There's a lot to think about when making purchases for PTA events. What do you need? Where should you buy it from? How much should you buy? What do you do if something goes wrong? We've thought about all these questions and more to give you our ultimate guide to PTA buying.
Who does the buying?
Often the chair or treasurer does the majority of buying on behalf of the PTA, but you may also have an allocated person or team of buyers for a specific event. The majority of PTAs in our community have individuals making the purchase before submitting a receipt and being reimbursed. We recommend creating reimbursement forms so buyers can easily put in a claim for what they've bought and what it's for, along with their receipt. Always make sure spending is discussed beforehand so buyers know what their budget is. Whether reimbursing through bank transfer, cheque or another means, have two signatories as a precautionary measure to safeguard your PTA funds. Sharon West says: 'We have set up a two-step authorisation on our online banking. I do a lot of the buying, and I send the receipt on to the treasurer. I then put the money to be reimbursed through the bank, and she authorises it, or vice versa. This means I can buy and be reimbursed on the same day. We don't have a debit card, as that would mean changing the authorisation to one person only.'
Where can you get the best deals?
Supermarkets: Take advantage of seasonal deals on multiple purchases, and get bonuses by setting up a loyalty card for your PTA. Supermarkets will sometimes have limited stock or set limits on how much you can buy in one transaction, however.
Pound shops and discount stores: Stores such as Home Bargains, B&M and Poundland have similar issues to supermarkets in terms of limited stock. Be aware that pound shops often sell smaller versions of items, so you may think you're buying the same product cheaply when actually it's a smaller pack.
Wholesalers: At wholesalers such as Booker you can easily buy as much stock as you need in one trip. Booker offers sale-or-return on leftover non-perishable goods, meaning you can over-buy and take back any unused items, avoiding the risk of running out of stock. Sign up to a Booker account with PTA+ by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to access its wholesale prices, normally only available to businesses.
Online: It's easy to find discounts when shopping online, thanks to the multiple voucher code websites available. You can also make purchases through shopping affiliate schemes such as Give As You Live or The Giving Machine, so you can make money as you buy.
Specialist retailers: The PTA+ suppliers directory (pta.co.uk/suppliers) is full of trusted suppliers with experience in the fundraising sector.
Local suppliers: Your high street butcher or baker will often be happy doing a charitable rate to support a local cause, and being able to say you're serving local produce at your events can only be a good thing. To sweeten the deal, offer advertising at your event in exchange for produce or a discount. Survey your parents to find out if they're associated with a company who would be happy to support the school.
You can often get the best deals by shopping around, as demonstrated by Hayley Nash: 'We tend to buy closer to the event for storage and use-by-date reasons. Turkey for Christmas is from Costco. Things like tea, coffee, canned drinks, hot dogs, cups and napkins are from Booker. We buy wrapping paper and decorations from Poundland, and we ask parents for donations for the tombola. Bread rolls are donated by Warburtons.'
This includes prizes for games, gifts for secret rooms or grottos, cups and plates for serving food or cleaning products for the event aftermath.
If you have the storage facilities, shop all year round for bulk bargains to maximise profits. Hit the shops when non-perishable items are being sold off in the days after Mother's Day, Father's Day, Easter, Halloween, or the January sales, to buy good-quality items at discount prices. These can be saved for the following year, or generic items can be used at your next event. For example, floral mugs being sold off after Mother's Day can be a great option for your Christmas gift room.
If you lack storage space, specialist websites such as Your Fundraising Gift Shop offer packs of wrapped or unwrapped presents suitable for gift rooms and grottos.
Events such as Black Friday can offer great deals, but sale periods aren't always the cheapest time to buy items. Use price comparison websites such as pricespy.co.uk and price trackers like pricehistory.co.uk or camelcamelcamel.co.uk to check whether you're getting the best deal.
Larger purchases may be anything from tea urns and candyfloss makers to bingo machines and marquees.
