“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” This is the logo that the Project Esperanza
student organization has used for the three benefit thrift sales that have been held on Virginia Tech’s university campus so far. Profits from the sales have been about $700 per day and have been used to directly serve the Haitian immigrant population in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. This article provides the 10 steps to take and the details to be aware of so that you can execute a successful and impacting benefit thrift sale on your college campus as well. Good luck!
1. Decide on a Cause
Your student organization may need to raise funds to cover organization costs and that is fine. However, this thrift sale should be primarily utilized in order to raise funds that will directly fund a service your organization will perform or a charity your organization will support. This will motivate those donating clothes and items to part with their possessions as they know they are doing so in order that others can have more. This thrift sale not only serves the purpose of raising money to serve those in true need but also serves the purpose of inviting those not experiencing true need to live in solidarity with those that are. The process of cleaning out and cutting back is a physical, as well as mental process that encourages solidarity with the poor.
Funds raised by the thrift sale should not go toward causes such as medical research or animal welfare. While such causes do affect the quality of life of humans, the actual effect of the funds raised for these causes is quite distant and indirect compared to services that directly provide basic needs of those who are lacking such as clean water, shelter, work, or education. Since this thrift sale invites participants to make sacrifices in attempt to experience and demonstrate solidarity with the poor, the funds raised as a result of the sale should directly serve the poor. Causes such as medical research and animal welfare, while still worthy, are not direct services to the poor.
2. Set a Date
It works best to plan your thrift sale for either the week after Thanksgiving Break in the U.S. or the week after Spring Break. Both of these time periods fall around the changing of seasons when closets are being cleaned out and new clothes are being purchased. Having the sale after a break also allows people to gather items to donate from their homes over break and bring them to campus for the sale. The fall sale ties in with the holiday season as people realize all that they have to be thankful for as they clean out their closets, donating high quality clothes in good condition that they simply never wear but the right person would. The spring sale ties in with the theme of “spring cleaning” as well as starting new and fresh. Three days is a good length of time to run your sale. Depending on the amount of donations received and the turnout at the sale, things could go strong for as long as a week.
3. Book a Room
You will likely have to be a representative of a student organization to do this. Depending on the amount of activity on your campus, you may have to book the room far ahead of time to get the dates that you want. You may also have to reserve and rent tables and chairs. Be sure to book a large and open room located at an easily accessible spot on your campus. Make sure that no other events are booked in the room after sale hours which would require your group to clear out all items at closing time each day and set back up the next morning. Sale hours depend on the availability of your volunteers. On a campus that has classes and events well into the evening, it makes sense to run the sale as long as possible beginning at eight or nine in the morning and lasting as late as nine or ten night.
4. Collect Donations
If you have space to store items during the month or two leading up to your thrift sale, begin collecting items as soon as possible. It’s important to get the word out and collect items before Thanksgiving Break or Spring Break. If you collect right after the break you will likely hear comments such as, “Oh, I have a ton of stuff but it’s all at home,” or “I had a lot of extra stuff but I just took it home over break.” Getting the word out before break will cause people to donate their extra items rather than take them home, as well as return from break with extra items they had at home. There are a few different ways your organization can go about making collections, including going around to dorms, setting up drop off spots around campus, announcing and collecting items in classes and group meetings, and creating some sort of competition and/or incentive between individuals, halls, dorms, or groups. The amount of items you collect and the potential of your sale will depend largely on the effort your group makes in executing one, some, or all of the following collection methods:
Going around to dorms:
If you want to produce results, you have to do the leg work. You can attempt to contact residential assistants to ask them to e-mail information about the upcoming thrift sale to their hall’s residents, asking them to prepare items to donate and notifying them of a drop off spot or a date that items will be picked up. This may produce results depending on how accessible R.A. contact information is to you, the percentage of R.A.s that e-mail the information to their residents, the percentage of those residents that read the e-mail, then the percentage who act upon the request. A more aggressive approach is to go door to door. Divide your volunteers up into groups of two and assign dorms, floors, or halls. Volunteers should be equipped with large trash bags and handouts with information about your organization and the thrift sale. This should be done at a time when residents are likely to be in their rooms such as a mid or late Saturday morning. Volunteers should go door to door explaining your organization, the upcoming trhrift sale, giving the handouts and leaving a trash bag for each room where residents agree to collect items. A list should be made to keep track of all rooms that agree to collect items. Let them know that you’ll be back soon to pick up the bag and its contents. If they need to leave they can leave the bag outside of their door. You can also use this as an opportunity to jot down e-mail addresses of people interested in your organization so that you can add them to your e-mail updates and announcements list. Once you have gone through the entire hall, floor, or dorm you were assigned to, go back to the rooms you marked down and pick up the filled bags. Make arrangements with residents who say they will bring items back after break. You can mark those down and check back after break, ask them to bring the items to the sale or inform them of a drop off spot. The larger and more highly represented your organization is, the more ease you will have in executing this method of collection. It would be ideal to have a representative in each dorm overseeing collection but it may be rare that a student organization would have that.
