School carnivals are one of the most popular ways to raise money for schools in the United States. While the amount of planning and organizing that goes into this type of an event may be very high, the pay-off can also be substantial. If you find yourself in charge of running your school’s carnival, take a few minutes to read about the things NOT to do, if you would ever like to resume this position in the future.
Repeat the Same Games, Activities, and Entertainment Year After Year
A surefire way to decrease the annual attendance at your school carnival is to find some activities that seem to work and then use them year after year after year. It’s very easy to fall into the mindset that since an activity or event was popular one or maybe even two years, it will always be so. However, this is dangerous. People get bored. Also, just because you still have some props left over from previous carnivals, and it’s cheaper not to have to build new ones is no excuse to stick with the “same-old, same-old”.
The only exception to this rule is something that is considered a local tradition. Perhaps there is a long-established talent contest or chili cook-off that is responsible for actually drawing people to the carnival.
However, these kinds of perennial events should make up only a small fraction of your carnival agenda. Most of the entertainment, activities, and events should be continually updated to keep attracting a large audience each year.
Have Poor Food Choices
Believe it or not, there are some groups out there who place very little importance on the selection and presentation of food at school events. From bake sales to sporting events to school carnivals, food is important! You can not give a lazy effort when selecting what items to sell. You can not just wrap a Rice Crispy treat in cheap cellophane and walk away, thinking you’re going to make money.
If you are in charge of organizing your schools carnival, I recommend finding the most creative person on your team and putting him or her in charge of food sales. This person should be responsible for making sure there are interesting and unique food items for sale and that the presentation of all items is highly attractive. This will boost sales and your income dramatically.
Don’t Talk to Lots of People When Picking a Theme for the Year
A school carnival should reflect the tastes and interests of your entire school community at large. If the event is going to be a success, it has to appeal to a wide cross-section of your parents, students, and school staff. For instance, I personally can’t stand anything to do with Sponge Bob Square Pants. I forbid my children from owning any Sponge Bob merchandise, and they know that even over at friends’ houses, they are to avoid this awful, awful cartoon.
Anyway, that’s merely my personal opinion, and if I were going to organize a carnival, I would have to be open to somehow incorporating a Sponge Bob theme, if that’s what my community wanted one year. The point is, you should seek out a wide cross-section of opinions while determining what theme you are picking for carnival and not rely on your own personal likes and dislikes, just because you’re the boss.
Not Having Lots of Places for Families to Spend Money
A school carnival is great because it serves so many purposes. Not only is it a wonderful community builder, but it is also an opportunity for a school to generate a great deal of revenue. A huge mistake on the planners’ part would be not to create as many places as possible for parents to spend their money. Of course, there are the traditional opportunities, like admission tickets and food items. However, put some thought and research into other ways to get the cash registers ringing. For example, I would recommend using a space to create a small store and stock it with items from the Oriental Trading catalog. Kids love these kinds of things.
Also think about holding a contest before the carnival for students to design the official school carnival t-shirt for the year. The winning design would be featured on the front side of the t-shirt, while sponsor logos could be sold on the backside. Then these t-shirts could be sold at the event. I would also charge separately for any type of “rides” like a moonwalk or other bouncy type activity.
I would also recommend eliminating cash from your carnival and instead do everything by ticket or token. This will avoid many headaches for you and families at the event.
Not Researching School Carnival Information Online Beforehand
These days, there are so many online resources for you to investigate anything before diving into it. Not only are there traditional sites that will sell you carnival-related items and services, but there are also blogs like this one that offer general advice. Additionally, there are plenty of places, like Yahoo Answers that allow you to post questions and receive answers from people at large about a particular question you might have.
The point is, there is no longer any excuse for not finding out the very best way to run a school carnival. The Internet has provided us all with a free and easy way to gain knowledge on a mind-boggling array of topics. Use this amazing tool to assist you in your planning process.
Not Selling Booth Space to Local Non-Profit or Other Family-Focused Organizations
This may fall under the topic of raising as much money as possible at your carnival, but I thought it was important enough to deserve its own headline. Since you will be drawing a significant crowd of a desirable demographic (families with young kids), other groups will be very desirous of getting in on that action.
I think you should dedicate a section of your carnival space to non-profit groups or other family-focused organizations, so that they can pass out information about their own services. They shouldn’t be allowed to sell anything or to solicit donations from those in attendance, but they can pass along information about themselves that would lead to future support. In addition, each group should be required to provide, at their booth, some kind of kid-friendly activity- even if it’s something simple like fishing for a prize or a coloring contest.
Lastly, I would charge these groups for the booth space. All non-profits I have ever worked with have a budget for advertising/marketing and participation at a school carnival could easily fall into that budget category. Of course, make it affordable to them, but even at $100 per group could net you a tidy little sum for something that will add to the atmosphere of your event.
Not Embarrassing the School Principal to Raise Money
As a former school principal, I cringe at what I’m about to write, but it’s true- you should most definitely use any way possible to embarrass the head of the school for cash. In a related article, I wrote that you should shave, dunk, follow, or jail him or her to raise as much money as you possible can. Inflicting (imaginary) pain on the school principal is something that appeals to the child inside of everyone, including the parents and the staff of the school.
Try selling tickets for a dunk machine, or set a bar of $1000 dollars donated to the PTO and the principal will shave his head, right there at the carnival, you could have a huge hit on your hands.
Not Providing Special Activities and Supervision for Younger Siblings
If you fail to consider that many families have younger siblings (or even elderly grandparents) that could also enjoy the carnival, you are missing a huge opportunity. In all of your promotional information, you should highlight that you will be providing supervised play areas and special activities and events for younger siblings that will be separate and protected from the older kids. You should also mention that there will be plenty of seating areas for grandmas and grandpas to come and enjoy the fun.
By inviting the entire family along, you take away the need (or obstacle) for families to hire a babysitter and also increase your gate receipts. Some families could very well decide that if they can’t bring their little kids, they aren’t going to bother coming at all and then you lose out.
Spend lots of money on promotion of the event
Advertising can be very expensive and dramatically eat into any kind of profit you’re hoping to make from the carnival. There is no reason for your school to drop lots of money in getting the word out about your event. You can do a fantastic job of promotions and only have to spend a modest amount on making copies of your flier.
First of all, you should be sending home information sheets about the carnival months ahead of time, seeking volunteers for all the necessary tasks. Keep the event in the top of the parents’ minds on a regular basis right up until the day before. Posters and fliers can be hung up around the school, as well.
Out in the community, many stores will post your fliers for free. Likewise, churches will often cooperate and write a small blurb in their weekly bulletins. I would even write a short public service announcement and send it to your local TV and radio stations. You should assume that your advertising budget is almost zero and work fro there.
Although taking charge of your school’s carnival may be daunting, there are many resources available to help you succeed. By putting in some effort early on in the process, you will greatly increase your likelihood of pulling off the best carnival your school has ever seen!
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