Big money: the science of a successful school fete

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

There is definitely an art to running a successful fete. Is there also a science?

According to Professor Wendy Scaife of Queensland University of Technology, the answer is yes. Along with colleague, Marie Crittall, she ran The National Fete Research Project, gathering data from 500 schools from across Australia.

Before I go into any more detail, I'll answer what I suspect is your most pressing question: the average amount raised was $18,000.

Unsurprisingly, there's some fine tuning required before you despair or celebrate how that answer fits with your fete, as the size and location of a school makes a big difference.

Large schools, classified as those with 700+ students, saw an average profit of $26,000. Smaller schools, with fewer than 300 kids, raised an average of $10,000. Wealthier schools profited more than schools in lower socio-economic areas and city-based schools made more than regional and remote schools.

Interestingly, smaller and more remote schools raised more on a per-student basis than their larger and city-based counterparts (though this trend did not hold for schools in lower socio-economic areas).

The top earning school made $93,000 from a single fete (sorry, I don't have the coordinator's phone number to pass on!).

The research project was conducted with the aim of helping organisers feel less in the dark about the best way to run their school fete or fair. The results are both illuminating and reassuring.

If you find recruiting volunteers hard, you will be reassured by the fact that 39 percent of respondent schools found that disinterest, reluctance to make a firm commitment and volunteer fatigue as problems. I'm not sure whether you'll feel inspired by, or simply envious of, the 47% who said they found it easy to recruit volunteers.

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I was not surprised to read that rides were the most popular fete offering but wasn't expecting to find out that the humble BBQ as listed by many schools as one of their top three money makers.

The least profitable stalls were ones like face painting and crazy hair but, as fetes are about enjoyment as well as fundraising, this doesn't mean you should automatically strike these activities off your list.

Some of the findings are mind blowing, with up to five percent of fetes running for more than eight hours (phew!). Other findings will prompt schools to think afresh, with online tools like Google Docs, TryBooking and Volunteer Signup reported to be very helpful for administration and volunteer management.

What was it all for? Nearly half noted that bringing the school community together is the best aspect of a fete. Nearly one third of schools planned to use profits for playground costs, with building works and technology purchases the next highest priorities.

A surprising fifteen percent were fundraising with no specific purpose in mind and a small percentage of schools said they didn't expect to make a profit.

If you suspect that the gender balance of fete volunteers is askew, you now have data, with the report showing that more than 75 percent of volunteers on the day are female and, for organising committees, this jumps to 90 percent. Teachers were involved in almost all the fetes at some level, with nearly half of public schools reporting that teachers were 'very' or 'extremely' involved.

Some of the findings speak to the inequities between different types of schools that fundraising can exacerbate. The fine detail of the research shows that government school fetes made significantly less profit (an average of $50 per student) than Catholic and private schools ($72 and $60 per student respectively). Schools with less wealthy parents and communities had fewer donations towards their fundraising efforts and fewer people attend their fete. They also made smaller profits, seeing an average of just under $9,000 compared with nearly $23,000 (taking school size into account, this worked out to around $20 per student less).

The survey report contains a whole heap of tips and advice from schools, making good reading if you've ever wondered about whether you should hire a portable ATM (most don't but those who have recommended it), outsource tasks (one school even arranged for low-security prisoners to help pack up!), or offer rewards for volunteers (like a specific raffle with a ticket given for every hour or volunteering).

The top tips from the research? Starting early is identified as a key to success and, in keeping with the vibe of this research, document what worked and didn't work so that you  and next year's fete committee can benefit from the wisdom of others.

Vivienne Pearson was supported in the writing of this article by a Walkley Foundation Grant for Freelance Journalism