Banish those knitted egg-cosies from your next fair, writes Gerald Haigh, and turn instead to the revenue-raising capabilities of tea-towels, uniforms, baseball caps and pens and pencils
Some schools raise huge sums of money through their fund-raising committees. Others are content to potter along on the odd Pounds 100 raffle. There is no magic reason for the difference.
Some heads will do it. Others feel - and who can argue? - that there are other calls on their time and skills. Marie Reynolds, head of St Mary's RC primary in Rothwell, Leeds, is in no doubt about what fund-raising involves. "It's damned hard work and it hinges on the people."
She should know. The school's fund-raising group, the Friends of St Mary's, has raised Pounds 11,500 in the past 18 months, driven mainly by the need to meet part of the cost of new building. For most of that time the school, which has just 124 pupils and seven teachers, ran a fund-raising event every month - seasonal fairs, a fun run, dances.
Now things have slackened off a little, there are still two events a term. In addition to the special events, the school makes a steady income of about Pounds 500 a year from the gift catalogue of Webb Ivory.
"One parent handles it," says Mrs Reynolds. "She orders 30 catalogues and sends them all off to one year group at a time." The children return the catalogues with their family orders, which are processed by the parent volunteer. The goods then come packed in carrier bags labelled with the names of the children and the school takes 25 per cent commission. Mrs Reynolds takes care to ensure that fund-raising does not place burdens on staff and children. Nevertheless she obviously puts in a lot of personal effort.
Experience shows that parent committees, although very willing to work for their children, expect to see the head at most meetings and events. This personal contact reassures them and validates their efforts. When the head starts to be more distant, or delegates too liberally, the enthusiasm soon flags.
Many firms see schools as ready-made outlets for their goods. Teachers often feel torn about this. On the one hand, they like the school to have the money paid in commissions. On the other, they worry about creeping commercialism and about time being taken from the core purposes of teaching and learning.
The biannual Webb Ivory catalogue addresses this by making it easy for a volunteer helper to handle the money and the paperwork. The catalogue has lots of gift items, but most people like the packs of greetings cards, and schools do particularly well with these in the run-up to Christmas.
The company also employs a fund-raising adviser, Doreen Craddick. Her advice is free to Webb Ivory account holders. She will visit fund-raising groups and help them with their plans.
Another approach is to sell goods which, in addition to being easy to deal with, have at least some social or educational value. One example is shirts, bags, caps or tea towels printed with a school design. The school orders them and sells them on at a profit.
Particularly popular in recent years have been tea towels showing the whole school as a mass of self-portraits drawn by the pupils. Hallmark Graphics of Warwickshire and Interprint both specialise in these.
Marion Warburton of Interprint says: "It really works best with young children when the portraits are quite funny as opposed to when they are trying to make them lifelike." But the same principle will work with older children, who may like to supply favourite recipes, or drawings of their teachers - "whatever the school wants to print on its tea towels," she says.
Costs range between Pounds 1 and Pounds 2 each depending on the quantity ordered. The school will charge whatever seems reasonable: Pounds 3 is common. Interprint, like other similar firms, offers a whole range of fabric items, including sweatshirts, sports bags and caps.
Baseball caps with printed logos are becoming popular in schools: more than one head has been approached by pupils wanting the school to order them. Interprint offers a range of these, including a printed child's cap at an average cost of Pounds 3.40 and a high-quality embroidered cap at Pounds 5.65 - prices vary according to quantity.
A variation is offered by Westwear, which has designed a legionnaire's cap - a baseball cap with a flap at the back to protect the neck from the sun. This kind of cap is much used in Australia. Printed to order, and available in a range of colours, it costs from Pounds 2.50 to Pounds 3 depending on quantity.
One satisfied customer is Jeanine Hillstead of Honeybourne School in Birmingham. She introduced the caps, printed with the school badge, after seeing her pupils (aged three and a half to seven) in the heat of last summer.
"I was concerned, their little faces were red," she says. The children wear them outside and on school trips, where the caps help to keep them in view.