Setting up drop off spots:
This method is pretty self explanatory. If your group has permission to use a specific spot on campus as a donation drop off spot, this will certainly help. Be sure to get the word out, to mark the drop off spot clearly, and to remove collected items periodically so that there is no overflow. Some exemplary collections are good so that people passing by can see that it is a donation drop off spot and can be encouraged to donate as well, but you don’t want things to get out of hand or for people to think that you have all the items you need.
Collecting items in classes and group meetings:
This method is also pretty self explanatory. Contact your teacher or the president of the group and ask for his or her permission to make a quick announcement and hand out information. During your announcement, ask people to come with their donated items to the next class or group meeting.
Create some sort of competition and/or incentive between individuals, halls, dorms, or groups:
You will need representation and participation from each hall, dorm, or group to do this. Create some sort of system of receiving items and awarding a certain amount of points for the amount of items donated. Points could be awarded based on the weight of the donated items, although large and heavy items can mess up this system. Points could also be awarded based on the monetary value of the donated items according to the sale’s prices although this will cause a slower donation receiving process as time will be needed to evaluate the donations received. Incentives can be given to the hall, dorm, or group that brings in the most items or a system can be created where incentives of increasing value are rewarded depending on the amount of items received. For example, gift certificates to a certain restaurant can be given to anyone who brings in $60 worth of donated items. A pizza party will be held for the hall that brings in the greatest total weight of donated items. Points could also be awarded to halls, dorm, or groups for members who come and make purchases at the sale if they report that upon purchase. This can motivate more participation. If your group does not have a place to store donations, consider booking the room for the first day in order to receive collections that are motivated by incentives and also to set up.
5. Organize Collected Items
You may want to organize your collected items ahead of time or you may want to just wait until your group is setting up the sale to do so. If you have collected items ahead of time and don’t have much time to set up before the sale, you may have to organize ahead of time. Either way, this step is, again, pretty self explanatory. Divide items into groups: women’s clothing and accessories, men’s clothing and accessories, children’s clothing, toys, books, electronics, etc. Then divide clothing in each group into shirts, pants, shorts, jackets, etc., then separate by sizes.
6. Advertise for Your Event!
E-mail all of the e-mail lists you can think of. Post flyers on bulletin boards around campus and in local stores and restaurants. Make a Facebook event. On the date of the sale, put up large and visible signs outside of the room and leading to the room. Check your campus’ rules about posting flyers and putting up signs. You may have to get flyers approved and reserve space for signs. Consider creating a “triangle sign” for one of your group members to walk around in to advertise.
Depending on the size of your sale and the amount of activities you involve in the sale, you will likely need between two and six volunteers present at all times. Set up and clean up will likely need more than this. Make a schedule divided into time slots well before your sale and begin seeking volunteers from your organization or a partnering organization to sign up to work during the time slots. Be sure to confirm and remind people as the sale approaches. Have a sign in sheet at the sale for volunteers to sign in as they arrive and write their arrival and departure times. Make sure that volunteers understand all plans and procedures ahead of time or that they are clearly explained upon arrival.
8. Set Up for the Sale
You will need several tables and chairs. One table should be set up near the door for checkout. If your organization is selling its own merchandise such as t-shirts, this should be set up in conjunction with check-out. Selling your organization’s merchandise is a good way to generate income for your organization while the profit generated from thrift items goes straight to the designated service or cause. Other tables should be organized throughout the room to lay clothing and other items on. Lay items on tables in an organized manner. For example, you may have five tables designated to women’s clothing. Put short sleeved shirts and tank tops on the first table, organized S, M, L, XL, and XXL. Be sure to have a sign to mark the prices. Here is an example:
Tank tops / sleeveless shirts - $1
Short sleeved shirts - $2
Set up long sleeved shirts on the second table, ordering them by size and placing a sign marking prices. Put shorts on the third table, pants on the fourth, and dresses and skirts on the fifth. You should have a large sign at the check-out table listing prices of all items. You’ll need to buy price stickers and mark prices directly on random items that don’t easily fit into a category or have a lot of quality variation within their category.
