Back in August, which seems like a lifetime ago (or at the very least a Lifetime Movie ago), Jill called me and said, "I think we should do a bake sale for Hurricane Katrina." In January, our group had a bake sale for Tsunami Relief and raised over $9,000. This was quite a feat for us, and we even got coverage on the local news because of it. My first reaction to Jill's call was "what hurricane?" because we were in the throes of a Category 5 Kindergartner "I HATE SCHOOL" meltdown when she called. I quickly turned on the news and saw that New Orleans was flooded and that people were holed up in the New Orleans Superdome. About the same time, I got about 5 different e-mails from various people in our group asking, imploring that we do something for the hurricane. Several suggested a bake sale.
Jill told me, "You don't have to do it yourself...let's recruit someone." After several rounds of e-mails begging and pleading for a volunteer, the fabulous Lauren stepped up to organize it and we were off! I sent her my plan from the first bake sale, with a few refinements. She picked up and ran with it, and recruited Amy and Hilary to help out as well. The net result was over 100 bakers, 4 other mothers clubs contributing baked goods and funds, and $22,000 raised for the American Red Cross. So, what's our secret? Here are our tips and tricks for having a successful bake sale:
- Location, Location, Location: Choose a location that normally has a lot of foot traffic, that doesn't have a bakery to compete with, and doesn't have a policy against solicitation. We held ours at Trader Joe's in Menlo Park, which has a wonderful, congenial staff that was very supportive of our efforts. Find out from your town if you need a permit to sell baked goods in public before you begin. Some schools no longer allow bake sales due to regulations on nutrition content in foods, so be careful of those rules as well.
- Use Your E-mail Lists: Not everyone likes to bake, but everyone has an e-mail list of friends that they routinely send spam to, so ask people to help out by baking or just spreading the word through to their friends, family, and neighbors. We had a number of people hold baking parties, enlist their girl scout troops, and have their moms and their friends bake for us.
- Cakes, Pies, and Breads Sell Best: Encourage people to bring big ticket items rather than individually wrapped cookies or brownies. These can bring in more money, and are less labor intensive than having to wrap 3 dozen brownies individually. You can also have cookies in groups of 3-6 or a plate of brownies for sale. Have a few individually wrapped muffins for people who want to "eat on the spot", but try to focus on the big items. We sold jars of make-your-own cookie mix (just add eggs and milk!) that someone donated for $10-$20 each. The first things to go were sweet breads, cakes and pies. A bake sale organizer from Move On's Bake Back America campaign told me that they had hundreds of chocolate chip cookies leftover; at the Tsunami Bake Sale, we had dozens of muffins leftover. At the Katrina bake sale, we followed this rule and sold out of everything early.
- Decorate the Packaging: A little TLC goes a long way in selling baked goods...Wrap the items, and use ribbons, stickers, bows, etc. One mom put toy cars and dinosaurs on top of cupcakes--those were sold before they hit the table. Be sure to ask people to label all the items, since it might be hard to tell zucchini bread from banana bread without a label. If the items are "sugar-free", "wheat-free" or "come from a nut-free home," be sure to say that. It means something to people struggling with diabetes, allergies, or food sensitivities to know what is in something.
- Don't Limit Yourself to Baked Goods: At the Tsunami Bake Sale, we sold certificates for full dinners prepared and delivered by our members to the purchaser's home at a later date. We priced these at $50 for a dinner for 4-6 people, up to $200 for a gourmet dinner prepared by a professional chef. Many were sold for more than the asking price, and we could have sold many more if we'd had them. We raised nearly $3,000 on these dinners alone.
- Get Local Businesses to Participate: We had donations of coffee from Starbucks and Peet's, bagels from Izzy's Brooklyn Bagels, donuts from the San Carlos Donut Shop, and pastries from Esther's German Bakery. The donations were used to feed hungry volunteers and were also sold. Be sure to acknowledge your generous sponsors with signs on the table and in your newsletter or e-mails about the bake sale.
- Make it Festive: Decorate the table with colored table cloths, balloons, and eye-catching signage. For the Katrina Relief Red Cross Bake Sale, we had a red and white theme and had red ribbon on hand to spruce up packaging. All the volunteers wore red aprons (borrowed from the Junior League), our club logo hats, and Mardi Gras beads. For the Tsunami Bake Sale, we used UNICEF's orange and blue color scheme and wore club logo t-shirts.
- Don't Price Items: Tell buyers, "This is a benefit for X...give what you can." We had a "suggested price list," but found that people will give $20 for some cookies and not ask for change, but if you put a price sticker that says $1 on it, they want change. You might have a few who will take a lot and pay a little, but they will be far outnumbered by people who give more than what the pie is worth.
- Do a PR Campaign: It may sound ridiculous to put out a press release for something as mundane as a bake sale, but do it anyway. You might get a small mention in the local paper's "community bulletin board" section, or you might get a feature write up--you won't know unless you try. We had TV news cameras come to Jill's house the day before our bake sale to cover moms and babies dropping off goodies for the sale. Of course, we had to get the word out to people to show up so we had a "buzz" of activities going at the time, but it brought attention to what we were doing. Be sure to include descriptors like, "The sale will include tempting homemade treats like New Orleans Pralines and Granny's Super Secret Recipe Double Dutch Apple Pie." Be sure to e-mail your friends to come out to the sale, put up flyers and signs before the event, and tell everyone you know to come. We made the TV news and the local newspaper with our efforts for Katrina Relief.
- Ask for Matching Funds: If there are people or companies in your community who have can afford it, ask them if they will "match" the funds you raise. We had one generous donor offer to match up to $5,000. As it happened, the family was planning to give this amount to the Red Cross anyway, but they allowed us to use that as part of our "start your ovens" campaign to get people to participate. After finding out what we made, we also had contributions of $1,000 and $2,000, so be sure to publicize your total and let people know that "We raised x, but are a little shy of our goal..." You never know if someone might be inspired to help out.
- Have a Friendly, Upbeat Sales Team: Your volunteers at the sale are the "face" of your organization and will be meeting the public, who may or may not be receptive to what you are doing. They should be able to answer questions about where the money is going, who your club is, and where the sugar-free, nut-free cookies are. It didn't hurt to have some adorable kids around collecting change and helping.
- Have a Leftover Plan: In the event that you don't sell everything, find a local food pantry that you can donate your wrapped goodies to, or have a plan to use the leftovers in a positive way. We donated leftover muffins to Ronald McDonald House at Stanford.
- Have Fun: The images of the devastation wrought by the South Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina were sobering and left people feeling helpless. The bake sales turned into wonderful community-building events for us and helped us all to feel that we were doing our part in a small way. We all know that $22,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed, but every cookie baked and every apple pie was made with love and caring for people we didn't know. One mom told me, "Our family is on a very tight budget, so I didn't have a lot of money to send to the relief efforts. I appreciated that I could make brownies with my kids and feel that we contributed a little something."
These ideas are obviously not original, but are a compilation of ideas and tips sent to me by our thoughtful and creative PAMP members and by the Move On Bake Sale organizers from Los Altos. The last bake sale I organized before the tsunami was when I was Freshman Class President in High School back in during the Carter Administration, so my own skills were a little rusty, but as usual, our PAMP moms and dads came through with great ideas and hundreds, if not thousands of yummy treats. Happy Baking and Good Luck!