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Tips And Ideas For Having A Successful Carnival For Your Organization


Planning a Spring or Fall School Fundraiser

For many years I was involved in the PTO at my children's school and one of our major fundraisers was a Spring Carnival.  This event was always the highlight of the year for the kids.  This is an event that can be done for a school, church, club or any other type of organization as well.  It does require a great deal of effort and it will take organizers months of planning.  In order to keep everything organized it is necessary to set up a variety of committees and you will need many volunteers.  Facts below are based on things that we did for an elementary school carnival.

Selecting a Chairperson  

First and foremost the chairperson for this event must be someone that is very organized, can easily delegate and will set clear goals and objectives.  It is their job to coordinate a chairperson for each committee, set timelines, assign tasks and keep an open line of communication through emails and meetings.  It is their responsibility to work with the treasurer to determine a budget.  The first thing to be done is to set up a general meeting where you seek committee coordinators, select a date, and determine a theme for the event.  The chairperson should recruit a co-chair(s) for the event to help keep things organized.  Committees should include ticket sales, food, games, entertainment, silent auction, bake table, basket raffles, publicity, decorating, donations, volunteer, kids corner, prizes, setup/cleanup and parking.   

Deciding on a Theme

Selecting a theme for the event is key so that you to move forward with your brainstorming in other areas.  Theme ideas include:  Beach Party, Mardi Gras,  Harry Potter World,  Disney Comes to School,  A Trip Around the World, The Academy Awards, Good Old USA, Under the Sea, Mexican Fiesta, Texas Hoedown, Step into the Future,  Storybook Land, Christmas in the Spring, International Day, Raffle Tickets, Fabulous 50's, Music Mania, School Knights and Castles, Pirates of the School.


A treasurer should be designated to keep track of spending and profits. This person will monitor all spending, manage and be responsible for all cash received the day of the event and will generate reports on profits and expenses after the event.   Keep in mind when the budget is created that you may be required to purchase a permit; security and/or custodial services may be required; there may be rental fees for games or equipment; advertising and/or printing costs must be budgeted for; food cost must be taken into consideration; you may need to budget for decorations; entertainment and prize costs need to be considered.  The treasurer is also the keeper of carnival money. Packets should be created and given to each game volunteer at the beginning of the day.  They should be told to keep the extra packets out of sight until needed.  If they run out they need to get more from the treasurer.


For the day of the event I would recommend designating two or three people as floaters that will be available to resolve any problems that may occur or to fill in a spot if someone fails to show up.  It is important that they carry radios so that they can be easily contacted if needed. 


Committee Coordinators

The function of a committee coordinator is to organize all the tasks necessary to provide what is needed for their committee to provide a finished product for the day of the event.  For instance, the committee coordinator would need to get volunteers to help, determine tasks and assign jobs, coordinate with other committee chairs (volunteer, donations and treasurer), make sure everything is properly set up for the day of the event.  They will send out emails or letters to remind volunteers of their duties for the day of the event.

  • Volunteers - The volunteer coordinator works with all committee chairs to determine the number of overall volunteers needed in each designated area.  They will help to fill spots that the committee chair is unable to fill and they will have a master schedule and check in volunteers as they arrive on the day of the event.

  • Donations - A person should be designated as the coordinator of donations.  It will be their responsibility to work along with all committee chairs to determine what type of donations will be needed and how they will get them.  Some donations will come from those involved within the organization and others will come from the community.  This person and their committee will contact potential donors via flyers, letters or phone calls, arrange the acquisition of donations, make sure all donors are acknowledged and will send out thank you letters after the event.

  • Raffle Tickets - Tickets must be printed and ready to be sold at least 6 weeks in advance.  In our case we sent home a designate number with the oldest in the family and requested that they sell them.  In addition, they were sold the day of the event in the lobby area with ticket sales.  At the end of the day the tickets were drawn for the winners.

