Everyone needs more money in their budget. Let’s face it, when times get tough Fine Arts get cut first, and color guard budgets tend to be at the top of the cutting list within Fine Arts programs. Every organization in your school is looking for a low cost and creative way to raise funds. While there are tons of great fundraising companies out there, it’s tough to hand over 40-60% of the proceeds. (Really, do we need all those candles, cheeses, and sausages?) You need something that can be a solid, annual, source of income for your program.
Preferably something with a high profit margin, and a low consumer cost.
Here’s something to consider: buttons.
You know, the kind everyone used to pin to their acid-washed denim jackets? The kind we all put on our backpacks and hats in middle school. Let me just tell you… kids and parents still LOVE these things!
A good quality button maker with the right marketing can be your own little golden goose.
STEP #1: How to procure the Golden Goose
There’s a fairly significant investment involved the first year of button making. We went with a 3-inch beginning machine system from American Button Supply (www.americanbuttonmachines.com).
For us, this machine was a great choice because it’s made entirely of stainless steel, and it’s large enough in diameter for all the projects we had in mind. There are no plastic parts to break off. In other words, it’s a product that will last.
The machine and first set of 250 button making supplies cost us around $500. We were able to purchase the machine through our band program and pay them back out of the profits. Another idea might be to see if you could get a local business to sponsor purchasing the machine, or see if you can get parent donations to cover the cost.
The best part about using a button machine as a fundraiser is the super low cost to re-order supplies. For supplies to make 1000 buttons it’s just over $100.00. That works out to cost about $0.10 a button. Since you’re setting your own price for everything you determine your own profit margins.
STEP #2: Putting your Golden Goose to work!
The possibilities are basically endless for opportunities to sell buttons. Anything you can imagine you can put on a button and still keep a low cost/high profit margin. Here’s a couple ideas we’ve had success with.
Band Photo Buttons
We’ve all seen them at contests, proud parents wearing buttons with pictures of their kid in uniform. It’s so easy to do!
- Find a real, or at least a great amateur, photographer willing to work for free. I take photos on the side, so this was super easy for us to do.
- Schedule a time with your director to get photos of every single band student in their uniform with their instrument. Even the ones who haven’t pre-ordered. Trust me, when the parents start to see the buttons everyone who didn’t want one at first, will now!
- Market the heck out of it!
- Send notes home with kids
- Put it on your band website
- Ask the director to make announcements during summer band and at parent meetings.
- Have a firm deadline! This can be a time consuming project if you’re making buttons on a daily basis. We scheduled 3 delivery dates spread throughout the season. This avoids parents coming in 10 minutes prior to leaving for a contest asking about buying buttons.
- Make sure to have something either in the photo, or text on the photo that labels the year. This way you can sell the same parent another button the next year.
- Use a one-hour photo service you can get prints from for around $0.10-$0.20. Don’t try the super cheap online ones that mail you prints. Sometimes they leave you hanging.
The total cost per photo button for us was around $0.35 each. We charged $5 per button, and this year we’ll be offering to sell the parent the digital files of the photo for an additional $10. We sold to both our junior high and high school marching bands (about 350 kids total) and sold right at 300 buttons. Do the math! $300 x 5 = $1500.00. Even after paying the band program back we pocketed $1000.00 in the first 2 months of having the machine.
What about cheer, dance, football, volleyball, basketball, track?
Those parents were all asking where they could buy buttons of their kids. You could make it even easier by asking the parents from other organizations to provide the photo and make the button at a slightly lower cost. Expansion possibilities are endless on this one.
You know all those fun shirts you see at marching contests? ”My Director Deserves Me!” and so on? We made a huge list of all the fun band (and some not-so-band) sayings we’ve heard or see over the years, and used a basic editing program to create images of our own. Here’s how we turned fun into money:
- Have band/guard seniors create files in an editing program you can print to put on the buttons
- Let them find the cutes sayings and create the artwork. It’s a fun project and they’ll have the best ideas for what kids want to buy.
- Print designs at an actual print shop, and print in bulk to save money.
- We printed over 1000 designs through the printer our school uses for programs and handbooks. We got the school’s rate and a bulk discount on color printing.
- Use bright colors!
- Print your black and white designs on bright paper.
- Use plenty of color in your color designs.
- Set a low cost.
- We sold ours for just $2.00 a button. Production cost was about $0.25 a button.
- Kids won’t think so hard about paying $2.00 as opposed to say $5.00
- Make them up as you sell them.
- Don’t make all the buttons up. Do them as you go. That way you don’t have 30 “Bassoon Rocks!” buttons left over. Only make up what you know you can sell.
- We pre-make 5 of each design for an event.
We sold our “fun buttons” at the marching band contest we host and made over $700.00 that day. That’s 1400 buttons sold! We also sell these at events we host like All-Region Honor Band auditions, Region Concert Contest, Solo and Ensemble, and don’t underestimate the buying power of your beginning band students. There’s nothing in the world like a middle school student with a couple dollars burning a hole in his pocket!
Set out plain white paper at your sales table and let kids design theri own buttons for $5 each. Provide some markers and an adult at the table to keep the designs ‘clean’. You’ll be surprised how many of these you sell!
STEP#3 Make your Goose give back
Since the band program fronted us the money for the machine, we also use it to supply the band with name tags and buttons for special events free of charge. We make buttons for each band senior and senior parent to wear at the Senior Night football game. The senior parents like to wear them at contest too, and it’s a great memento for their involvement in the program. We make buttons for anything the directors need. It’s a great way to help out our directors, give something back to the kids and parents, and also reminds the directors they made a good investment in their guard program.
There are so many more great ideas to put your button maker to work! These are just a few things that have worked really well for us. We’ve been able to fund many projects we used to have to rely on the band program to fund for us.
We’ve flown in clinicians, purchased sabers for our junior high guard program, and are able to pay to re-order supplies and get items printed on our own. We helped cover our winter guard entry fees, put money towards our new mat, and paid for goodie bags for the senior high guard.
With every program in the school cutting budgets and looking for funds, directors and administrators in our districts have been really responsive to anything that is a proven money maker, especially something that doesn’t have a perishable product and can become an annual fundraiser. Anything you can do as a guard director to help your program be a little more financially independent is always appreciated by the band program.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Sara Field is the guard program director for Lake Hamilton Public Schools, near Hot Springs, AR, overseeing the High School and Junior High fall and winter guards. Under her tenure the guard program has grown to involve over 130 performers through the fall and winter seasons. She is a graduate of Henderson State University, where she performed as a color guard member for the Showband of Arkansas. Though her performance background began with baton (hence the love of all things glitter), Sara has taught guard across Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma. Sara is an active clinician and adjudicator for numerous winter guard circuits. She is proud to have served as a staff member for the past five WGI World Championships. Sara and her husband Bryan live in Pearcy, AR, with their son Liam.