What It’s Like Attending A Fancy Private School Fundraiser


Now that COVID is over, my wife and I went to our son’s school fundraiser for teachers and low-income household families. I had never been to one of these types of events before and found it fascinating.

The thing is, I almost didn’t go. I had been running around all day with the kids and just wanted to relax during the evening and watch the Warriors playoff game. But when I got home at 5 pm, my wife reminded me we had paid $600 for two tickets and had to go.

Not wanting to be a spoilsport, I dusted off my black suit I had bought in college in 1997, sucked in my gut, ironed my shirt, and away we went.

I thought it was going to be a low-key event where we’d mingle with other parents, bid on silent auction stuff, eat some rubber chicken, drink some wine and then leave.

Instead, I witnessed an incredible fundraising production worth sharing. This post should help better prepare those who want to attend such events and donate. The post should also help schools that want to raise more money.

How To Raise Maximum Money At A School Fundraiser

I’ve been to ritzy events before, but I had never really thought about why things were the way they were until this fundraiser. Everything was carefully orchestrated to help raise the most amount of money possible, which is great.

1) The location makes a difference

Last year’s fundraiser event was held in outdoor tents at the school. We were going to go but I had gotten COVID a week earlier so we didn’t. Shortly before the fundraiser, the dads had organized a Dad’s Night Out event where we all packed into a bar and drank a lot of whisky. Only half of us emerged unscathed.

This year’s school fundraiser event was held at the Ritz Carlton, a 5-star hotel. When we arrived, everybody was dressed to the nines. There were four bar stations and a Photo Booth as well.

The fancier the location, the richer you feel. The richer you feel, the more you tend to bid and give.

2) Black tie event

Instead of hosting the fundraiser at a public park where parents could wear whatever, the fundraiser attire was cocktail dress and black tie.

A couple moms came up to me and said, “You cleaned up nicely,” given I always just wear comfortable athletic clothes when picking up my son or going to playdates.

Look the part, feel the part. In this case, the part was dressing like a rich philanthropist.

3) Provide lots of alcohol

Last year, I remember sitting at a table outside with another dad pondering whether we should go into this second bar. It was packed and we were still worried about getting COVID. A woman even came out and warned us several people inside probably had COVID.

But due to already having had several drinks beforehand, we decided what the heck. We both had been vaccinated and 18 other dads were inside having a good time. FOMO won out.

Providing alcohol is expensive at events, but it’s helpful in getting people to donate more money. Alcohol slows down the central nervous system. This can lead to feelings of relaxation, confidence, and lowered inhibitions.

4) Seat parents with the youngest kids in the cheap seats

Here’s a strategy which I found absolutely brilliant. When we got to our seats, several of us preschool and kindergarten parents wondered why we were so far away from the front. The front had two screens, the dance floor, and a host.

But after the event concluded, our seating made perfect sense. Parents of younger children also tend to be younger. And younger parents also tend to be less wealthy. Therefore, it was only logical to conclude that younger parents would donate less money at the fundraiser.

On the other hand, parents of kids up to the 8th grade sat in the front and around the dance floor, which served as the host’s stage. If we all had 5-8 more years of experience, most of us should have higher net worths.

Once you’re up close on the action, you are more compelled to give because you feel like the host is speaking directly to you. You may also feel like the entire ballroom is watching you.

5) Hire a professional auctioneer

At first, I wasn’t impressed with the host. The host didn’t work at the school, didn’t speak Mandarin, wasn’t a parent, and wasn’t an alumni. Who was this guy?

It soon became clear that he was a professional auctioneer whose main goal was to try raise as much money as possible for the school. He was a hired gun with over 20 years of experience fundraising. He was talented.

After auctioning off some items such as Warriors tickets ($9,500), dinner for 10 at Jun-yi restaurant ($24,000), and watching the Blue Angels on a boat in the Bay ($10,000), he moved onto what I thought was the most fascinating part of the fundraiser.

“How Much Can You Give?”

After showing a quick video about how one-in-five families receive grants at our school the auctioneer started by asking, “Who here would like to give $50,000 or more!”

He looked around the closet tables to him for about five seconds, asking the question once more. Finally, a man raised his a sheet of paper with his bidding number on it. “Yes sir! This gentleman in the Mandalorian helmet would like to bid! How much would you like to give?”

The dad whispered in the auctioneer’s ear and then the auctioneer boomed, “$120,000! Thank you for giving $120,000 to the school!” Most of the attendees stood up and cheered.

Then the auctioneer asked again, “Who else would like to give at least $50,000?” The crowd was silent for about 10 seconds as everybody gazed around to see who could part with such a lofty sum of money.

Then another dad raised his auctioneer number and whispered into the auctioneer’s ear. The auctioneer then shouted out, “$100,000! Thank you for donating to the school!” Once again, many of us stood up and cheered.

Kept On Going Down The Giving Amount

After the auctioneer had exhausted the $50,000 minimum give amount, he went down to the $25,000 minimum level. At least six families gave at least $25,000.

After the $25,000 level, the auctioneer went down to the $10,000 level, where at least ten families gave this amount. Then the auctioneer went down to the $5,000 level, the $1,000 level, and then finally, to the $500.

