This year, our school held our first-ever Maker Night, which was a fundraiser for our technology program. Here is some information about how we put it together, in case you're thinking of trying something like it at your school.
We held our Maker Night at the end of March, on the evening we had already had Maker Day at our school. Maker Day was a free event that included 100% of our students during the regular school day, but that evening, we charged for tickets to attend Maker Night.
We decided to charge families per child, although we wanted parents to be there and see the things students were doing. We also invited neighborhood friends, cousins, and other elementary students who did not attend our school, which brought in extra funds and turned out to be a great thing to introduce families to our building and school community.
We sent home slips to order wrist bands for a lower price if families paid in advance, and it cost more to get in at the door. This was to encourage families to pre-order so we would have a better idea of how many people to expect. Looking back, we would probably charge even more at the door to incentivize people to pre-order. Charging an even number at the door is also a good idea to speed up the change-making process (our math was speedy, but we ran out of one-dollar bills several times).
A note - our technology department had previously sold magazines and bundt cakes as a fundraiser, but we observed that in our school, we had great attendance at family events, so philosophically, we liked the idea of providing a community learning experience, as opposed to objects people might not really want to consume. We were right about this - we had huge participation in our Maker Night.
Further, because Maker Day was such a hit with our students, they went home and told their parents they wanted to come back for Maker Night, so having both events on the same day (while busy), was very beneficial from a fundraising perspective.
We worked to get community volunteers to run sessions (for free) at Maker Night, in addition to running repeat workshops by teachers from Maker Day. We also arranged for food trucks (although we wanted more of those) to be there throughout the event. While the sessions for Maker Day were planned with official start and end times with a single group, the sessions for Maker Night took place on a drop-in basis - so families would stop by, make the activity, and move on to a new thing.
We had some issues trying to get community members - some we really wanted and couldn't get, and some who committed early backed out a month before. We did not get as many organizational volunteers as we hoped through parent connections and advertising, but a lot came through personal connections with staff members, and through connecting with middle and high school personnel in our district feeder pattern. We had high school students running music activities and solar cars, and district enrichment coordinators, and parent volunteers from Maker Day, and spouses and older children of staff members running events. I think now that the community knows what to expect from the event that it would be easier to get volunteers next year - more people know what it will be like and can explain it to community organizations who might help out. It was so well-attended, it would be a great way for an organization to introduce itself to potential customers.
Overall, we sold tickets equivalent to about 75% of our student population, even though we held the event in spring and many students were busy with sports and arts activities outside of school.
In addition to being a successful fundraiser for our technology department, this activity was a great way to show our families possibilities for hands-on learning, from coding to building. Many activities that seem old-fashioned now are surprisingly interesting and novel to students, and they do build important skills, like collaboration, problem-solving, and spatial awareness. Puzzles, baking, sewing, engineering, and science experiments are not necessarily common for families.
Other activities, like computer coding or robotics or technology in the arts allowed families to see new types of learning activities that their students might enjoy through camps or electives in the upper grades. Although it was a lot of work, the excitement during the event cannot be overstated, and our staff survey revealed that teachers felt it was definitely an event to continue in the future.
Photo Credits: Jennifer Pearson, @1hightechteach
Maker Night Social Media Flyers: Stephanie Anderson, @KeystoneKelso
I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of students and families in IA, CT, NC, MO, TX, and Canada.