A carnival is one of the best and most fun ways you can raise a significant amount of money for your school. The amount of work that goes into turning your carnival into a real, money-making machine, however, can be intense. Here are five suggestions you can use to really crank up your revenue-producing potential.

1. Use the latest technology in your marketing campaign

A basic principle of marketing is to get the message out to your audience in the ways that they consume information. Since your primary market is families with young children, you can safely assume that a large percentage of these parents are active online. Therefore, you should make sure that you are utilizing social networking outlets as a primary means of spreading the word. 

Create a Facebook fan page for your school and fill it with quick posts such as:

·         Important dates/times for the carnival

·         Notifications on wristband sales

·         Cool activities you’ve booked, like a bungee run or inflatable jousting

·         Popular entertainment acts you’ve scheduled, such as local bands or the high school cheerleading squad

·         Incentives like shaving the principal’s head if 80% of the students in the school pre-buys wristbands

·         Any specialty food items you’ll be selling at the carnival, like deep-fried Oreo cookies

Get this information out in real-time and specifically ask your readers to pass the word on by sending email links or suggesting their friends should check your school’s fan site out.

I would also suggest recruiting a handful of students who are big-time texters. Ask them to start a “text-tree” where they text ten of their friends and family members. Then, those ten each text ten more friends of their own and so on, until the numbers explode. It can be a simple message like “don’t forget to buy your carnival wristbands by today”. This can be a very powerful tool for you.

Don’t forget to ask your school district if you can use their automated phone alert system, if they have one. This is the phone system that calls you at home to alert you of a school cancellation or something similar. Many times, schools use these systems to tell parents about school plays or performances. Request permission to use the system for your school carnival announcements to parents on their home or mobile phones. This is a very effective means of communications at your disposal. If you’ve got it, use it!

2. Be more truthful in your marketing

Face it, it’s tough getting people to spend money on charities, which schools are, in a bad economy. People are scared and want to hold on to their money. That’s understandable. However, it’s also true that schools need to raise money for things, important things, that the budget won’t cover anymore. Therefore, I would suggest two very important messages to really hammer home in your carnival marketing plan. 

First, be very specific in your material. Tell parents exactly what the money you raise will go for. Work with the school principal and teachers to come up with a list of all the items that are dependent upon fundraising. Tell the parents that these items will be cut if your goals aren’t met. Even go so far as to create a priority list- name the item that will be cut first, etc. You message might still be ignored by some, but for others, this reality check will be good incentive. And at least, you can say, they were warned.

Second, make sure you start advertising your carnival a LONG time before it happens. I’m talking six or seven months before. Then, after you’ve told them what their money will go for, specifically suggest that families should SAVE for your event. If you give them six months (24 weeks) and ask them to put away just $3 per week, that’s $72 by the time of the event. If your school has 250 families and just half of them (125) save up to spend the $72, you’ll get $9,000. 75% at that amount would equal over $13,000. Would that be helpful for your school? 

I would even go as far as to launch a school-wide project where kids get coffee cans or milk jugs and decorate them into personal savings banks for the school carnival. Even on tight budgets, many families can find ways to scrape together $3 per week. That’s only 43 cents per day! But, you’re going to have to lay out a plan for them.

Unless families know the specific need and are given a specific plan on how to meet the goal, you won’t be able to raise the money your school needs.

3. Pre-sell activity wristbands

In the sections above, I made mention of pre-selling activity and game wristbands. Basically, this is a concept where people get a discount for purchasing their all-access game tickets ahead of time.   If a person decides not to pre-buy the wristband, he or she would have to pay more at the door on the day/night of the event. Usually a $5 discount for pre-buying is enough of an incentive.

I would suggest setting a school-wide goal for sales of the wristbands. This will mean that you or the school principal will have to make a big deal with the kids about tracking their progress. Once per day or once per week, the calculations should be made and announced to the school about how close to the goal you are getting. 