  • Prizes - Prizes are important because the kids always want to win, so you may have instant prizes as well as redemption prizes.  Instant prizes are when the player gets an instant prize at the game.  This should be a very inexpensive item like a piece of candy or lollipop.  Redemption prizes  are where players earn "carnival money" for playing the game.  The "carnival money"  can be saved and then prizes can be redeemed at the redemption table.  We always did a combination of both types of prizes.

    The redemption table is the area that will most interest the kids.  You will find that they will stop by to look at the prizes and the amount of "carnival money" needed to buy it and then take off to win that much money.   This again is an area that takes a great deal of planning and preparation.  We actually purchased prize items throughout the year with the bulk being bought right after Christmas when stores had clearance tables.  Prizes can be anything at all just make sure you have things that can be purchased with a small amount of "carnival money" as well as a large amount.  This area should be flashy! Set it up with tables across the front and shelves in the back with volunteers in the middle.   This will allow all items to be nicely displayed.  The idea is to entice the kids to spend more money to win terrific prizes.

  • Decorations - Decorating the school is a very important part of the whole carnival atmosphere.  Based on the theme for the carnival it is important to come up with creative decorations.  We always did the main lobby, gym, cafeteria and at least the two main hallways leading from the lobby.  In addition, we asked homeroom parents to decorate their classroom booth area.  Decorating usually started a week prior to the event because it took a great deal of time to complete.  The kids would get more and more excited with each area that was completed.  We always did a wall that included teachers and staff pictures.  For instance when we did a beach theme the wall was decorated to look like an amusement pier and the teachers/staff/principal's faces were the people on the rides.  So solicit the help of the parents in the school that are artists.  Also, talk to the art teachers to see if they can work it into their curriculum to have the art students do some decorations for you.  In addition, we always came up with a project that the entire student body could do and sent out a memo to all teachers asking for their support. 

  • Bake Table - To be successful decorate the table elegantly and beautifully display the baked goods.  The chairperson must spend the time to place items in baskets, trays, dishes, ceramic loaf pans, and decorated boxes that should be included in the sale price.  You can ask for display items to be donated or they can be purchased at dollar stores and from sale racks.  Baked goods should be tied with beautiful ribbons or bows and/or covered with cellophane.  Display the items in a multi-level fashion with a cloth table covering.  This beautiful display will be so appealing that  people will not be able to resist a purchase. Request upscale baked goods like cakes. pies, breads, and muffins  rather than brownies and chocolate chip cookies. Specifically, include items like apple pie, banana bread, non-brownie bar cookies, biscotti, bundt cake, container of caramel corn, carrot cake, cherry pie, chocolate cake, chocolate covered pretzels, coffee cake, specialty cupcakes, fruit cobblers, fudge, muffins, white chocolate dipped candy canes, and specialty cookies. All items must be home made -- no store bought items!

  • Publicity - Start your advertising 4-6 weeks prior to the event.  Make a large sign, advertising the carnival,  and place it in a high traffic location.  If it is a fundraiser for a school then contact your "feeder" schools, whether it be pre-school, elementary or middle school, and ask them to hand out flyers.  This is a good way for kids to do get a sneak peak of the school they will be attending the next year.  Advertise in local newspapers or church bulletins.  Put an ad on the organization's website and/or face book page as well as the local township or community website. Place large banners identifying your sponsors.  Create maps of the carnival space and the location of all the booths.

  • Food - Food is always a big project and should have a very organized person as the chairperson.  At our school this was the responsibility of the entire fourth grade.  Parents in this grade handled all aspects of soliciting donations, purchasing needed items, pricing, setting up, selling the food and clean up.  Again, keep a folder with good records to pass on for the next year so that you know what worked and what needs to be improved.  If you can tie the theme into the food that would be great but you also need to stick with the favorites: pizza, hot dogs, Chick-fil-A  chicken sandwiches, salads, fruit and hoagies.  Snacks should include soft pretzels, cotton candy, ice cream and candy.  We set up an old time general store that sold all types of candy.

