Summer fairs can be a huge fundraiser for an organisation as they offers something for everyone and ideally at very little cost. Here are a few tips and idea that might help you along the way.

Get started

Set up an organising committee aka a group of likely upstarts and trouble makers who will work together well in putting on a really great event. Ask around – it’s surprising how many people will agree to take part if asked in person. It’s worth thinking about having your meetings in a place people would actually like to go to  – a pub for instance or your place with the offer of coffee and cake. A little light refreshment can do wonders to a person’s willingness to volunteer, and giving up precious time and brainpower has got to be enjoyable, after all.

Set the date – an obvious point, but worth spending a little time to think this through. Summer fairs, especially school fairs, tend to be in June or July, but this doesn’t mean you have follow suit.  Indeed you could be competing for attention when a lot is going on, and it may well be good to get ahead of the game when everyone is asking the same business for raffle prizes etc. So why not think again? April and May can be a gorgeous time of year for a fair, indeed Spring fairs were traditionally very popular, celebrating new life, not to mention the blood coming back in the fingers and the children out of the house..

Equally, think about the time of day you want to hold the event. Remember that if you have your fair over lunch or kids’ dinner time, you will have much more success in your cafe with a horde of hungry punters looking for sustenance.

Theme it – It can be much more fun for your event to have a theme to pull it all together and catch the imagination. Why not go Medieval, or Victorian? You could go for the full Rites of Spring theme with a Green Man and maypole dancing, or link to something that is happening in the calendar such as a sporting event. Click here for more theme ideas.

2 months before

Book your facilities – this includes your venue of course, but also any other services that you might need, such as bouncy castles, hired games etc. As far as possible go for the low cost option – why pay out when you are trying to raise money? If you don’t have your own venue, think laterally and see if there is a public space that can be hired at reasonable cost. Some organisations such as karate clubs will offer a bouncy castle for free in exchange for a display and a membership stand at the fair, so look around.

Organise a raffle – raffles are great, aren’t they? Everyone loves them. If you can find one big prize to pull in the punters, then you’re on to a winner. Ask around hotels and restaurants in the area to see if they will offer a gorgeous prize and contact all your local businesses and tourist attractions to ask if they would kindly donate a prize. Very often they will be very happy to do so, especially if you commit to acknowledge them through your social media communications, newsletters and on the day. If you are writing to them, make sure you say a little about what you are fundraising for and give you email address, offering to send a stamped addressed envelope in case that helps. And don’t forget to thank everyone who offers a prize or you’ll be burning your bridges for next time, not to mention falling back in the classy good manners stakes.

When you know what your top prizes are, don’t delay in ordering raffle tickets. It can take a while in peak season and you don’t want to miss the boat. Click here for information about raffle ticket ordering.  And remember you may need a gambling licence – click here for more information.

6 weeks before

Communications – Get the date into people’s diaries if it’s not there already and think about your communications. A great poster makes the world of difference to an event, so ask around to see if there’s a graphic designer or artistically minded person in the organisation who wouldn’t mind putting something cool together. As you’re asking for a favour, make sure you give the designer enough time to fit it in, and give a clear brief on the theme and plans for the event. Remember the key details – title, date, time, venue, entry cost if you are charging.

Let the local press and radio know that you are holding your event with all the details of when, what and where. Send it as a little press release – even write it as a mini article to make life easy for them and send it over to the editor. All the contact details will be easy to find on the Internet. Get the poster into any local tourist offices and on-line event guides. There’s bound to be a local on-line forum you can send it to.

Why not create a Facebook event and send you poster out on Twitter. The more buzz the better. You might also consider having a generic banner made announcing the fair. If your fairs are always on Saturdays for instance, have one made saying “Fair here this Saturday” and you’ll be able to amortise your investment!

Drinks Licence – Offering alcohol at events can be a very popular move and often bring in a good amount into the kitty. You will need a drinks licence in the form of a Temporary Event Notice which can be obtained from your local council, usually for around £25. Click here to find out how to apply for a licence

4 weeks before

Plan your activities – Your working group will no doubt have lots of ideas, but make sure you offer something for everyone. Bouncy castles are a big draw for the kids, and a coconut shy or crockery smash can be oddly satisfying. Craft activities will be popular with children and parents alike, as it keeps little hands busy for a while, while the adults have a sit down and ideally a drink. Think about having group activities too – a tug of war or adults versus children 5 a side football match can be fun.

Put together some good games that are cheap and easy – click here for some ideas.

Book stall? Toy stall?  – Old staples of a fair and with all the donations free from your community, they might be worth considering, although they sometimes descend into the headless Barbie variety. Think about what you do with unsold items, as there inevitably will be left overs. Especially the headless ones.   

Start recruiting your volunteers – This is your holy grail. Having lots of great ideas is one thing, getting volunteers to help is another.  Do a call out for help giving an idea what activities you need help for and making sure people know even an hour of their time will help. Again, the very best way to get people to give up their time is to ask them in person, nicely. And from experience, it is far better to stress the good times you will have together as a team than to give people a guilt trip!