This can be done with a simple “goal thermometer” that you make with a couple of thick Sharpie markers- black and red- and a sheet of large poster board. It doesn’t have to be fancy to make the point. Really get the kids fired up for it. Of course, that will mean you’ll have to offer them something pretty good in exchange for their effort. 

 Even though it’s an oldie- the school principal getting his head shaved in front of the school is a great motivator (unless the principal is already bald or is a female who refuses to undergo the clippers). But things like an assembly, a free day at school, a day off from school (if private), or anything else that doesn’t cost you any money would also be good.

By pre-selling a lot of activity wristbands, you not only front-load your income, but you also get a good start on estimating  on how much food you will need to have on hand. By adding the goal/reward system to the pre-sale, you’re pro-actively pumping up your revenue.

4. Be Smart about spending on prizes- use prize packs

It’s easy to want to splurge on the prizes you give to kids for the games they play. Some schools get really into it and set up a “prize redemption” station, where kids trade the tickets they won from playing games in for various prizes, very similar to the way arcades do it.

I would suggest staying far away from this system. While the kids love it, it presents a logistical nightmare for the organizers of the carnival. You have to figure out all of the mathematics of how many tickets each child could possibly win on each game, for each time he or she plays it. Then, you have to determine how many of the small, medium, and large prizes you should buy based on how you think the kids would actually do.  And you better not screw up by not having enough “big” prizes. You could have some disgruntled youngsters on your hands …

Plus, it takes an incredibly long time for kids to decide which prize(s) they want. Have you ever stood in line behind a seven year old at the prize counter at Chuck E. Cheese? It takes eons for them to figure out how to spend all of their tickets. You’ll have a line snaking all around your school, trying to manage this!

The solution, although it’s not the most fun for kids, is to go with pre-packaged prize packs that are all the same. You can create separate packs for boys and girls, if you like. Good prizes are pencils, coupons to McDonald’s, small candy, a homework pass, a few small toys, a rub-on tattoo, etc. In the long run, a child won’t be disappointed by this bag of loot and you’ve saved a lot of grief for everyone involved.

5. Merchandize like crazy with money-making add-ons

Ok, so you’ve got people buying their activity wristbands and some food, but how else can you get them to part with some of their hear-earned dough?

From the time a family walks into your carnival, they should be overwhelmed with opportunities to spend money. The games and activities are inviting, but you can set up a bunch of other money-making stations that are very appealing, as well.

For instance, you can sell “cascarones”. These are decorative egg-shells that have been hollowed out and stuffed with confetti. Once they’re stuffed and decorated, you paste a small cover over the hole to keep the confetti in.

Have volunteers make these by the dozen and then sell them individually at the carnival. One a person buys a cascarone, he or she sneaks up behind a friend and smashes it over their head, raining confetti down on that person. It’s a good laugh for everyone. Just makes sure the person buying the egg knows not to hurt their target by smashing it down on the head too hard. 

There are many articles online, giving instructions on how to make and decorate the eggs. Do a simple search on Google to learn more.

Another good idea is to set up a jail at the carnival. For a fee, like 2 tickets (approximately $1) you can hire one of the jail guards to “arrest” one of his or her friends. The “arrested” person has to stay in the jail until he or she pays 4 tickets (approximately $2) to get out. 

The jail should be in a conspicuous location where everyone can see who has been arrested.

If you really want to ratchet up the embarrassment factor, make the inmates sing for the crowd while they are incarcerated. I once had to sing “Little Bunny Foo Foo” while waiting to get out of jail. It was very embarrassing, but a lot of fun!

One more idea to make some extra money at your carnival would be to get a volunteer who is handy with a camera to take candid shots all evening of friends having fun together. With a digital camera and a portable color printer, you can print off copies for sale. Price the photos to move and make sure the photographer is also a good salesman to motivate people to buy.


These are just a few of the many strategies you can use to make more money at your next school carnival.  The most important piece of advice is to make sure you are giving people what they want. The more ways you can tempt them, the more money they will spend.

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