  • Ticket Sales - Once you decide on how much you are going to charge for tickets offer a discount for purchasing a multi pack.  In addition, set up a few days prior to the event where tickets can be purchased at a discount.  You may want to pick two items that apply to the theme of the event and sell them in advance as well.  For instance, for a Mardi Gras theme sell feather masks, crazy hats and beads in advance that the kids can wear for the day of the carnival. Cash should not be handled at any of the game or food booths.  Tickets should be sold in a designated area and should be used for everything.  Remember to price your tickets so that a typical family can afford it.  Also, consider selling a fixed price wrist band that can be used for everything but food items.

  • Silent Auction - This should be set up in a secluded area away from all of the games.  Again, the way you display the items is very important.  Group items based on a theme: sports, family outings, health/fitness etc...  Give as much information as possible about the item and use clear picture frames to display the item detail sheets.  Cover the tables in cloth table covers so that it has an elegant feel to it.  Try not to cram too many items on one table to avoid confusion for the potential purchasers.  Many times, with school events, parents can not stay until the end but they really want a specific item.  A solution is to offer a "Buy Now" price.  This pre-determined price will allow the person to purchase the item before they leave.  You simply take their payment, put a sold sign on the item and make arrangements with them for pick up.  Ask teachers to be creative and come up with something that can be auctioned.  Examples, the class can make something or the teacher can offer " Lunch with Mrs. Smith" or " A movie with Mr. Jones and a friend".  Teacher and classroom items raise a lot of money because each child wants whatever it is that their class donated.

  • Setup/ Cleanup/ Parking - Set up needs to be done the day before.  So be sure that all committees have representatives that are available to set up their area/booth.  Volunteer sheets should have an extra hour at the end of the day for clean up detail.  It takes time to break down everything. Parking may or may not be an issue for you.  If you are dealing with a small area for parking then you will need to have parking attendants outside to keep things organized.  Consider also, off site parking and using shuttle buses to bring people to the event.

  • Kids Corner - This should be a craft area for the kids that includes such things as theme related crafts, spin art,  nail painting, fake tattoos, face painting, and/or hair glitter.  This is usually a great area to use older students, girl scouts, or boy scouts who need service hours as volunteers.

  • Community Row - Invite community vendors to set up a booth to sell their goods.  Charge a fee for table rental and then a percentage of their profits. 

  • Games/Entertainment - It is important to have something for everyone.   Attractions selected should be attention grabbing for your audience and should take a minimal amount of time to set up.  At our elementary school once games were selected we held a meeting with homeroom parents and assigned classes a game/booth. It was then the responsibility of the home room parents to set up, decorate and coordinate volunteers from their classroom for their class game.   It is beneficial to create a folder for each game that includes a picture of the game, set up details, required items needed to play the game, playing instructions, ticket requirements, and a volunteer sign-up sheet broken down in1/2 hour slots.   Most of our games were self-made so find a few dad's that are handy with building.  Remember that when you are setting up a game you should have two or three starting lines based on age.  The little ones should be able to get real close to the game so that they have a shot at winning while older kids should be challenged.  Each game coordinator needs to bring in a shoe box with a slot in the top to hold used tickets. 

    Consider bringing in outside entertainment that ties in with your theme.  For instance, an International Day may warrant having Irish Dancers join the festivities.   The family and friends of this group will help to enlarge the patrons visiting the event.  Other ideas include a magician, band, chorus, puppet show, clown, bagpipe player, sports figure, or a representative from local historical organizations.

    We have used the following games over the years and found them to be very successful.