It’s good to have a dressing room at your sale with a mirror. If the room you are using has no small side rooms that could be used for this purpose, such as a bathroom, you can string up curtains or sheets in order to create a dressing room in a corner. Be sure to put a long mirror in the dressing room. It’s also good if your sale has a radio playing music to attract people outside and to make shoppers inside feel more relaxed, especially when they may be one of just a few shoppers and may feel as though they’re being watched. You can also hang items on hangers and display them around the room. If your room has nothing to hang hangers from, try to tie up strings from which they can hang.
If the room you’re in has several doors, you may want to lock some so that there is just one or two opened to enter and exit. This will help your group to maintain control over the sale. Also to maintain control you may want to ask shoppers to leave book bags and large handbags at check-out. To do this properly, you should have a volunteer responsible for marking bags with a number, giving shoppers cards with the same number as that designated to their bags, then watching over the bags while shoppers shop.
Check-out / Money Management:
The person receiving money should write down all items sold and the amount of money received for each item. He or she should be especially careful to keep track of the organization’s merchandise sales since the profit here can go to your organization’s operating expenses rather than to the designated service or cause. You may think it is unnecessary that the check-out person records all sales since you may have not done inventory but it is a good practice to create a system of responsibility and accountability. If you are running a competition or incentive program between halls, dorms, or groups, the person running the cash register should also be prepared to record purchases made by participants when prompted. Before you open the sale, be sure to have about $20 of change in varying bills. When you close the sale, remove all funds to be deposited into the bank or stored in a safe place until a deposit can be made. Be sure to leave the same amount of money in change for the next day. Do not forget to do this and accidentally record the change money as profit. You may want to tally up the recorded sale's information on a chart to be able to see how many of each item sold and to double check that your money adds up to what is recorded. It’s good to have a small handout with information about your organization and the cause of the fundraiser to give to customers or to put in their shopping bags as they make their purchases. Also, be sure to always have a sheet available at check-out where people interested can sign up for your e-mail list.
If lots of items remain as your sale nears its end, you can do some sort of special. One idea is to have a “Brown Bag Sale” where someone purchases a brown paper bag and can fill it up with items for a fixed fee such as $10 or $20. For this sale, you may want to exclude expensive items such as electronics or have it just applicable for clothing items. There are ways you can draw in more of a crowd throughout the sale as well. For example, if you go to a Division I university with a highly ranked basketball team, perhaps you could purchase a basketball and, through a relationship with someone who has an inside position, get it autographed by your school’s team. Hold a raffle and get the word out that tickets are being sold at the thrift sale. If you do the leg work ahead of time, you can likely find other valuable items to raffle off at the sale.
9. Clean Up, Follow Up
Decide ahead of time what your group will do with the clothing and items that do not sell. If there is a used clothing store in your area that purchases used clothing and resells it or sells clothing on consignment, take the leftover clothing there and see if you can make a little more profit. You can try selling electronics, CDs, DVDs, and perhaps some other items at pawn shops. If you have storage space and another possible venue, you could consider doing a garage sale with the leftover items. If you don’t think you can sell any more items, don’t have storage space, or don’t want to keep trying, then you can donate everything left to a charity that desires such items like Good Will. Be sure to share the results of the sale with volunteers that participated, giving them a breakdown of profit earned each day, perhaps a breakdown of items sold, a total profit earned, and pictures from the sale. You may want to use part of the profit as well to thank your volunteers with something such as a pizza dinner on the last evening of the sale or the weekend after. If you executed any competitions or incentives, you can announce the results during the last hour of the sale, (if you have the results at that point), or the day after the sale. Be sure to follow through on rewards promised to those participating in competitions and incentives to thank them for their participation. It is good to share the results of the sale to these participants too and remind them of the cause they have helped to support. Remember to send thank you notes to any stores or groups that donated items to raffle or partnered in any way, also sharing the results of the sale and the cause they helped support.
10. Support Your Cause
Finally, use the funds raised for the decided upon cause. You have used your resources to make a positive change and engaged many others while doing so. Congratulations!
About the Author
Caitlin McHale is director and co-founder of a non-profit organization called Project Esperanza which serves the Haitian immigrant population of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Read more of her posts on her personal blog or at LaVidaIdealist.org.
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