Chapter Twelve

Fund Raising

[Previous | Contents]

"My heart is in the work." - Andrew Carnegie, 1900.

The primary goal of fund raising is, of course to raise money, but it should be recognized that fund raising is also an opportunity to build good public relations. Fund raising activities may lead folks to find out more about your group after they, for instance, talk with one of your volunteers at your bake sale.

Karl Dresen, an alumni of Lehigh University and founder of its campus right-to-life group, jokes that whenever he says "resources" he means "money." Indeed, money is an important resource, and usually it is the scarcest resource for the college right-to-life group. But there are ways around this problem. Remember: "Paupertas omnium Artium repertrix." ("Poverty is the inventor of all the Arts.") This chapter contains a list of ways your group can raise operating funds.

How Should Your Group Handle Its Funds?

The treasurer or business manager of your group, of course, should handle your group's finances. This is not to say that he or she is solely responsible for raising money, but rather that the treasurer is responsible for proper record-keeping of income and expenses. Even though most college groups have ridiculously small budgets, it is advisable that your group choose a treasurer with some business-sense, particularly if your student government has stringent record-keeping requirements.

Your author is not particularly adept at accounting, but a few bits of advice will be offered here. First of all, make sure that the treasurer keeps records of all transactions in a record book. Receipts should be kept for expenses and receipts should be given for income. Record books and blank receipts are available in almost any drug store. The treasurer should make regular financial reports.

It is best, above all, to have a treasurer with an eye for making a buck. He or she should be on the lookout not only for ways to make money, but ways to save money. Remember that the best cost is always free, even if it means scrounging scrap cardboard from trash cans to make signs for the national March for Life.

Earning Money

Getting funds takes work any way you do it. This set of ideas lists some ways groups can earn money through their own labor, "by the sweat of their brow" so to speak.

It should be remembered that college groups should not only try to raise money for themselves, but they should give some consideration to raising funds for groups such as Birthright or your local Crisis Pregnancy Center to name a few. People will be much more willing to participate in your fund raiser if they know it is for a good cause. Many of the ideas following have been tried out by college groups and found successful.

The Bake Sale. The bake sale is the classic fund raiser. All you need to do is set up a table at the entrance to a dormitory or a classroom building, or outside a church or the school chapel after Sunday services and sell baked goods. It helps if the baked goods are freshly made; they almost always sell like "hot cakes" - pardon the pun. We have had success selling home-made cookies, made in the kitchen of one of our group members - you haven't lived until you've baked 130 dozen cookies in one night in one oven. You might ask a local church or cafeteria to let you borrow their kitchen. You could sell cupcakes, cakes, pies, or even candy apples in the same manner. An alternative way of doing this is to either buy the baked goods or to get a bakery to donate them to you. This way you could also sell doughnuts or breads, too. Hoagies (grinders, hero sandwiches, submarine sandwiches, "Dagwood" sandwiches or whatever they call them in your part of the country) would also be a possibility; candy is yet another, though I would not venture to try to make it myself.

Movies. Some groups raise funds by sponsoring a popular movie on campus. Basically this involves renting a movie (there are catalogs of movies to choose from: movies usually rent for between $100 and $300 a day) and showing it one evening in an auditorium on campus. It helps to have several showings. Your expenses are the rent for the film, pay for a projectionist, and advertisement costs. This idea involves some risk, but it is important to realize that risk is unavoidable if you want to make money. Publicity, timing, and choice of the movie are what will determine your success. This idea can be sweetened up as a pro-life event by taking the opportunity to show a pro-life film as a "short" before the main attraction begins.

Marathons. At the University of Dayton the right-to-life group sponsors an annual Run for Life to raise money for the local organization, Dayton Right to Life. Each participant in the Run for Life pays an entry fee, and in return gets a t-shirt commemorating the marathon. Prizes can also be given out to the top finishers. (You can often, incidentally, get retail stores to donate the prizes for this and other events. Always contact prospective donors personally, never by mail.) The Run for Life is pretty successful at involving dozens of students, but as is usual depends on lots of publicity for its success. Other possibilities include variations on the theme. Seton Hill College, in Pa., for instance, has a Swim for Life.

The Walk-a-thon. Closely related to this marathon approach is the walk-a-thon idea. You have heard of these affairs before. Briefly, each participant in the walk-a-thon gets people to pledge to give him so many dollars or cents per mile. After the walk-a-thon, the walker collects the money from his sponsors. Simple. There are many variations to this idea. Some groups have sponsored bike-a-thons, rock-a-thons (yes, in rocking chairs), swim-a-thons, and so on.

