A trail is an excellent fit for PTAs looking for a fundraiser with limited upfront costs. Businesses and families create and host displays, and the PTA only incurs expenses for printing, advertising, and prizes.
1. Two months before: Choose a theme and determine a start and end date. Decide where you’re going to hold your trail: how big an area will it cover and which streets will be included? Set yourself a target number of displays to fill this space without too many gaps. Bear in mind the likely age range of participants and how much stamina they’ll have for walking long distances.
Put out a request for families to create displays through your usual channels; spread the net wider by using local press and social media groups to involve the community. Set up an easy way for people to register for a display, such as an allocated email address or Google Form. Collect participants’ contact details in case of emergencies or last-minute changes. Explain how you will store these under GDPR.
2. One month before: Finalise display numbers and work out the best solution for presenting and sharing your trail information: is it essential to offer a hard copy, or can you make the entire trail paperless? Try using an interactive Google Map with an online trail sheet or Google Form for collecting answers.
Create your map highlighting the participants’ addresses and numbering the displays accordingly for easy navigation. Establish the best route based on your display locations and test it out. If the trail involves finding clues, work out what they are and design instruction and answer sheets. Decide how to publicise your trail and how much to charge. Determine who will receive a prize: will you give something to everyone who completes the trail or award a main prize to one lucky participant picked at random?
3. Two weeks before: Finish the map, ready for distribution. Continue promoting the event, both within the school community and publicly. Explain how it will work, how to get involved and why the funds are needed.
4. One week before: Promote the event on local social media groups and with banners around the area. Share teaser photos of the displays to generate excitement. If people hosting the displays need to include a letter, number or question, make sure they know what it is and how they should display it.
5. Throughout the trail: Share daily photos on social media and the school emails to maintain interest. Perform regular checks along the route to ensure any clues, signage and displays are still in place. Towards the final date, post images of all the displays so everyone can enjoy them, and create a poll asking participants to vote for their favourites.
6. After the event: Award prizes to winning entries, making sure to thank everyone who entered. Organise a post-event debrief to discuss what worked well and what may need tweaking for next time. Thank those who participated in the trail and ask for feedback. Provide details about how much the event raised and what it will provide for the children.
Tips and advice
- Charging: Keep it display registration free and make money by charging £2-£3 for a trail sheet, depending on the cost of any prizes. Alternatively, run the event on a donation-only basis to ensure everyone can participate. Read our guide to online payment platforms.
- Timings: Run the trail for one or two weeks. Gauge interest from parents to help make the decision and take the PTA volunteers’ time into account. Can you keep up with the social media posting and trail maintenance for two weeks? Will a long duration put people off hosting?
- Displays: Decide the kind of trail you want: scarecrows are always popular, and we’ve heard of bears, pigs and even Sunday dinners (not real, of course). Hosts could make their displays inside, for example at a window. For outdoor displays, bear in mind the likely weather conditions and the possibility of vandalism.
- Theme: A theme is a great way to inspire display-makers and encourage some friendly competition. Classic themes include children’s books, films, sporting events and seasonal holidays.
- Make it a hunt: To make your trail more engaging, create a question sheet with clues that lead participants to each display. For example, participants might need to unscramble letters to make a word.
- The route: If there are large gaps between some displays, try to fill them. Can you get permission to erect something in green spaces along the way? This could be an ideal way to include supporters who live outside the trail area. From a safety perspective, make sure your map avoids main roads and areas with no pavements.
- Rewards: Ask participants to vote for their favourite display and reward its creators as well as awarding prizes to those who complete the trail.
‘Our pandemic garage sale trail raised £600!’
‘Once some of the Covid lockdown restrictions were lifted, and car boot sales were allowed to go ahead again, we started thinking about how we could hold a second-hand sale and raise money for our PFA. We decided to hold a ‘garage sale trail’ one Saturday in October, inviting village residents to hold their own garage sales to sell good-quality second-hand goods. We charged £5 per garage to take part, and in return they were listed on a printed trail map showing all the garage locations around the village. The maps were available to buy for £1 each from the local newsagent, and we promoted the event through the school and also on our village Facebook page.
The event ran over five hours, and we asked buyers and sellers to adhere to the social distancing rules in place at that time. We had 21 garages in total, of which four were from outside the school community. Sellers kept the profits from anything they sold but were invited to make a 10% donation to our local hospice, Oakhaven, which many people did.
At my garage sale, I also ran a cake sale, with all profits going to the PFA. We raised around £600 in total, and after the success of last year’s event, we are planning to hold another one soon!’
Amanda Maidment, PFA chair, Milford on Sea Primary School, Milford on Sea, Hampshire (312 pupils)
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