5 More Ways to Make Money at Your School Carnival – Updated for the 2010 school year

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 tips you can use to really crank up your income-generating potential.

1. Use the latest technology in your marketing campaigns

A basic principle of marketing is to convey the message to your audience the way they receive 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 use social networking outlets as your primary means of spreading the word.

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

Important Dates/Times for Carnival

· Notification regarding sale of wristbands

· Adventure activities you book, such as bungee jumping or inflatable jousting

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

Incentives like shaving the principal’s head if 80% of the school’s students buy wristbands in advance

At the carnival you’ll sell any specialty food items, such as deep-fried Oreo cookies

Get this information out in real-time and specifically ask your readers to pass the word by emailing the link or telling their friends to check out your school’s fan site.

I would also recommend 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, each of those ten texts ten more friends of their own, and so on, until the number explodes. It could be a simple message like “Don’t forget to buy your carnival wristband today”. This can be a very powerful tool for you.

Be sure to ask your school district if you can use their automated phone alert system, if they have one. It’s a phone system that calls you home to alert you of school cancellations or something similar. Many times, schools use these systems to tell parents about school plays or performances. Request parents’ permission to use the system to announce your school carnival at home or on mobile phones. It is a very effective means of communication at your disposal. If you’ve got it, use it!

2. Be more truthful in your marketing

Let’s face it, people have a hard time spending money on charities, which schools are in a bad economy. People get scared and want to hold on to their money. It’s understandable. However, it is also true that schools need to raise money for things, important things, that the budget will no longer cover. Therefore, I would suggest two very important messages to really hammer home your carnival marketing plan.

First, be very specific in your material. Tell the parents exactly what the money you raise will go towards. Work with school principals and teachers to come up with a list of all items dependent on fundraising. Tell parents that these items will be deducted if your goals are not met. Even go so far as to create a priority list – name the item to be cut first, etc. Your message may still go unnoticed by some, but for others, this reality check will be good encouragement. And at least, you could say, they were warned.

Second, make sure you start advertising long before your carnival. I am talking about six-seven months ago. Then, after you tell them what that means, specifically suggest that families should make reservations for your event. If you give them six months (24 weeks) and only pay $3 per week, that’s $72 during the event. If your school has 250 families and only half of them (125) save up to spend $72, you get $9,000. 75% of that amount would equal $13,000. Would that be helpful for your school?

I would even go so far as to start a school-wide project where the kids would get coffee cans or milk jugs and decorate them in personal savings banks for the school carnival. Even on a tight budget, many families can find ways to scrape together $3 a week. It’s only 43 cents a day! But, you need to make a plan for them.

If families don’t know the specific needs and don’t have a specific plan on how to meet the goals, you won’t be able to raise the money your school needs.

3. Pre-sale activity wristbands

In the above sections, I have mentioned pre-sale activities and game wristbands. Basically, it’s a concept where people get a discount for buying their all-access game tickets ahead of time. If a person chooses not to purchase the wristband in advance, they will have to pay more at the door on the day/night of the event. A $5 discount is usually enough of an incentive to pre-purchase.

I would suggest setting a school-wide goal for wristband sales. This means that you or the school principal will have to make a big deal with the kids about tracking their progress. Once a day or once per week, count and announce to the school how close you are getting to the goal.

This can be done with a simple “round thermometer” that you make with a few 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 fire the kids for it. Of course, that means you have to offer them something pretty good in return for their efforts.

Although it’s an old-school principal shaving her head in front of the school is a great motivator (unless the principal is already bald or a woman who refuses to clipper). But 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 be fine too.

With many activity wristbands sold in advance, you not only front-load your income, but you also get a good head start on estimating how much food you’ll need to have on hand. By adding pre-sale goals/reward systems, you are actively increasing your revenue.

4. Be smart about reward spending – use reward packs

It’s easy to splurge on the prizes you give your kids for the games they play. Some schools really get into it and set up a “prize redemption” station, where kids sell tickets won by playing games for various prizes, similar to an arcade.

I would recommend staying away from this system. While the kids love it, it presents a logistical nightmare for carnival organizers. You have to do all the math on how many tickets each child can potentially win in each game, each time they play. Then, you need to decide how many small, medium, and large prizes to buy based on how you think the kids will actually do. And you’d better not be spoiled by not getting enough “big” rewards. You may have some disgruntled young men on your hands…

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

The solution, although not the most fun for kids, is pre-packaged prize packs that are all the same. You can make separate packs for boys and girls if you want. Good rewards are pencils, McDonald’s coupons, small candies, a homework pass, a few small toys, a rub-on tattoo, etc. In the long run, a child will not be disappointed by this bag of loot and you save a lot of grief for everyone involved.

5. Create crazy merchandise with monetizing add-ons

OK, so you’ve bought people activity wristbands and some food, but how do you get them to share some of the hear-earned dough?

From the moment a family arrives at your carnival, they should be overwhelmed with spending opportunities. The games and activities are inviting, but you can set up a bunch of other money-making stations that are also very interesting.

For example, you can sell “cascarones”. These are decorative eggshells that have been hollowed out and stuffed with confetti Once they are stuffed and decorated, you paste a small cover over the hole to hold the confetti.

Have volunteers make these by the dozen and then sell them individually at the carnival. A person is buying a cascarone, he or she sneaks up behind a friend and smashes them over the head, showering the person with confetti. It’s a good laugh for everyone. Just make sure the person buying the eggs knows not to hit their target too hard.

There are many articles online that provide instructions on how to make and decorate eggs. Do a simple search on Google to know more.

Another good idea is to set up a gel at the carnival. For a fee like 2 tickets (about $1) you can hire a prison guard to “arrest” one of his friends. The “arrested” person must stay in jail until he pays 4 tickets (about $2) to get out.

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

If you really want to ratchet up the embarrassment, force the inmates to sing for the crowd while 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!

Another idea to make some extra money at your carnival is to get a volunteer who can take candid shots with a camera all evening of friends having fun together. With a digital camera and a portable color printer, you can print 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 tricks you can use to make more money at your next school carnival The most important piece of advice is to make sure you’re giving people what they want. The more ways you can entice them, the more money they will spend.