5 More Ways to Earn 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. However, the amount of work involved in turning your carnival into a real money machine can be intense. Here are five tips you can use to really increase your income-generating potential.

1. Use the latest technology in your marketing campaign

A basic principle of marketing is getting your message across to your audience in the way they consume information. Since their primary market is families with young children, you can safely assume that a large percentage of these parents are active online. Therefore, you need to make sure that you use social media as the primary means of spreading the message.

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

Important dates/times for the carnival

Notifications about sale of bracelets

Cool activities you’ve booked, like a bungee run or inflatable jousting

Popular entertainment acts that you have scheduled, such as local bands or the high school cheer team.

Incentives such as shaving the principal’s head if 80% of the school’s students pre-purchase wristbands

Any special foods that you will sell at the carnival, such as fried Oreo cookies

Get this information in real time and specifically ask your readers to spread the word by sending email links or suggesting their friends visit your school’s fan site.

I would also suggest recruiting a handful of students who are good messengers. Ask them to start a “texting tree” in which they text ten of their friends and family. Then those ten send text messages to ten more friends and so on, until the numbers explode. It can be a simple message like “don’t forget to buy your carnival bracelets for today”. This can be a very powerful tool for you.

Don’t forget to ask your school district if you can use their automated phone alert system, if they have one. This is the phone system that calls you at home to notify you of school cancellation or something similar. Many times, schools use these systems to inform parents about school plays or performances. Request permission to use your school’s carnival system to announce to parents on their mobile or home phones. This is a very effective means of communication at your disposal. If you have it, use it!

2. Be more truthful in your marketing

Face it, it’s hard to get people to spend money on charities, which is schools, in a bad economy. People are afraid and want to hold on to their money. That’s understandable. However, it is also true that schools need to raise money for things, important things, that the budget will no longer cover. So I would suggest two very important messages to really mark your carnival marketing plan.

First, be very specific in your material. Tell parents exactly what the money they raise will go toward. Work with the school principal and teachers to come up with a list of all items that depend on fundraising. Tell parents that these items will be removed if their goals are not met. Even go as far as creating a priority list: name the item to be cut first, etc. Some may continue to ignore your message, but for others, this reality check will be a good incentive. And at least, it can be said, they were warned.

Second, make sure you start advertising your carnival WAY before it happens. I’m talking about six or seven months before. Then, after you’ve told them where their money is going, suggest specifically that families should SAVE for their event. If you give them six months (24 weeks) and ask them to save just $3 per week, it will be $72 at the time of the event. If your school has 250 families and only half of them (125) save to spend the $72, you will get $9,000. 75% of that amount would equal more than $13,000. Would it be useful for your school?

I’d even go as far as launching a school-wide project where kids get coffee cans or milk jugs and decorate them as personal savings boxes for the school carnival. Even on tight budgets, many families can find ways to save $3 a week. That’s only 43 cents a day! But, you’re going to have to devise a plan for them.

Unless families are aware of the specific need and receive a specific plan on how to reach the goal, you will not be able to raise the money your school needs.

3. Pre-sale of activity bracelets

In the previous sections, I mentioned pre-sale activity and gaming wristbands. Basically, this is a concept where people get a discount for buying their all-access game tickets early. If a person decides not to pre-purchase the wristband, he would have to pay more at the door on the day/night of the event. Usually a $5 pre-purchase discount is incentive enough.

I would suggest setting a school-wide goal for bracelet sales. This will mean that you or the school principal will have to make a big fuss with the kids about monitoring their progress. Once a day or once a week, you should do the math and tell the school how close you are to your goal.

This can be done with a simple “target thermometer” made with a couple of thick Sharpie markers (black and red) and a large sheet of construction paper. It doesn’t have to be fancy to make the point. I really excited the kids. Of course, that will mean that you’ll have to offer them something pretty good in return for their effort.

Even though he’s an old man, the school principal who shaves his head in front of the school is a great motivator (unless the principal is already bald or is a woman who refuses to submit to the razor). But things like an assembly, a day off from school, a day off from school (if it’s private) or anything else that doesn’t cost you money would also be nice.

By preselling lots of fitness trackers, you not only increase your income up front, but you also get a good start on estimating how much food you’ll need to keep on hand. By adding the goal/reward system to the pre-sale, you are proactively increasing your revenue.

4. Be Smart About Spending on Prizes: Use Prize Packs

It’s easy to want to splurge on the prizes you give kids for the games they play. Some schools get really involved and set up a “prize redemption” station, where kids trade the tickets they’ve earned playing for various prizes, much like arcades do.

I would suggest staying away from this system. While the kids love it, it presents a logistical nightmare for carnival organizers. You have to work out all the math for how many tickets each kid could win in each game, for every time he plays it. Then you need to determine how many of the small, medium, and large prizes to buy based on how you think the kids will actually fare. And you better not screw up by not having enough “big” prizes. You could have some disgruntled youngsters on your hands…

Also, children take a long time to decide what prize they want. Have you ever stood in line behind a seven-year-old at the Chuck E. Cheese prize counter? It takes them eons to figure out how to spend all their tickets. You’ll have a line snaking around your school, trying to handle this!

The solution, while not the most fun for kids, is to go for pre-packaged prize packs that are all the same. If you want, you can create separate packs for boys and girls. Good prizes are pencils, McDonald’s coupons, small candy, a homework pass, some small toys, a tattoo to rub, etc. In the long run, a kid won’t be disappointed by this loot bag and it has saved a lot of grumbling for everyone involved.

5. Trade like crazy with plugins to make money

Ok, so you’ve got people buying their fitness trackers and some food, but how else can you get them to part with some of their earned mass?

From the moment a family enters your carnival, they should be overwhelmed with opportunities to spend money. The games and activities are engaging, but you can also set up a bunch of other money-earning stations that are also very engaging.

For example, you can sell “shells”. These are decorative eggshells that have been hollowed out and filled with confetti. Once they are filled and decorated, glue a small cover over the hole to keep the confetti in.

Have volunteers make them by the dozen and then sell them individually at the carnival. One person buys a cascarone, he or she sneaks up behind a friend and smashes it over their head, raining confetti down on that person. It’s a good laugh for everyone. Just make sure the person buying the egg knows not to hurt her target by hitting it too hard on the head.

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

Another good idea is to set up a prison in the carnival. For a fee, such as 2 fines (about $1), he can hire one of the jail guards to “arrest” one of his friends. The “arrested” person has to stay in jail until they pay 4 fines (about $2) to get out.

The jail must be in a visible place where everyone can see who has been arrested.

If you really want to up the cringe factor, have the inmates 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 very funny!

One more idea to earn some extra cash at your carnival would be to get a volunteer who is handy with a camera to take candid photos of friends having fun together all night long. Using a digital camera and portable color printer, you can print copies for sale. Price the photos to get them moving and make sure the photographer is also a good salesperson to motivate people to buy.


These are just a few of the many strategies you can use to make more money at your next school carnival. The most important piece of advice is to make sure you are giving people what they want. The more ways you can tempt them, the more money they will spend.