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How to put the fun back into the school fundraiser Add to ...

THE QUESTION

Our school wants to do some fundraising. Is passing the envelope around the class passé? Do you have other fundraising ideas?

THE ANSWER

We’ll never forget a school fundraiser we attended just outside Red Deer, Alta. When we arrived, someone was leading a cow into an adjacent field that had been marked out into a grid. The students each paid a couple of dollars to place a bet on which grid square the cow would do her business in. They called it “Cow Patty Bingo” and, for us city kids, it was the craziest fundraiser we had seen yet.

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We’ve encountered a lot of creative fundraising ideas in our travels. We wouldn’t say passing the envelope is passé, but perhaps a little dull when, with just a little creativity, you could be holding a fundraiser people will remember for years.

Here’s three basic principles we believe make the most successful fundraising events: Use your fundraiser to creatively deepen knowledge and raise awareness about the issue as well as funds; involve as many people as possible to recruit new supporters; and of course have fun so that you love every moment and can’t wait to do it again.

Students at O’Neill Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Oshawa organized an event called One Night Out to raise funds for and awareness about homelessness. A worker from a local shelter took participants on a walking tour of places in Oshawa where homeless youth often sleep. They were given a dinner similar to what might be served in a soup kitchen. Through the event they collected 20 bags of clothing and $700 to support the shelter.

A walking tour doesn’t begin to reveal the true experience of being homeless, but it does help break down stereotypes and build real knowledge about homelessness much more than simply dropping a few bucks into an envelope.

The best fundraising activities bring together as many people as possible, not just as donors, but as active participants. At Mary Johnson Public School in Waterloo, Ont., older students taught younger ones how to knit finger puppets, then together they sold the puppets. The younger students were thus recruited as future leaders to support their cause, improving education in India.

Remember just about any activity can be turned into an “-a-thon”: walk-a-thon, bike-a-thon, dance-a-thon. Students have taken a cue from the older generation, like the seniors of Walden Village Retirement Residence in Ottawa who had a bit of fun with a stereotype. They held a “rock-a-thon” – rocking in rocking chairs, with teams competing to see who could raise the most money for heart and stroke research.

And, finally, have fun with it.

Taking money to do something unusual or silly, like sitting in a tub of Jell-O or shaving heads, raises money, builds school spirit, and channels youthful energy in positive social action.

Churchill High School in Winnipeg, held a “Stick it to the Man” event. For a dollar, students could buy a strip of duct tape and the principal let them duct tape him to the wall during an afternoon basketball game between students and staff.

And we just acted as judges at a massive rock-paper-scissors tournament that brought together 18 schools to White Oaks Secondary School in Oakville, Ont., for a tourney, barbecue and bake sale, which raised more than $8,000.

A fundraiser is a great opportunity for youth to express their creativity, build leadership and planning skills, and begin a lifelong journey, learning about philanthropy and finding causes that inspire.

So get brainstorming together and you’ll come up with crazy ideas no one’s ever thought of before. If all else fails, find a local farmer and ask to borrow his cow.

Craig and Marc Kielburger co-founded Free the Children. Follow Craig at facebook.com/craigkielburger and @craigkielburger on Twitter. Send questions to Livebetter@globeandmail.com.

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