By Beth A. DeHoff
Fundraising may not be why you became an educator, but it’s a necessary part of growing an agricultural education and FFA program. Fortunately, some ag educators have found a great deal of success through fundraising, and they’re happy to help you along the way. Remember, these teachers were once new to fundraising, too.
Dave Fowler went into agricultural education at Muscatine High School in Iowa 27 years ago with a program of 38 mostly urban students and a dream. Over the next three decades that dream has unfolded through the help of fundraising. Most recently, Fowler and his students wanted to build a comprehensive livestock center – so they kicked off a $3 million fundraising campaign with an event featuring FFA alumni and 300 invited guests and potential donors. Those alumni, now in highly successful careers thanks to their Muscatine FFA and ag ed experiences, sold the dream, as did a commitment to making the space available to the community as well as the school.
It was a big dream – but it included a vital component of successful fundraising – community involvement. Fortunately, the school is in a community with generous corporate citizens. The HON Company was the first donor with $500,000. Other companies and individuals followed with monetary and in-kind donations, such as companies who provided lighting, implements and more. “Within a week, we had a million dollars,” Fowler says. “I asked the HON CEO why they were the first one in, and he said, ‘I want you to make me more farm kids. They’re our best employees.’” An active FFA and agriculture program in an urban school was unexpected but had proven to be highly beneficial–for students and their future employers.
“The building was sold on what the ag program and FFA do for the youth of this community,” Fowler says. “We emphasized community involvement from the beginning, and that’s brought in a lot of people.” Today, students gain experience in a 70-acre site just a short bus or bike ride from the school. The center houses a horse wing with 22 horses, a 90 x 125-foot arena, a donated flock of Hampshire sheep and areas to keep approximately 50 head of cattle. The nearly 250 students in the Muscatine ag and FFA program give tours, maintain the facility, take care of the livestock, and host sales, shows and other community events.
While Muscatine’s program has found success by wrapping its dreams in a large, community-focused campaign, Keith Gundlach at Randolph High School in Wisconsin runs a fundraising program dependent on a lot of smaller efforts. Donors can find a variety of ways to support the agriculture and FFA program, including:
- Agriculture and FFA Foundation for planned gifts and bequests
- Senior Scholarship Raffle
- American FFA Degree Fund
- Ad sales in athletic programs and the FFA Week newsletter
- Fruit sale that sells more than $30,000 in fruit each year
- 10% Award Program that encourages students to donate 10 percent of their proficiency awards
- Local dues ($5 from more than 400 members)
- Greenhouse sales
- FFA Banquet Silent Auction
- Program sponsors (such as sponsorship of their Australia exchange program or other special programs)
- Community donations (often resulting from free community service provided by students)
- Quarterly newsletters listing accomplishments and donation needs
- FFA alumni fundraisers
In addition to these varied fundraising efforts, Gundlach emphasizes one very important aspect of successful fundraising: recognition. “All foundation donors get a financial update once a year. We also recognize all American FFA Degree Fund donors in our newsletter. If they give $25 or more, they get a pair of free tickets to our FFA banquet,” he says. “Additionally, all foundation donors are recognized at our banquet.”
Gundlach says he understands any teacher’s hesitations about fundraising. “When I was a new teacher, I thought raising money was a necessary evil, and I didn’t know how to do it,” he recalls. “Now I realize that people really want to help, and it’s okay to ask.”
Other Fundraising Ideas
- Product sales (fruit, meat and cheese, candy)
- Dunking booth at community event with FFA members, teachers, administrators and community leaders as the dunkees
- Food booths or concession stands
- Cow Pie Bingo - Takes a big area, works well at the county fair. Mark out 100 two-foot squares on an open piece of ground and number each one with paint. Arrange them 10 rows wide and 10 rows long. Sell squares for $5 each. Enclose it with cattle panels. Turn Bessy the cow loose after feeding her. A few hours later she makes a deposit on one of the squares. The owner of that square receives $100. You can run this several days in a row at a county fair and sell all the squares each day.
- Goat Insurance – A crazy fundraiser that is fun for the entire community. The object is to sell insurance policies to protect people from having a goat penned in the middle of their lawn. You collect money two ways. First, you encourage someone to nominate another person to receive the goat in their lawn for a nominal fee of $5. That nominated person’s name goes into a pot. Then you contact the nominee and ask if they want goat insurance for $10 since they have been nominated and could potentially have a goat in their yard. The person who does the nominating can stay anonymous or not, it’s up to them. This can start a hilarious chain of events with the chapter being the beneficiary of the insurance policy. At the end of the nominating period (to be set by the chapter), names of those who do not have goat insurance are placed in a hat, and one name is drawn. That person receives the goat.
- Free Topless Car Wash: The name will draw people! When they come to get their car wash, chapter members explain they get the top of the vehicle washed but the rest of the vehicle will cost $5-10.