Many options exist for organizations wanting to sell food as a fundraiser

When selling food as a fundraiser, the rewards and risks of investing time, energy and financial resources should be carefully considered to maximize financial gain for your organization.

Fundraising to support community programs has become more common over time, even more so during this time of declining public resources. There are many compelling reasons to raise funds by selling food. Goodwill and conviviality, in additional to money, can be generated in your community by successful events.

You likely have purchased commercially produced, packaged products such as Girl Scout cookies. You may have lost your willpower when passing by a school bake sale and purchased a plate of brownies. Or, you may have eaten at a spaghetti dinner hosted by a booster group, service club or church. Connecting our stomachs to our hearts and wallets has been a social mainstay in most, if not all, communities for generations. How far back this tradition goes is uncertain, but the Washington State University College of Business has been holding a traditional Italian meal fundraiser since 1932 and claims it’s “the third-oldest of its kind in the country.”

Selling commercially produced, packaged food is a staple of fundraising activities, especially for youth organizations such as sports teams, clubs or social affinities. Often, these are snack food items such as cookies, nuts, popcorn and candy. Groups purchase wholesale quantities of these items and their prices are marked up to produce a profit to the organization. An entire industry has developed around supplying foods of this type to organizations wishing to raise money. Many organizations use this method because it is trouble-free and they don’t need to prepare or package food. In some instances, the supplier company will accept the return of unsold items.

Another popular fundraising strategy is the sale of food items prepared in home or commercial kitchens and sold at bake sales, pie sales or special events. Ethnic foods, such as tamales, pasties or other regional delights are popular. It is important to note that this type of activity isn’t universally permitted under state or local health code or legislation. As a fundraising strategy, there is little financial investment needed if the ingredients or finished products are donated. The risk of being left with unsold items can be minimized by pre-selling items or taking firm orders in advance.

Community meals are an attractive way to raise funds, build awareness of a group or cause and provide social interaction for diners. However, many details need to be considered in order for such an event to be successful. Groups considering community meals as fundraising events need to consider menu, publicity, ticket sales, and location in making decisions. Local health departments may require community meals be prepared in a licensed, commercial kitchen such as might be found in a school, church or community center.

It is important to note that holding a community meal requires significant investment of volunteer time and effort. The Society for Nonprofit Organizations addresses special events such as community meals in its Fundraising Guide. The pros and cons of community meals are listed in the guide. It says, “They take a lot of time, planning and organizational skills. An event can be ruined because of weather, competing events and many other details over which you have little control. And, the money raised may not justify all of the time involved.”

Safety of any food sold for fundraising purposes is of the highest importance. For more information about food safety considerations, use Michigan State University Extension’sAsk an Expert” feature or the Safe Food and Water resource webpage.

Careful consideration of all the required investments of time, volunteers and money can help determine which of these strategies is best for your team, group or organization.

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