With all these printed items, you get the quality you pay for. Pay a sensible price and you have crisp and clear printing on good-quality fabric. The only way to decide is to send for catalogues and then ask both for samples and for the details of satisfied customers. If these are not forthcoming, move on: there are plenty of suppliers who will be happy to provide both. Interprint, for example, will send a free sample tea towel and an information pack. You will also want to see the artwork before it is printed, and you will need a money-back guarantee for any items that are imperfect.
Another small-scale fund-raising item is the pen or pencil printed with the school name. A typical supplier is Baker Ross which will supply printed HB pencils for 10p or less each for sale at up to 20p. Ballpoint pens can be bought at 15p to sell at up to 30p.
But the important advice from Doreen Craddick, if you are running a fair, is not to sell expensive craftwork: "They come with two carrier bags and Pounds 5, and they're happy if they go away with the carrier bags full, no matter what is in them." Expensive craft items belong in a craft fair, with stalls rented out to other craft makers. "How many people do you know who use a knitted egg-cosy?" The most popular stall is the cake stall. So why put it by the door, as most organisers do? Instead, make people look for it. One school sold tickets for a treasure hunt to find the cake stall, and made Pounds 36 before they sold a single cake.
* Baker Ross, Unit 53, Milmead Industrial Estate, Mill Mead Road, London N17 9QU Tel: 0181 808 6948.
* Formative Fun, Venn Farm, Venn Lane, North Chideock, Bridport, Dorset DT6 6JY Tel: 01297 489880.
* Hallmark Graphics, Bridge House, Brookside, Stretton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9LY Tel: 01203 54421.
* S Simmonds and Son, 64 Calverley Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN1 2UG Tel: 01892 510123.
* Webb Ivory, Express Gifts, Churchbridge House, Henry Street, Accrington, Lancashire BB5 4EE Tel: 01254 302266.
* Webb Ivory Fund Raising Tel: 01132 821347.
* Westwear, 3 Ash Units, Downend, Lords Meadow Industrial Estate, Crediton, Devon EX17 1HN Tel: 01363 774500.
* Plan a year's programme at a time, with perhaps just one big event each term.
* Ensure the dates do not clash with other events in the area.
* Advertise well with flyers on car windows and local newspaper advertisements.
* Avoid child-made multi-coloured and illegible posters.
* Make the first event really special. Marie Reynolds's first Christmas Fair was filled with colour, music and good-quality items.
* Acquire a reputation and people will look for your next event.
* Adopt a theme for your event: nursery rhymes, for example, with each stall based on a different rhyme.
* Do not try to sell expensive craftwork at a school fair.
Roll up, roll up for lucky dips, pupils win prizes and extra percentages
Sellers coming into school
The notion of bringing a shop into school, and then taking a commission from it, can work well with the right firm. For example, Simmonds school uniform suppliers of Tunbridge Wells will set up a uniform shop in a school and pay a commission.
The school's involvement varies by negotiation. It can, for example, simply provide a room and let Simmonds get on with it, or it can provide finance, fixtures and staff. Commission between these two extremes ranges from 7. 5 per cent to 30 per cent.
Many independent schools find this arrangement very helpful and the convenience is at least as important as the income. Heather Cook, the bursar at Maidstone Grammar School, said: "They have a caring and friendly approach at all times, and we are more than happy."
Another come-in-and-sell operation with primary school appeal is run by Formative Fun of Bridport, Dorset. This firm was started by Jane Warren, a former teacher who felt that, even more than buying educational toys for their young children, parents would like to be given some advice about them.
She or one of her representatives takes her products - toys, books and games all chosen carefully for their developmental value - into schools for parents to see, either at parent evenings or on specially-arranged occasions.
The school takes a 20 per cent commission. She also does a mail order service, and will provide lucky dip bags - "all educational, not trash" - for events. She will also loan out bigger fund-raising games.
Items for fairs and prizes
There are many specialist suppliers and warehouses selling small toys and novelties in bulk - look in Yellow Pages or Exchange and Mart for toy and gift wholesalers. This will usually be cheaper than going to the supermarket, but look closely at quality.
Probably the leading specialist in this area is Baker Ross, whose fund-raising handbook has nearly 200 ideas for tombola prizes and summer fair games. In many cases they will sell the complete game, equipment, prizes and all. Schools can use mail order or visit the company's Tottenham warehouse. Baker Ross also has a fund-raising advice line.