The dance marathon is another variation on this theme. Students can get their friends to sponsor them for each hour they dance. Music can be provided by bands and/or records. And it doesn't have to be just a marathon. You can have a dancing contest, a "sexy walk" contest...use your imagination. You can also charge admission for non-marathoners to join in the fun. Some type of prizes, such as t-shirts, should be given to those who complete the marathon.

Tournaments. Miniature golf tournaments, bowling tournaments, darts tourneys, all these and more can be used to raise money. Basically, you charge an entrance fee, and award prizes to the winners. Once again, good publicity is necessary for success.

Battle of the Bands. Penn State Students for Life has hosted a "Battle of the Bands" in the past. This is a rather complex idea, involving a lot of time, but it appears to work in a big way. The Penn Staters sent out letters of invitation to bands across the state of Pennsylvania asking if they are interested in taking part in a competition with their rival bands. Five bands are selected from among those that express interest and asked to come and play on the same night. The conditions of the competition are that only the winning band will get paid. Judges are selected from among the local disc-jockeys, musicians, music critics or others. The Battle is given a big billing on-campus, possibly with door prizes, and admission is charged. Refreshments are sold. A certain amount of the profits goes to the winning band as the prize, and the rest is donated to a charity such as Birthright or your local Crisis Pregnancy Center. This idea is risky, taking a big capital outlay, and requiring a lot of planning, but it has the added bonus of appealing to students, as well as helping to erase the image of pro-lifers as "stuffy" and "priggish."

Dances. Just hosting a dance with a single band and charging admission at the door is another, simpler way of raising funds. Use your imagination to spice this one up at little. One way to make it more interesting is to combine the dance with a Casino theme. Rent or make some casino-type equipment, and get some of your members to operate it at the dance. Use "fake" money (give everyone a certain amount upon admission, and permit them to buy more if they want it) and let people gamble with it. The fake money can be used for gambling, or to "buy" raffle tickets. At the end of the evening you draw for the prizes. Dinners for two at local restaurants, bottles of champagne, tickets to movies or games, and so on, make attractive prizes.

Square dances are not "square" on most college campuses, by the way. In fact, they are growing in popularity. Your group could hire a caller, serve apple cider and popcorn, and make the dance a charity event with the proceeds going to a home for unwed mothers, for instance.

Coffeehouses. Hosting a coffeehouse can be another fun way to raise money. What you need to do is to get together a group of volunteer musicians, guitarists, vocalists, pianists, whoever, and have them perform for your group. Having the affair in a candle lit lounge helps build the "coffeehouse" atmosphere. You can make money off admission, or, better yet, by the sale of coffee, tea, hot cider with cinnamon sticks, hot chocolate, popcorn, donuts and cookies. The talent used in this type of event doesn't have to be restricted to musicians. Comedians, actors, jugglers, mimes: all these are possibilities. This can be a great social event for your group and a real morale-builder.

Car Washes. Car washes staged at local gas stations are another possible way of raising money. They require the consent of the station owner, but that is usually not too hard to get because the car wash usually brings in customers for him, too. The best station is the one near a busy intersection. Weather is a factor to consider in planning; the spring and summer months are the best time. Unfortunately, most schools are in summer recess during the car washing season.

The Road Rally. While on the subject of cars, I should mention a nifty fund raising idea given to me by John and Ellen Williams of Detroit: the Great Road Rally. A road rally is a sort of automobile scavenger hunt in which wits and navigational abilities are more important than driving skill. Here teams of two, three, or four persons per car are given a sheet of riddles which lead them on a wild goose chase across town. Driving from place to place, the teams gather clues to solve the riddles, and hints as to where the next clue can be found. Answers to the clues are kept in sealed envelopes, and the performance of each team is rated by its total time minus so many minutes for each clue envelope opened. The final clue sends all of the teams to a restaurant or pizza shack for a relaxing dinner, prizes are awarded to the fastest finishers, and everyone enjoys themselves.

It only takes twenty cars or so to make the rally a success. Participants in the rally are charged an entry fee from which the dinner and the prizes are drawn. The remaining funds go to your group!

Flower Sales. The sale of flowers, especially roses at St. Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, can be a big money raiser. Like a bake sale, you can hold a flower sale at just about any place people congregate. This is a relatively low effort, low overhead method, and it generally works well. The only problem is that there are probably several other groups on campus that already do this. Similarly, pumpkins or Indian corn might be sold around Halloween.

