There's nothing like a big, colorful school carnival to bring in money, but what if your school is strapped for cash? Isn't that why you needed a fundraiser in the first place? Not to worry. If you have enough volunteers and a passion for organizing, you can hold a fundraiser with little or no cash upfront. Here are 5 ideas for fun, free fundraisers that turn into real money for your school.

  1. Organize a school-wide yard sale. Chances are, lots of families in your school have crowded garages they wouldn't mind cleaning out for a good cause. Ask for donations of clothes, toys, and household items. Then round up enough parent volunteers to help set up and host the sale right in the school yard or cafeteria. Remember to put up flyers and list your sale with local newspapers, online community boards, the school website, and Craigslist to draw the biggest crowd.
  2. Hold a service auction. The parents at your school aren't just parents. They're also web designers, master gardeners, handymen, babysitters, musicians, and tax attorneys. Ask parents to donate an hour or two of their time doing whatever they do best. Parents can bid on the services they need, promote their own businesses within the community, and help the school raise money.
  3. Auction off the school staff. The principal-for-a-day auction is always popular, but don't be afraid to try something different for creative, free fundraisers. How about holding an auction to have the principal camp out on the school roof for a day? Or maybe your child would love to have lunch with a favorite teacher. As long as parents, kids, and staff are game, be creative!
  4. Have a craft or art sale with goodies created and donated by the kids and their families. Late November to early December is a terrific time to hold a sale, since people will be gearing up for the holidays and relatives will be in town. For an extra dose of cuteness, kids can help run the booths and sell their own work. Have a little extra cash? Buy some simple frames for the artwork, get volunteers to put things together, and you'll have ready-to-hang pieces of art that you can charge more for.
  5. Host a walk/run/bike-a-thon. Not all fundraisers have to involve sugar. This classic event gets kids active and can easily be held at the school. Parents, grandparents, and other relatives are usually happy to sponsor kids per lap, and a healthy sense of competition will keep kids going. If the school can afford them, ribbons, small prizes, and cool drinks for the kids will make the event even better. Print out blue ribbons for free!

With a little creativity, it's definitely possible to make something from nothing. Try one of these ideas, or talk to other parents and come up with your own free fundraiser!