The $500 donors were predominantly parents in the cheap seats where we sat. Although, one parent in the table next to ours gave $25,000. He has older kids from a different marriage.

How Much To Give To A School Fundraiser

There is no right or wrong amount to give. Every household is in a different financial situation. Just by buying tickets to attend a fundraiser is considered giving, as a portion of the ticket price is designated for donation. In this event’s case, $200 out of the $600 in ticket costs was donated to the school.

If you’re thinking about how much to give at a school fundraiser, the main variable to consider is how long you’ve been a parent at the school. Assuming the teachers and administrators are great, the longer your child is at the school, the more you can consider giving.

Giving a lot of money and then changing schools the very next year is a suboptimal giving decision. Hence, the longer your kid is at the school, the more logical and “safer” it is to give more to the school.

Before giving, you should also understand how much of the money is going to the teachers and administrators versus households in need of financial aid. If you believe teachers are the most important part of the school, then you may not want to give as much if teachers will receive less than 50% of the donations.

Being a teacher is the most important job in the world that is also one of the most underpaid. As a high school tennis coach for three years I got to know many teachers. Teachers make a massive difference in their students’ lives.

What We Ended Up Giving

In addition to paying for two $300 tickets, we ended up donating 50 signed copies of Buy This, Not That, worth $1,500 face value. It was for the silent auction where people could purchase a copy for $30 and bid higher if they wished. All the money would then go directly to the school.

I liked giving away my book because it not only raised money for the school, but it also provided valuable advice for the readers. The synergy is strong and unique. As a writer, I selfishly want as many people to read my work as possible.

The longer we stay at the school, the more we will likely give. He’s only in kindergarten.

How To Fight Peer Pressure And The Feeling Of Not Giving Enough

If you attend a fancy school fundraiser, you will mostly likely feel some peer pressure to give. If you give more than you are comfortable giving, this may cause a fight or financial harm. So please be careful.

Before attending, I would set a maximum budget to give based on what you can afford and not cross it. This strategy is similar to setting a maximum budget to gamble if you are going to the casinos. Combining alcohol, peer pressure, and no limit can get people in trouble.

During the auction, you might get a sense of amazement that some parents can give so much. What do they do for a living? Then you might feel a little unworthy that you aren’t able to give a similar amount. That’s OK! Recognize your emotions for what they are and just be proud that you are participating. Everybody is at a different financial stage.

Once the event is done, be careful sharing the event on social media or in the parents’ group chats. Given attendance to school fundraisers is never 100%, you may make those who couldn’t afford to attend feel bad. And that’s no good for the community.

In general, I think it’s better to keep donation amounts a secret. People can’t help judge you for how much you give, even if they give nothing themselves.

Strategic Giving Is Also A Thing

If you give publicly, especially a large amount of money, then your status will rise at the school. More parents will know who you are and so will more teachers and administrators.

In turn, this increase in status may improve your relationship with the school. Maybe everybody will be kinder to you and your children. Or perhaps the next time your kid does something inappropriate, the school will be more forgiving. Your referral of other family’s children may be taken more seriously. At the very least, the head of school will return all your e-mails.

From a professional point of view, other parents might view you in a better light if you give a lot of money. As a result, you and your child might be invited to more events. Being included increases the chances of meeting new friends, feeling less lonely, and gaining more business opportunities.

Maybe one parent works at a potential client of yours. Due to your giving, they are more inclined to be your client. Maybe another parent invites you to one of their soirees. There you might meet important new business connections.

One guy mentioned that when he was an up-and-coming entrepreneur, he donated $25,000 to a cause a billionaire spearheaded. Due to the donation, he got to meet the billionaire and they are now friends. Maybe the billionaire will buy his company one day at a huge premium. You never know.

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Relationships Are Everything

Whether you realize it or not, the more money you give, the more benefits you will often receive. The combination of money and relationships really makes the world go around.

I remember going to a SF mayoral fundraiser at the ex-CEO of Yahoo’s penthouse for $500 a person. At the fundraiser were entrepreneurs, power brokers, and even one of my favorite rappers of all-time! 2 legit to quit! It was fascinating to see how the rich and powerful get richer and more powerful.

In fact, I mention in How To Engineer Your Layoff, how donating money or volunteering your time at a charity your boss cares about is one of the best career hacks. The more you support your boss, the greater your chance your boss will support you when it is time to negotiate a severance and leave.

Don’t Forget The Main Reason To Give

Although there are many reasons to give money, the main reason we should never forget is to help others. The more we are in a position to help others, the more we should.

Our school emphasizes they care most about is the participation rate. For example, they say that even if a family only gives $50 or $100, that is great. Their belief is that the more people who can participate in the action of giving, the stronger the community.

I also share the same belief. When you have skin in the game, you simply care more about things. If more of us go from receivers to givers, think how much greater our society will be!

Related Posts

Private Or Public School? Spending $1 Million On An Education

How To Get Into A Great Preschool Or Private Grade School

Is Paying For Private Grade School K-12 Worth It?

Reader Questions And Recommendations

Have you ever gone to a fancy school fundraiser or charity event of any kind? What are some of the things you noticed at these events that surprised you? How do you decide how much do give at school fundraisers or any fundraiser?

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