yearly dues. We didn’t think it was fair for a couple of boys to go all out selling to carry the Pack at recharter time. We charge $75 a year which covers recharter, badges etc… The boys get the entire share of their sales, our council does a “earn your way to camp” candle sale which the boys also get their 30%. Their account can be used for anything Scouting including yearly dues. We also have some parents that love to barbecue. Our city has a Labor Day festival that had a vendor opening, we got it and sell BBQ pulled pork sandwiches. That event covers our cabin rentals for winter camp and other incidentals.
    Dan Devereaux
    Pack 115
    Jamestown NY

  27. Our Boy Scout troop’s most effective fundraiser is a service project/fundraiser with many life lessons along the way. We call it Flags Over West Chester. We focus on a large, heavily traveled subdivision and for a $30 annual subscription, our boys will install a flag pole sleeve into your yard about 18″ from the curb directly in line with your front door (to find it easily), then post a flag (10′ tall pole) at dawn, retrieve it at dusk, complete with a three second salute, on six patriotic holidays – Memorial Day, Flag Day, July 4th, Labor Day, 9/11, and Veterans Day. The total dollars raised is divided equally amongst the boys who choose to participate and goes directly into their scout account. We typically raise $12,000 per year for around $250 per boy. We’ve been featured on the local TV stations and newspapers because driving down the street lined with flags is an impressive sight. The boys learn service to our community/country and self sacrifice when posting flags on holidays during the school year. Veteran’s and other homeowners on the routes often come out to watch the boys.
    Faith Finkes
    Troop 940
    West Chester, Ohio

  28. Popcorn is the worst. We are currently looking for other options. I’m a business owner and for the boys to do the foot work and get 32-38% is a horrible margin on something that costs $6 retail inside a grocery store ( so probably $2-3 wholesale depending on volume). I’m sure it’s a great fundraiser for Trails End.
    Also, what have the boys done in the process that had anything to do with scouting? Popcorn? Really? I think the pricing alone puts a sour taste in customer’s mouths, even if we are just “selling scouting”. What a horrible way to “sell scouting “, by ripping the boys and the customers off with horrible margins.

    Anyway, to take a positive turn I really like the idea of bracelets or crafts being made and sold (Does this involve running the den meetings like a factory for a few weeks ?). Flag planting is awesome too (but I can see more work being done by parents than kids, so kind of defeats the purpose).
    Our cubs will be doing a small concession stand at our pinewood derby, a bake auction at one of our troops court of honor, and will look further into a craft sales event now.

    We did well at popcorn, but too much work, too many bad vibes from customers, and not near enough margin dollars.

  29. One of our most successful fundraisers are bottle drives. We go door-to-door a few times a year. Each scout who participates gets a cut based on how many hours they work. Each has a scout account where the funds go, and it pays off their annual dues and summer camp. On average, the scouts earn about $30 per hour doing bottle drives.

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