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Master of the mail order

If you are looking to raise money for your school but have exhausted the usual outlets, Carolyn O'Grady has a suggestion

There are many ways to raise funds: jumble sales, sponsorship schemes, school photographs and car boot sales are but a few. Another is mail-order catalogues, a method which schools often feel uneasy about. They are not sure whether they want to act as an agent for a commercial company and may fear losing control as they have to depend on the catalogue company for the quality of the goods and its goodwill over returned products.

However, for some schools, mail-order catalogues are an effective string to their fundraising bow. It works like this: once or twice a year the school receives a catalogue of products from a company. The school distributes the catalogues to staff andor parents, who place their orders and later receive their goods through the school. A percentage of the takings (usually about 25 per cent) is kept by the school.

Webb Ivory, Britain's biggest fundraising mail-order company - around 2,000 schools use its catalogues - sends out two catalogues a year, in spring and for Christmas. The emphasis is on seasonal presents - wrapping paper, decorations and so on. Many children's presents are sold in the Christmas issue, while Easter and Mother's Day cards and presents dominate the spring catalogue. But there is also a wide range of homeware and cards in both.

St Mary's RC Primary School in Leeds takes both of Webb Ivory's catalogues. The school is ardent about fundraising. "You name it, we do it," says Marie Reynolds, the headteacher. "Car boot sales, autumn and Easter fairs, fashion shows and more." The school recently raised pound;8,500 towards the cost of a new classroom.

"We're always very specific about what we're trying to raise money for," she says. "And we always let parents know exactly how much has been raised and what the money has bought."

Through the catalogues, the school makes about pound;300 to pound;400 a time. "Nearly every parent buys something and many take the catalogues to work to sell things there."

It is vital with a such scheme to know that the company will replace returned goods or give money back. So far, the school has not been disappointed. "We've had no problems with returns or replacements," says Mrs Reynolds.

Martin Kromer, head of Christ the King RC Primary School, also in Leeds, has been organising such a scheme for about 10 years using the Christmas Webb Ivory catalogue.

The process begins as early as July when the school receives the catalogues. Timing is important. "You have to get in before all the other catalogues," says Mr Kromer. For maximum effect they are distributed to parents at the start of the autumn term with the stipulation that all orders have to be received by the end of September.

The orders are sent to the company and the goods arrive at the school around the third week of October, when parents collect and pay for them. Shortly afterwards, an invoice from Webb Ivory arrives.

Is it hard work? No, in that it doesn't demand hours of work at any one time, but yes, in that the work is spread over a long period and the scheme needs continuous monitoring.

At Christ the King school, the secretary organises the scheme, while St Mary's has found a willing parent. "If I had to take it on myself it would be quite a bind," says Mrs Reynolds.

Webb Ivory offers free fundraising advice to schools. Its staff can advise on how to get more parents involved, how to organise an event and related legal points.

Two other companies also address fundraising but in a different way are Baker Ross and Peeks, who distribute catalogues of equipment and products for use in fundraising; for example, face-painting kits and side show games, including tombola, hook a duck and skittles, for use at school fetes. They also offer products for quiz nights and inexpensive toys and novelties to sell at bazaars or to distribute as end-of-term presents. Baker Ross even supplies fireworks.

* Webb Ivory Fundraising Service, Preston PR0 2QP. Tel: 01254 302266. Stand A23

* Baker Ross, International Fundraising Supplies, Unit 53, Milmead Industrial Estate, Mill Mead Road,London N17 9QU. Tel: 0181-808 6948

Stand A30

* Peeks of Bournemouth, Reid Street, Christchurch, Bournemouth BH23 2BT. Tel: 01202 417777

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