Although most flea markets and swap meets are run by business people making a living, many informal marketplaces are set up every year for more altruistic purposes. In some places, you can’t drive by a church on a Saturday morning without seeing tables for vendors set up in the churchyard. Animal shelters, Kiwanis, fire brigades, and youth groups are running similar events. Just as they offer sweet financial opportunities for pros, flea markets make great fund-raisers for non-profits, according to Katherine Murray, co-author of Fundraising for Dummies.
“Using a flea market as a fundraiser is a cool idea,” says Murray. “And very timely, given the state of the economy and our desire to have fundraisers as inexpensively as possible.” But when volunteers run a market, they will naturally make mistakes or miss opportunities that experienced industry veterans know how to handle. Here are some targeted tips Murray has put together exclusively for FleaMarketZone readers who are planning swap meet fundraisers.
- Plan well in advance.
Know who your leadership will be (preferably someone who is experienced in garage sales or flea markets who is excited about the idea).
- Promote in as many places — and as cheaply — as you can.
Ideas could be posts on local community boards, your Web page, your Facebook page, and Twitter posts.
- You could preview a few items you think might draw people in on your Facebook page.
- Make it fun for your volunteers!
Some organizations loving having annual sales so much that they host it year after year. Make it an event to remember for your volunteers and staff.
- Mix and match.
Use the opportunity to solicit gifts from corporate sponsors or create a fun campaign around getting items donated for the sale.
- Make sure your message gets out there.
Think through ways you want your mission to be visible at the sale. It might be simple signage; or cards with all your contact information. If the sale is at your location, consider giving tours for folks who are interested in seeing what you do. Perhaps run a PowerPoint presentation on a laptop that spotlights key elements in your programming. Or offer giveaways — magnets, pens, or something fun that connects directly to your mission — with your Web address and contact information, so people will remember how to find you.
- Be sure to include sign-up sheets to capture as many names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers as you can.
- Include information on how to volunteer for people who would like to get more involved with your organization.
- And be sure to let people know where the money from their purchases will go — and be as specific as you can:
“Each dollar raised feeds one kitten in our shelter for three days!”
- Make it clear that people are welcome to donate, even if they don’t find anything they want to purchase.
Kris Lindner, Office Manager of the First Congregational Church of Deep River, Conn., is in charge of publicity and vendor registration for the church’s annual flea market. Held in August, the market has space for 80 vendors, and Lindner hopes to get close to that this year. She had already registered over 40 vendors when she spoke with FleaMarketZone in July. “The last couple years, with the economy, haven’t been as good, but we still have a few more weeks to go and over half are sold. People wait to see what the weather will be like. We anticipate at least 70.”
The church raises money several ways. “We do the rental of spaces, and we’re having a bake sale. We also have a food concession — hamburgers, hot dogs, cole slaw, salads. Volunteers contribute those items,” says Lindner. “And our church is having its own tag sale inside the Fellowship Hall, where members of the congregation can donate items to sell.”
If past years are any guide, the event should raise several thousand dollars for the church. It is a big job, says Lindner, divided up among volunteers: “There’s a committee that’s in charge of it, and they in turn get other people. Someone to head up the concession stand, someone to head up the baked goods, someone to set up the tag sale. It’s a big effort and a lot of people.”
Lindner suggests paying attention to publicity. “Get the word out early. Advertise in a variety of places, on cable TV, online, and in newspapers. Get posters up.”
Chris Martinez, manager of United Storage Norwalk, a self-store facility in Norwalk, Conn., holds a small flea market four times a year on the sidewalk next to his building, for the benefit of two local nonprofits. “We rent space rent to vendors and in turn donate that money to charity. We are a storage facility, and we sell boxes, moving supplies and give special prices on storage to flea market customers,” he explains. “United Storage Norwalk also donates the profits to the Norwalk Emergency Shelter and the Norwalk Housing college scholarship fund.”
He says that flea markets are a particularly good idea these days. “We think it’s been successful in raising awareness for the charities we’ve donated the monies to. I think it is a great to have flea markets in this economy. It lets people who aren’t working get a chance to make some income.”
Here are some more tips and tricks from around the Web to get you on track. Riki Markowitz, an eHow contributing writer, suggests that the people in your organization — even students — make good vendors. “Look around your house. You probably see one or two items that you wouldn’t miss,” she suggests. “Gather all of your members and have everyone set up a table.”
Melanie L. Marten, a prolific writer on flea market topics, advises fundraiser organizers to consider their vendors. Decide on how to charge them, either by table or by a percentage of sales. Make sure they have enough room and organized space to sell well. Make your selling rules clear, so that you do not end up with inappropriate items sold at your market.
Shauna Hanus, a veteran church fundraiser, offers some concrete ideas in an Ezine article. Do not focus on just second-hand goods, she says. Consider homemade items, especially baked goods, as well as new merchandise that can be bought cheaply online.
“If you buy low, sell high and have fun,” she says, “your flea market fundraiser is sure to be a success.”