When looking into a larger purchase, think about how often it will be used and how much it could make on each occasion. Consider the size of your school and events to establish the best item to buy, and don't commit until you've worked out where it can be stored. Although it can be a large initial cost, items often pay for themselves after one use.
Items such as candyfloss or popcorn makers need to be the industrial kind rather than smaller domestic items, as they are made to withstand a continued running time.
Can you club together with another PTA to buy larger items? This means a split cost which will benefit both parties, and could make it easier to find somewhere to store it between the two organisations.
To avoid ordering the wrong amount of something in the first place, keep a record of sales at previous events to refer back to. For big events, get people to buy tickets in advance, and have a cut-off date so you know exactly how much you need.
To prevent running out of prizes or Pimm's in the first hour of your summer fair, consider a back-up plan for picking up extra stock. Remember that wholesalers, and sometimes supermarkets, allow you to purchase items on sale-or-return.
If you're left with too much after an event, there are several options. Keep non-perishable goods for your next event. If you don't have space, sell or donate them to another PTA.
For perishable goods such as cakes, you could organise an after-school sale the next day to shift them, or take surplus goods to a local charity or homeless shelter.
Using a third-party caterer cuts this risk for the PTA. It means you need fewer volunteers and don't have to worry about cooking and food hygiene yourselves. Do bear in mind, though, that food is often one of the biggest sellers at PTA events, and a third-party supplier will only pay you a pitch fee or a percentage of sales.
Always assess the space you have when making purchases so you don't buy more than you can store. When storing food with a long shelf life it's important to make sure it's kept safely and cleanly, which means not in a damp, drafty PTA shed! Keep food in a cool, dry place in clear, air-tight boxes so that you can see what's in each box to prevent things being forgotten and wasted.
If you don't have space available at school, do any committee members have spare space you could use, such as a garage or shed?
If you have perishable goods, keep a record for each item of how many you have, where it's stored and its expiry date. Audit stock each year to see what you have. What do you use, and what's sitting around gathering dust? If you have items that you don't need, sell them on. Audits will prevent you buying more of what you already have and act as a reminder of what equipment you have available, which can help with planning future events.
If you don't have the storage space or justification to commit to purchasing a large item, you can always hire or borrow it.
Start out by contacting your local council or charities, as many have equipment available for hire, including PA systems, fundraising games, marquees and barbecues, plus harder-to-source items such as buzzer games and stocks. Some services require an annual subscription of around £20-£30, but this may still be cheaper than making your own investments in equipment – or why not ask a local company to sponsor your membership?
Other local PTAs or organisations such as the Scouts may have equipment you can hire or borrow, and in return you may find you have items you can hire out to them.
When considering hiring an item, think about whether it would be cheaper to invest in the long run.
Hiring items out to others
A way to recoup money on purchases is by hiring them out to other organisations. Promote your items for hire on local social media pages, or keep an eye out for requests.
To ensure this venture is as risk-free as possible, draft out a contract for borrowers to sign when hiring the item.
This should state how long the item is being hired for, when and where it needs to be returned, and clear guidelines on the state in which it must be returned. You could take a cleaning deposit which will be returned once the item is brought back in the correct condition. Take pictures of the item so you have evidence of its state upon lending in case of any issues.
'One of the teaching assistants at our school is on the PTFA of St Pauls and St Timothy's schools, which her children attend. St Mary's PTFA has built up a relationship with them through this TA over the past four to five years. We loan each other equipment such as coconut shies, tombolas and spin-the-wheel for fayres, plus rails for uniform sales. We also donate leftover supplies to each other after events. This is done for free and is such a helpful resource.
We also swap ideas for events. They recently shared their success for making and selling mystery cups at the summer fayre, which we replicated, and we told them about a Smarties fundraiser.'
Dawn Grocott, PTFA treasurer, St Mary's CofE Primary School, West Derby (214 pupils)