Raffles. Raffles are an old stand-by. Everybody does them - which is their one drawback. Tickets are printed up and chances are sold on everything from cash to a "bushel of cheer" to radios to gift certificates. You can make the drawing for the winner into a publicity-getter if the prizes are big enough. Raffles take a lot of people willing to sell chances to make them work, but they are easy to organize and seldom fail to bring in some money.

Balloon Raffles. An interesting version of the raffle is the "Ye Old Helium Balloon Race." In this scheme you sell chances on helium balloons. For each person who buys a chance you attach a postcard in a water-proof case to a helium balloon. The postcards ask anyone who finds them to mail them back to your group. The prize goes to the person whose postcard came back from the farthest distance in a given amount of time, say, two weeks after the balloons are launched. You can make the launching of the balloons a big publicity affair - have it during the half-time of your school's Homecoming football game, for instance.

Ugliest Man On Campus Contest. Sponsoring an "Ugliest Man On Campus" contest is a way to raise money for a charity such as Birthright. The idea here is to get a bunch of guys, say six to eight, to agree to compete to be the ugliest man on your campus. Frat guys are great for this. You take each of the contestants' pictures and set up a "voting" booth at a busy place on campus. Each photo has a locked see-through "ballot box" under it. People vote with money; one cent is one vote, and every person on campus can vote as many times as they care to give the money. Ballot box stuffing is encouraged. The contestant whose picture gathers the most money wins as "The Ugliest Man On Campus" and is given an appropriate trophy. The proceeds go to the charity. A variation on this theme might be a Best (or Worst? or Ugliest?) Professor On Campus contest. This idea comes from the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, and is used by many of their chapters across the country.

Tuck-Ins. Another Alpha Phi Omega inspired fund-raiser is the Tuck-In. For a dollar or two, a person can "hire" members of your group will go to a person's dormitory room, sing them a lullaby or tell them a bed-time story, and tuck them into bed with a small stuffed animal. Sorry guys, no good-night kisses! Sounds corny, but it makes money. The same type of delivery service could be provided with roses or carnations on St. Valentine's Day or with mistletoe at Christmas-time, or with a singing telegram for birthdays.

Festival Booths. If your school has a fall festival or a spring carnival, your group can run a game booth at it. There are dozens of types of game booths, and your group can either rent the equipment from a carnival company or build the booth yourself. One way to make your booth more interesting is to offer an interesting prize such as large stuffed animals or popular records (consequently your game must be more challenging). In addition to raising some money this also can gain exposure for your group.

Subsidized Fund Raisers. Another approach to raising funds is to get a business or corporation to sponsor some sort of contest. Breweries, for instance, love to sponsor college contests, perhaps because college students drink so much beer. A beer case stacking contest is one such example. Teams of four students pay an entry fee to compete. The team that can stack the most beer cases (empty) in fifteen or twenty seconds wins. To make it more interesting, hold the contest at the half-time of a football or basketball game. Your group gets the entry fees, and the sponsor provides the prizes and pays for all the publicity. Neat, eh?

Fasting. Another sponsorship-based idea is the 40-Hour Fast. Participants in the fast get their fellow students to sponsor them for so much each hour of the fast. Participants in the fast can also donate the money they would have spent on food during that time. This is a more serious event, which is good because it draws attention to the serious nature of the issues of abortion and infanticide.


One way to get funds is to go begging for them. Now, before you get your hackles up about my use of the word begging here, remember that it is a rare right-to-life group indeed that is self-supporting. Most groups rely on donations of one sort or another to keep them going, and from time to time they have to go begging for those donations. College students are no different.

Other Pro-Life Groups. Sometimes the best way to get donations is just to ask for them outright. Fancy fund-raising schemes are dandy, but they do not exhaust all possible sources of money. Large organizations that might be able to give you gift funds are not reached by, say, a raffle or a bake sale. Your local right-to-life organizations should be the first place you turn for donations. True, they usually have limited funds, but even the poorest of these groups has more money available than the richest college right-to-life group.

If you need funds, have the president of your group personally ask the head of the pro-life organization for them. It is important that the contact be personal and sincere; being able to specify why you need the funds can help your plea. This is also the approach to use with your campus ministers, organizations like the Knights of Columbus, or the Social Justice office of the local Roman Catholic diocese. Some other peace and justice organizations can also be approached.

Church Groups. It is also possible to arrange for permission to ask for contributions during some church services. Talk to the pastor. If he does not want the collection taken up during the service, perhaps he will give his permission for your members to stand outside as the service finishes. Use your imagination here, perhaps you could give each donor a rose appliqué? (This is the old tag-day idea.) Other than at churches, one might try begging for donations outside of large office buildings or factories at quitting time, sports arenas after games, or at conventions.