Identify your most charismatic Master of Ceremonies and flatter their ego until they say yes.  You may also want to find judges, if you are planning a “pet most like its owner” competition or the like..

Got a friendly celeb? A local author perhaps, an MP eager for popularity or even a third division football player. Even the slightest hint of fame will add glamour and sparkle to your event. If it means you can also sell autograph books, retro style, what’s not to like?  

Hunt out a local charity resource centre – If you are lucky there will be one near you where you can hire equipment you may need, such are a PA system, microphones etc, but also popcorn machines, badge making machines and candy floss machine. Hunt around on the internet or even try Citizens Advice who might have details.  

Consider your catering – Have a think about what you might want to offer and what facilities you have for cooking and hot drinks. If you don’t have an urn, maybe think about contacting local groups or charities to see if you can come to some arrangement. Groups like the scouts may even have gas powered urns you could hire if your venue isn’t near a power source.

Get your raffle tickets out – and have a collection point where people can leave money and ticket stubs.

Sell a table – Think about advertising in the local paper for people or companies who want to fire a table at the fayre. This can bring in some revenue without you having to do anything other than registering their involvement and relieving them of the table rent. Think laterally – is there a local company who might like some exposure? A solar company who will bring an electricity generating bike as an activity?   A veg box company who wants to attract customers by making smoothies for you? Knowing your local businesses community will really help you target the right people without having to wade through the phonebook.

Member of a wholesale shop?

It’s worth being able to buy your food and drink at a wholesaler so think about signing up now so that you have your membership ready for your pre-event purchases.  

2 weeks before

Risk Assessment – Always something that brings a groan but worth thinking through the “what ifs” just in case there’s an emergency. List the possible risks, rate the likelihood and set out what needs to be done if they occur. Think for instance about hot liquids and sharp knives in the cafe, access to roads, substances that might be problematic in craft activities, safe use of extension leads, trip hazards etc. You really should have a named first aider and normally this is a person with an up to date first aid certificate.    

Prize donations – If it is a school event, why not ask for donations of prizes for your raffle in exchange for a no uniform or crazy hair day. The kids love it and the prizes will pour in. You can make up a hamper of the prizes you get and you can theme them “Pamper hamper”, “Cosy Evening In”, “Kids Gifts” etc. Anything donated that doesn’t work as a raffle prize – we’ve had denture cream, verruca plasters and worse, believe me – can go on the tombola where expectations may be a little lower..

Volunteers – People are now thinking that someone else will help. Let them know with a winning smile that they are very much needed and make sure plenty of reminders are sent out.  

Develop your event plan – together with your planning group, put together the timetable and positioning of activities.

The weather – Avoid Obsessive Weather Forecast Monitoring Syndrome (OWFWS). The long range weather forecasting is totally unreliable and frankly not worth the worry.  Having said that… do have a bad weather contingency plan. Just as taking an umbrella means it will not rain, having a plan will ensure that the weather co-operates on the day. Allegedly.

One week before

Cake donations – if you have people who can bake cakes and buns for you, your cafe is on to a winner.  Put the word out and let people know where to bring them in advance.

Price lists – Think carefully about your pricing and make sure the prices are reasonable and of course more than covering costs. Your cafe and bar will need price lists as will your stalls.  

Volunteers – Let everyone know what they’ve been assigned to, what it involves and make sure they know where to be and when. Don’t forget to line up people to set up and to clear up at the end. The last thing you want is to be left with all the mess when you’re already dead on you feet.

Shopping –   Prepare your lists for the cafe and bar, not forgetting essentials like bin bags, loo rolls and cleaning products. If you can use a wholesaler, all the better – ask around for membership cards if you haven’t registered yourselves. If stallholders are making purchases, for instance for the craft activities, agree on a budget in advance so that there are no nasty surprises and make sure everyone knows who to give the receipts to.

Raffle and tombola – Prepare any hampers you may be offering as raffle prizes. Florists will sell clear wrapping that can make prizes look even more attractive.Make a list of the prizes and have someone lined up to note down the winners details. Tombola prizes will need ticketing – simple raffle tickets ending in 5 or 0 and stuck on with sellotape is the tried and tested method.

Floats – Calculate the number of cash boxes you need and ask your treasurer to pop to the bank to get your floats, bearing in mind the pricing and the change that will be needed. Your treasurer will need to be ready to collect in the money taken throughout the event.

Weather – Seriously, it still means nothing that it says there’s a gale coming.

The Big Day

All your hard work is about to pay off and you will see lots of happy people streaming through. Make sure you and the set up team are ready in good time to have a break and something to eat before the crowds rush in. Whatever you do, make sure you are not tied to a particular activity as you are bound to be pulled in all directions as it is.

If you are feeling unfeasibly professional, make feedback forms for guests and stall holders. It may seem bonkers now, but next time around, that experience on pricing, popularity of the activity, positioning etc will be invaluable.

Keep a smile on your face and remember to enjoy it!

The Day After

As your treasurer is counting the takings, let your family know that you are planning the biggest lie-in ever, hinting heavily that breakfast in bed would be very popular. Now bask in the positive feedback from a spectacularly successful event and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

And try not to start planning the next event. Just yet.