Starting a small business has presented many new experiences as well as frequent moments when my partners and I look at each other and say – “Wow, did you ever think you’d be doing this?” Dragging all our props into the convention center last Tuesday was definitely one of those moments. We had no idea what to expect or how Back2Tap would compare to the other exhibitors. Our booth turned out to be much better than some minimally adorned booths and pleasantly less commercial and cluttered than some big-time commercial fundraising company booths. We offered free tap water, a much less exciting option than the free pizza, cheesecake, chocolate and candies offered at other booths, but those who partook were quite grateful to quench their thirst with a healthy alternative.
One of the best parts of the day turned out to be watching people’s expressions as they first looked at our booth – they seemed puzzled but curious. Why was there a giant tower made of plastic bottles? What exactly was Back2Tap selling? Tap water? It took about 2-3 minutes to explain why bottled water is so wasteful and how selling Back2Tap stainless steel bottles as a green fundraiser could help the planet and help a school community. Only one person had heard of us, and only two people had considered this type of fundraising campaign. No other exhibitors offered a customized green fundraising item. Most of the other fundraising companies were offering the same old items- knickknacks, clothes, and unhealthy foods. Clearly, we were offering something new and different to the PTO Today audience.
For most of the day, all four of us were busy giving our elevator pitches to groups PTO parents as they wandered by our booth. I couldn’t help but notice that the booth across the aisle that had attracted lots of attention in the morning with its screen show and four active salespeople had quieted down by mid-day whereas we were still going strong. I think we were able to maintain our enthusiasm because we really believe that our cause, reducing plastic waste, is good beyond profits, and we get genuinely excited by convincing other people of that.
We noticed that some exhibitors had signs boasting of 55% profit margins for their customers. Is this number the best measure of a fundraising option? High profit margins usually mean the items are overpriced to the customer or are very cheaply made. We know from firsthand experience as parents and PTO volunteers that parents resent being asked to pay too much for fundraising items and lose enthusiasm when they are offered the same items they really don’t want year after year. This is why we chose to offer high quality reusable bottles priced close to retail with a 20-30% payback.
Tim Sullivan of PTO Today concurs in his March 2009 PTO Today article entitled: “More to Fundraising Than Profit”. Sullivan writes: “The best PTOs and PTAs aim to create a great community at their school, to grow parent involvement, to serve parents, and to help provide valuable resources for the school and the students.” This is exactly what Back2Tap is trying to do – spread a green movement through the school communities that will bring people together around a shared sense of concern and desire to do something good for the planet, for themselves and for their school.