Squirt the Wildcat This was a very popular game for us. Squirt the wildcat was a sheet of plywood decorated to look like a wildcat (our mascot) with a circle cut out for the face.  Volunteers in rain ponchos and sunglasses sat behind the plywood with their face through the cutout.  Object of the game to squirt them in the face with a squirt bottle.  The biggest draw was when teachers or the principal took the hot seat.  It was a special treat for Fifth graders, the oldest kids in our school,  to volunteer for this game. We actually had to change the time slots to 15 minutes to accommodate all the volunteers.  Parents are still needed to keep things organized and to hand out prizes. The prizes are given based on whether the water hits the person's face. 
Bean Bag Toss A target needs to be created out of a sheet of plywood.  Holes should be cut out large enough for a bean bag to go through.   It should then be colorfully decorated with paint.  Each player gets to throw  three bean bags.  A prize or "Carnival money" is given based on how many bean bags go in.  Have at least two or three sets of bean bags available to keep things running smoothly.
Flame Shootout Candles are set up in a very secure holder.  The object is to use a water bottle to put out the candle flame.  You must remember to limit the amount of squirts per try.  Each player gets three attempts to put out the flame.   Have a number of squirt bottles available and always filled.  We found that squirt bottles work better than squirt guns and need to be filled less.  Keep this game close to a place where they can easily get water.
Duck Pond A baby pool is filled with water and rubber ducks are put in it.  The ducks have a number on the bottom that represents a prize.  For instance 1 = a jolly rancher, 2 = a lollipop, 3 = "carnival money". 
Fortune Teller This is great for a school event and our kids loved it. Create a fortune teller both and a costume to be worn. Recruit teachers to play the fortune teller.  Create fortune cards with messages designed for kids or have the teacher make things up if they know the kids well enough.  It is great fun.
Photo Op

Depending on the theme you can create a photo opportunity by creating a body out of foam board or plywood and cut out holes for the face.  Have the kids stand behind it and put their face in the cut out and take a picture.  You can either use a digital camera and with a printer or a Polaroid camera.  We did this many times and the kids loved it. 

Lollipop Fun

Take a piece of plywood and drill holes in it large enough for lollipop sticks to fit through.  Color code the lollipop sticks and fill the board so that the sticks are facing the back of the board.  A lollipop is selected and pulled off the board. The color of the stick determines the prize.

Treasure Hunt

Fill a treasure chest with all types of fun toys and place a lock on it.  Have a peg board with a number of keys on it that all look identical. The object is for the child to select a key and see if it opens the treasure.  If they open the lock they get to select an item from the chest.

Ping Pong Toss


Try to get ping pong balls into fish bowls.  They get three tries and depending on the number of balls that they get in will determine the prize.

Box Maze Use large boxes to create a large maze that the kids can crawl through.  Keep the lights out in the room to add to the fun.  You may want to have some small flash lights available for the smaller kids to use to help guide them.  It is important to limit the number of kids that go through at one time.  This was a big hit at our carnival.
Ski Ball   


Using wood build a ski ball platform that is angled and has a variety of holes.  The kids get three turns to roll tennis balls and based on their score win a prize.

Indoor Golf

Create a mini putting green and have all golfers show their skill.  Winners are those who get the golf ball into the hole.  We usually set this up on a ramp to make it more challenging.
Bottle Ring

Create a display of liter soda bottles filled with colored sand.  They get three tries to toss a ring and get it over the neck of the bottle.  Prizes are based on the number of rings that the player gets on the bottles.

Tin Can Toss
Take 6 large empty aluminum cans that are brightly painted and stack in a pyramid on a table.  Object is to throw a tennis ball and knock down the cans.  Prizes are based on the number knocked down.

Birthday Wheel

Place a ticket on you birth month and the wheel spins.  You win if the month you selected comes out.
Wind Tunnel This was one of the biggest hits of the carnival.  We rented a wind tunnel and filled it with limited number of "carnival money", a large amount of black sheets of paper, and a small number of instant winner sheets.  All paper must be the same shape and size.  The kids go in for a designated amount of time and try to catch as many sheets of paper as possible.  Instant winner means there is a designated prize at the redemption table for them.  One year our theme was a western ho down so the instant prize was a gigantic cowboy hat made of foam.  Everyone wanted to try to win the hats!!

Although a carnival takes a great deal of planning and effort it is well worth the effort.  It is a great day for the kids and it is normally raises a good amount of money.