Advertisements. Bare advertisements in the papers asking for money are a risky venture. People prefer to be asked personally for donations, and they like to know where their money is going. You will be lucky to cover the expense of the advertising.

Direct Mail. The direct mail campaign is a possibility to consider. Here you solicit funds by mailing out appeals to a list of people who might just possibly donate to your group. The premise is that you can begin to make money if an adequate percentage of those you wrote to respond with donations. Mailings can require a lot of work, and often the returns do not justify the expenses. A professional-looking letter of appeal works best, and a carefully selected mailing list helps, too. Alumni are the college right-to-life group's best bet, especially those who were members of your group. (Which is the very reason to keep records of former members.)

Here are some guidelines for writing an effective direct mail fund raising letter:

  1. Write a personal letter. I know you will be using a form letter, but you can make it seem more personal by using an informal, "talky" style.
  2. Fill the letter with news. Give specifics about what your group has been doing in the past, and tell them what you will be using their donations for in the future. If you have a specific need (if, for instance, you are setting up a maternity loan fund) let them know. Everybody likes to know that their donations are doing good work.
  3. Indent the paragraphs. Business letters are usually in the block format; personal letters have indented paragraphs. Check a handbook of style for specifics on the proper format.
  4. Assume a positive tone in your letter. Nobody likes a "whiner." Tell folks about what has gone right in the past few months, and be enthusiastic about the upcoming months.
  5. Identify yourself. Make it clear that you are a college group. If you are writing to alumni of your school don't forget to drop a few references about what has been happening at the old alma mater. Is the football team winning? Tell them. Bring on the old school spirit.
  6. Make it very clear who checks should be payable to. This should be an account under your group's name.
  7. Always send a return envelope. If the person doesn't have to find his own envelope, address it himself, and find his own stamp, he is much more likely to respond to your appeal.

Before sending out any direct mail appeal in large numbers, it is a good idea to "test the waters," so to speak. Send out the letter to a part of your mailing list first, and only use that letter for the whole list if an adequate percentage of folks respond to your appeal. Also, always acknowledge any contributions with a thank-you note.

Wishing Well. Villanovans for Life at Villanova University in Pennsylvania has a unique idea for garnering donations from students on campus. They set up a wishing well near a well-traveled spot in their student union. The well bears a sign asking students to contribute pocket change for organizations such as homes for unwed mothers.

Pledges. The pledge system works well if you can cultivate the proper donors. It involves keeping in contact with contributors and asking them to pledge a certain monthly or yearly donation. This works well in conjunction with direct mail techniques, but you should try to establish personal contact, even by telephone, with your larger and more faithful contributors. This runs like a membership renewal drive, in fact, you could even refer to your contributors as "honorary" or "sustaining" members.

Dues. Dues are a possibility, but they bring with them the possibility that they may keep some people out of your group. If the dues are small enough, though, you should be able to avoid too much of this sort of trouble. Most people who are even casually interested in your group should be willing to pay a nominal dues. But you should always be ready to waive dues if a person cannot afford them. The primary reason for charging a nominal dues is not to raise money - college students usually do not have that much money - but it is rather to engender a sense of belonging among your membership. People feel they are a part of something if they pay for it, and that is a feeling you want to cultivate.

Funds From Student Government

Should your group apply for funds from your student government? This has been a question of debate within our group for some time. If your group does not address political issues and is primarily a service or educational organization, then there is probably no reason why you should not apply for funds from your student government. If your student government will not provide funds because your group is "political" or "controversial" you might consider breaking your group down into two groups: one could continue to do political action while the other would undertake educational activities. Of course, you must see to it that the groups function well together (they should have basically the same membership). They could even have the same officers.

It is my opinion that all groups that can should try to get as much money as possible from their student governments. After all, a right-to-life group is a worthier cause than the Chess Club. Any group which accepts funds from student government usually gives up some of its freedom and almost always has to put up with a lot of red tape. Then, too, there is the dreaded allocation process. When he was president of Pitt Students for Life, Harry Brock would ask his he could possibly imagine figuring that the worst they could do would be to refuse. He would always include one or two budget requests that the allocations committee could ax in case they felt morally obliged to cut something.

But there is a legitimate concern that highly political groups may cause more trouble than do good by asking for school funds. The ensuing controversy might adversely effect your group's image. You have to weigh the gains versus the losses. My general feeling is that a little controversy never hurt much and that it is better than no attention at all.

[Previous | Contents]