Popcorn Fundraiser 101

When you need to raise money for your school or club on an ongoing basis, you’ll want to find a few fundraisers that you can do over and over again, and food fundraisers are perfect for that. Once you find a couple of foods your community enjoys buying, you can set up the first one, get on a schedule, make some money for your school, and then rinse and repeat.

What’s a popcorn fundraiser?

Some schools host popcorn fundraisers weekly, and they can be really fun and lucrative. The idea is to sell bags of popcorn to kids and families for a reasonable price, and to sell enough of them to make a profit after expenses are calculated.

Typically, a bag of popcorn would cost $1, and the amount of profit per bag can range from 50 to 75 cents. Not bad.

There is a one-time initial investment in the popcorn machine itself, and then there will be a weekly need to purchase supplies, like the pre-measured popcorn packets, and the bags, and whatever else you plan to sell with the popcorn, like drinks or baked goods.

Once a schedule is established, making sure that your team can continue to get volunteers to show up every week to make and sell the popcorn (as well as clean up afterwards) is key to your success. When the kids know there will be a sale every Friday, for example, more of them will remember to bring their money each week, and you’ll gradually earn more for your school.

Try a Classic: Host a Bake Sale Fundraiser with our How-To Guide.

How to Run a Popcorn Fundraiser

The first thing to do is coordinate with your school and research all the local rules about running a food fundraiser for a school in your area. Your school may need you to schedule out the fundraisers in advance and check that they won’t interfere with anything else on the calendar.

Should you rent or buy a popcorn machine?

After that, you’ll need to invest in a commercial popcorn machine and find a supplier for the popcorn itself. It’s possible to rent a popcorn machine from a local party supply company, and you may want to do that at first to test the waters and find out how much work is involved, and also how much interest there is from the kids at your school.

But if you’re going to run the sales on a weekly basis, it probably makes sense to buy a machine, rather than to rent one and either pick it up or have it delivered each time. Before you buy the machine, make sure there’s ample room to store it at the school, and that you’ll have some way to move it from storage to the sales location, like a good, sturdy cart (affiliate link).

A commercial popcorn machine the size a school can use for fundraising will probably cost between $300- $600. This one with our Amazon affiliate link is a good option.

Location, location, location

Next, you’ll want to choose a spot to set up the popcorn machine and the selling area that’s approved by the school and gives you the maximum visibility. For example, if you’re planning to run the popcorn sale after school, you want to be positioned near the main exit, where the majority of kids and families will see you at pickup time. You’ll also want to be sure you choose a spot that has plenty of room for kids to line up and not block any sidewalks or doors. And don’t forget to set up close to an electrical outlet or have a long extension cord.

Selling popcorn or any other food after school is a good idea if it’s allowed because that’s when many kids are ready for a snack, so you’ll be selling to a hungry audience!

Where to get popcorn supplies

You can find popcorn for a commercial machine online or at some local big box stores, and you’ll basically have two choices for how you’ll buy it: either in a pre-measured packet that includes the oil and sometimes some additional butter flavoring, or you’ll need to buy the popcorn and oil separately. The advantage to buying the pre-measured packets is that it’s one (or two) less things your volunteer will have to do. The disadvantage is that your customers may not want to have the butter flavoring already added, or you may want to have more control over the type of oil you use.

Here’s a link to buy the pre-measured popcorn packets and here’s a link to a large supply of plain popcorn – both on Amazon with our affiliate links.

You’ll also need to have a supply of bags to serve the popcorn in, and when it comes to popcorn bags, size matters. If they are too big, you won’t make enough profit, and if they’re too small, your customers will be unhappy and won’t come back for more. You’ll have to find a happy medium. In general, a 1-ounce bag should be the right size, giving your customer decent value for their money, and still making your school some money in the process. Oh and don’t forget napkins!

Try these 1-ounce bags on Amazon with our affiliate link.

How much popcorn should I buy for my popcorn fundraiser?

This is a perennial question for anyone who wants to serve food to a large group of people, and you’ll have to learn to gauge this over time as you test the sales. The best thing to do is buy extra supplies and have them on hand, ready in case you need more, and so you won’t run out. But ultimately you’ll need to make an educated guess about how many you think you’ll sell.

Each pre-measured packet of popcorn tells you approximately how much popcorn you’ll be able to make, then you’ll need to find out how many servings that will equal. For example, an 8-ounce pre-measured packet makes about 10 quarts of popcorn, which will probably fill about 8-10 of the 1-ounce bags.

So if you want to sell 100 bags of popcorn, you’ll need to plan on using 10-11 of the pre-made packets.

What else can you sell at a popcorn fundraiser?

The sky’s the limit, really! There are lots of things you can sell that go with popcorn. Many parents like to see healthy options alongside, like fruit or cut up vegetables, but you’ll need to check with your school and local community to be sure you’re following all health department rules when serving fresh food.

Another idea is to add beverages, since popcorn is a salty treat. You don’t have to sell sodas, and many schools won’t allow them to be sold, but if yours does and you want to sell them, they are profitable. Certainly you can sell water bottles because they have a nice high profit margin, but in addition you could sell juices, like bottled or fresh if possible.

Another idea is to sell Popsicles, and in fact some schools do weekly popsicle sales on their own. This is a great way to enhance profits for the fundraiser, because popsicles have a high profit margin, and they involves much less work than making popcorn. Just as with a popcorn fundraiser, you’ll have an initial investment in the equipment, in this case in a popsicle freezer, and then after that you’ll have an ongoing expense of the popsicles to sell. You can either find a local distributor who can provide stock at wholesale prices, or you may need to buy directly from a big box store.

Of course you can always add a Bake Sale component to your popcorn fundraiser! And don’t forget to have lots of condiments on hand, like salt, hot sauce, parmesan cheese – and whatever you think kids would like on popcorn.

How much money can you make with a popcorn fundraiser?

A popcorn fundraiser is not going to make a million dollars overnight, but it can be a nice steady stream of income for your group if you do it on a weekly basis. Depending on the size of your school, and whether you can recruit volunteers to staff a popcorn sale every week, your school could earn $250-$500/week, after all the expenses are paid.

Adding things to sell, like beverages and popsicles, will increase your profits each week, and obviously keeping your expenses as low as possible will keep that profit margin high, too. For example, what if one of your supporters were to donate the supplies for one week – or even better – for a month? They can either literally purchase the necessary stuff and give it to you and your team, or they can donate the cost of those supplies and your team will purchase them as usual.

It’s a nice way for some supporters to be able to chip in, even if they can’t help out in person, and you should make people aware of the option.

If you end up trying a popcorn fundraiser for your school, we hope you have fun and make lots of money! Let us know in the comments.

Sarah A. has been fundraising for her kids’ schools for years. She’s got the info you need and she’s ready to share it with you!

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