Everyone loves taking part in a game or a challenge at a school fair, but we all know that the prizes are where the real excitement lies! There's a lot to think about when sourcing prizes: What kinds of prizes should you offer? How many do you need? Where can you source them, and where can you store them before and after the fair? We've got everything you need to know about fair prizes in this one handy guide.
- The always-updated guide to spring and summer fair games
- The always-updated guide to Christmas fair games and stalls
What kinds of prizes?
A token system allows for quality over quantity. Rather than winning lots of small prizes, children win multiple tokens, which they can then take to a prize stall to exchange for a selection of larger prizes (or a turn on your main attraction), based on the number collected. This means all of your stalls can be 'prize every time' without it being too costly, or the PTA having to source too many gifts. The token system is sure to encourage people to stay at the fair for longer, and will lead to busier stalls as children try to win enough tokens for their favourite prize!
Ask parents if they can donate a jam jar full of unwanted items to be prizes. You could request items, such as erasers, small notebooks, tiny toys and bouncy balls. Can parents save these items up from party bags during the year? Or ask parents to donate sweets, avoiding chocolate if your event is to be held in hot weather. You could also ask parents for donations of cuddly toys in good condition. Give them a quick wash and they are ready for their new life.
Get more variety by asking local retail outlets if they can help. Target a mix of independent and chain stores – independents may be more willing to support the local community, won't be asked constantly, and may have more unique gifts, while chain stores usually have an allocated allowance for charitable donations. You could also ask local supermarkets or garden centres if they have anything they have too much of or can't sell due to broken packaging.
Before you start buying prizes, gauge how many you need for your event. After each event, keep a record of how many fair prizes were used and how many are left over to help you plan for future events. If this is your first event, how many visitors are you expecting? If you're unsure about how many prizes you need, buy non-perishable, non-seasonal goods so you can keep any leftovers for your next event. Bulk-buying is often cheaper and avoids the risk of running out – your stall can't function if there isn't a prize – so if you have the storage space, bear this in mind. Alternatively, buy on sale-or-return from wholesalers or supermarkets and take back any leftovers. To prevent running out of prizes in the first hour of your summer fair, make a back-up plan for picking up extra stock.
Where to buy
- Supermarkets: great for seasonal deals and loyalty points, but supermarkets will sometimes have limited stock or set limits on how much you can buy in one transaction.
- Pound shops and discount stores: Stores such as Home Bargains, B&M and Poundland may also have limited stock. Pound shops sometimes sell smaller versions of items, so check you're buying the same-sized 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. Sign up to a Booker account with PTA+ 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 the PTA makes money as you buy.
- Specialist retailers: The PTA+ supplier directory is full of trusted suppliers with experience in the fundraising sector.
- Hit the sales: 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 Christmas, to buy good-quality items at discount prices. These can be saved for the following year, or more general items can be used at your next event. For example, floral mugs being sold off after Mother's Day can be a great token stall prize.
- Compare prices: 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.
- Is your PTA buying toys safely?
Think about storage
Assess your space 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 rather than in a damp, draughty 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, ask if committee members have spare space you could use, such as a garage or shed.
Audit your stock
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 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.
With everyone becoming more aware of the impact of plastic, you may be wondering how you can find an alternative to small, cheap plastic prizes that will no doubt break or be forgotten about after the event. Here are some more environmentally friendly prize ideas that are less likely to end up in landfill:
- Packets of seeds – try peas, sweet peas or beetroot, which all have flexible sowing times and are easy to handle.
- Seedlings – if you have a green-fingered parent ask them to cultivate some seedlings. This is inexpensive, exciting for the children, and educational too.
- Books – ask for donations at a mufti day or scour charity shops – some offer children's books for 50p or less.
- Art supplies – crayons, colouring pencils and pavement chalk.
- Stationery – make packs with notebooks, pencils and rubbers.
- Games – card games, wooden yo-yos, skipping ropes.
- Traditional toys – wooden beads, cat's cradle, French knitting dolly, marbles, die-cast toy cars, felt finger puppets, teddies.
- Raisins – a healthy choice in recyclable packaging.
- Homemade seed bombs – The Land Trust, The Wildlife Trusts and RHS all have recipes, and they can be made colourful with natural food colouring.
- Vouchers for other stalls – if the vouchers are for games stalls then this will cost you nothing as a prize. Just make sure you don't offer too many of them, or people will be constantly running between stalls and never win an actual prize!
If you're left with too much after an event, there are several options. Keep non-perishable goods for your next event if you can. If you don't have space, sell or donate them to another PTA, or host a sale event after school to get rid of excess items.