As you know, we’re fond of creative school fundraising ideas around here. Remember that little event we planned back in April called Touch a Truck Brooklyn? Yeah, I thought so. We maybe mentioned it once or twice…. It was a big success, which was wonderful — we were so thrilled that everyone’s hard work paid off, that the kids had a great time, and that we made a nice amount of money to support the arts at our school! — but it was a LOT of work and required months of intense planning.
With the continued threat of major budget cuts these days, NYC parents with kids in public school are constantly on the lookout for creative, new ways to raise money, and you want to get the work-to-payoff ratio right. So I was thrilled to discover this year that fellow Brooklyn mom and P.S. 295 parent Monica Thurnauer had started a new business to do just that — help families fundraise in a more meaningful way. With that mission, Portrait Press Fundraising was born. We tried her concept at our school this year with fabulous, parent-pleasing results (see the photo above). You should, too!
Meet Monica — and Portrait Press!
So, tell me how Portrait Press came to be.
When my daughter Frances, now in second grade, started school, I had no idea how much fundraising the PTA was expected to do. Being an enthusiastic new parent, I wanted to do my part, so I ordered a lot of school T-shirts for our family and various relatives. But after a couple of years, the T-shirts just started piling up in the closet—like I’m sure they do in a lot of other closets, too. That’s when I remembered a fundraiser from my own childhood that I absolutely loved. My mother, a principal in the UK, used to give it to me each year for Christmas: a portrait tea towel, or dish towel, as you’d call it here [a dish towel with kids' original artwork on it]. It was useful and practical, but it was also quite creative and celebrated the community more than the usual school merchandise.
I decided to do the same thing for Frances’s class as a memento for the end of her first grade year. It turned out really cute, and the kids and parents seemed to get a kick out of it. When friends at other schools liked it and wanted to do something similar, I thought why not put up a website so that other PTAs could have their own Portrait Press Fundraisers. I still call them “tea towels”—it sounds a little nicer than dish towel!—and I’ve also added pillow cases and tote bags, too.
How does is work?
We worked hard to make the process as easy as possible. Basically, the parent who’s acting as coordinator for the project signs up on our website to receive the free kit in the mail. Once that arrives, they visit the classrooms and have the kids draw little self-portraits on small pieces of paper. When these are done, the parent coordinator sticks them onto the template included in the kit and mails it back to us. We email back a proof of the finished design; once this has been approved, we print it on the product of their choice (tea towel, pillow case, tote bag) in the quantity of their choice.
Just to make the process super-clear, I’m currently working on a video to post on our website to show how it works from start to finish. It won’t be in 3D or anything, but it should make it pretty foolproof.
How much time and effort is involved on the part of the parents organizing a Portrait Press fundraiser for their school?
It doesn’t take much time at all. Once you get the kit, the creative part in the classroom takes about 15 minutes for each class that’s involved. To arrange the drawings on the template takes another 10 – 15 minutes, and from there all you have to do is pop it in the mail back to us.
It’s very easy, and the students have a good time making their drawings, but most of all it’s a lot of fun to have an excuse to go into the classroom and interact with the kids. I really enjoyed that part of making the products for our school.
About how much does it cost the school (for production, etc.), and how much can a school expect to earn?
I’m very committed to setting the pricing so schools can at least double their investment. When I researched other fundraising products, I was surprised to see fundraisers where schools only stood to gain 25 – 33% profit from their efforts. Let’s say you want to do a pillow case with 150 portraits on it. The unit cost for 150 pillow cases—one per child—is $7.50 each, so the school can sell it for $15.
That being said, I’ve been surprised to see that some schools are choosing to make one of our products just to celebrate the graduation of a year and not as a fundraiser, in which case they can cover their costs while offering the products at a really low price.
I’m so impressed that you’ve launched a business to support our schools and children! Is this undertaking your new full-time job, and is it hard to fit in around family life?
I’ve been working the whole time I’ve had kids, which makes doing things around family life a challenge, as I’m sure any working parent can relate to! Launching Portrait Press Fundraising is my main professional focus now, and my hope is that this will help me maintain a good family/work balance. The idea is that it will revolve around the school year, so summers will be slow and I’ll be free to be with the kids. Of course, in reality I’m sure there will always be things to do, but it still beats spending the summer in an office missing my babies.
Another important part of the business for me was that it have a social agenda. I wanted to show my own kids that we should work to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. When I hit on the idea of using profits to establish grants for the arts in schools and for overseas organizations that support education, I started really getting excited about developing the business [a portion of the proceeds from each Portrait Press Fundraiser will go towards a grant to support an arts education project] . That was the missing link for me, to tie in the company with the community for which it was designed and even beyond. Hopefully, as the business develops, it’ll be possible to communicate the values I want to promote more strongly to the kids that make the products, and there can be some really great creative collaborations happening.
The tea towels and bags that the kids made at our school were so adorable! Obviously, it’s a great idea and I hope other NYC schools will use Portrait Press, too, as a fundraiser — but it’s a fab project for any school! How are you getting the word out to parents nationally about Portrait Press?
Before having kids I worked in PR, back when PR just meant TV, radio and print. Now, marketing this project, I can’t believe how the channels for getting a story out there are pretty near infinite with the Internet. Wonderful blogs like yours are going to be really key. There is a ton of value in having real moms vet your product and give it their seal of approval, so I will be reaching out to like-minded, green, socially conscious blogging moms.
But there are also more conventional trade shows specifically for school fundraising. I took the show on the road in May and showed Portrait Press at a couple of these—it was my first experience of putting the product out there. Luckily, there were a lot of PTAs that loved and really “got” the concept. It was very cool for me to have moms tell me they loved it because of the creativity and the community angle, and also because the profits would go toward a grant, which really made it meaningful for them. Hearing my values echoed back at me from my customers was very gratifying! It’s going to be quite an adventure, and I’m thrilled for it to be underway.
Thanks, Monica! Amazing, inspiring, creative, smart — love Portrait Press, love that it was founded by a Brooklyn mom, and hope PTAs near and far will be jumping on board to fundraise with PP at their school!
Learn more on having a Portrait Press Fundraiser at your kid’s school.