Thanks so Mulch: Vandegrift has This Fundraiser in the Bag

Capitalizing on how many homeowners maintain their property each year, the Vandegrift High School Band Boosters created a mulch sale.  In two short years they have become known as the place to buy mulch in their town while creating a large return on investment!

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In the springtime, birds begin to sing, flowers begin to bloom, and self-respecting suburban gardeners everywhere begin to spread mulch.

The band boosters at Vandegrift High School in Austin, Texas, led by band dads Kirk Gravely and Kip DeGilio, saw an opportunity.

Why not sell and deliver bags of mulch to local homeowners?

Originally inspired by a Boy Scout fundraiser, they needed to scale up. WAY up, as it turned out. Where the Boy Scout sale had resulted in one and a half tractor-trailers filled with bags of mulch, they now had 18 tractor-trailers filling parking lots all over town.

We caught up with them to find out just how they pulled it off for the second year in a row. The fundraiser sounds simple: deliver bags of mulch to area homeowners. Easy peasy, right? Not so much, actually. Let’s take a look at what it takes.

First, do a little digging to find out what the going rate is for bagged mulch in your area. Check local hardware stores, garden centers, and big box retailers.

Once you have an idea what the going rate is, you’ll know what you might be able to charge for a bag of mulch. You don’t have to have the least expensive price, but your price should be competitive: within about 50 cents of the going rate.

Next, find a supplier. Vandegrift considered several local suppliers and determined which one offered the best combination of product and price. Once you find that supplier, let them know that you’re reselling it as a fundraiser. The goal is to get it from the supplier for about 75 cents to a dollar less per bag than the going rate you’ve established. That’ll be your profit. A few internet searches should go a long way in finding those local providers.

Next, begin sales. Not only will you provide your customer with bagged mulch at a reasonable price, but it will be delivered to them at no extra charge!

After that, all you have to do is deliver it when you said you would.

Kip and Kirk learned a lot doing this fundraiser for the second year in a row. They had a single location (drop point) from which they completed the deliveries the first year, but after sales skyrocketed the second year, they worked smarter, arranging separate drop points for key delivery “zones.” Each was strategically located to optimize the logistics of getting bags of mulch from the drop point to

a delivery vehicle and to the homeowner. The manufacturer provided a fork lift at the primary drop points to speed up the time for loading delivery vehicles.

The school district was divided into neighborhoods, and vehicles and delivery crews dispersed. The goal was to enter each neighborhood only once, deliver everything, and don’t return.

“We created three local drop locations for the mulch company,” Kip explained. “From those three locations we conducted operations on execution days to move the product to the delivery locations with the shortest amount of drive time possible. The mulch comes in 2 cubic foot bags. There are about 50 bags per pallet of mulch. To deliver to the end destinations, we had a combination of rented panel trucks, large trailers, pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. For safety reasons, it is very important to adhere to the load limitations of vehicles.”

A fundraiser of this magnitude requires the buy-in of each band member and their family. Each family was asked to sell 100 bags of mulch. “The band was told this was an all-hands event and all parents were asked to assist as well. We had about 150-200 volunteers (students, parents, brothers and sisters) to help with the operational deployment.” Kip went on, “We had local command centers to direct the activities of the local delivery teams. The command centers maintained the current status of the delivery lists and assigned delivery teams to specific delivery lists.”

On the initial planning stage, Kirk tells us, “We started the process in August or September, which included initial planning with the vendor, attending monthly booster board meetings for decision making and approvals, working with the communication chair of the booster organization and also with the band director (we were in somewhat stealth mode until the sales began in December).”

On the operations side, Kip shares, “For the 2013 mulch sale we started in December 2012 for the late February operational deployment….We had to coordinate with the supplier as well as local drop locations so we could accommodate 2 days of mulch deliveries from our supplier.

“In addition,” Kirk said, “We had to coordinate with the high school administration (through the appropriate booster channels), key people at the various delivery locations, various rental companies for securing rental equipment, the booster treasurer and online order person.”

Promoting the mulch sale takes a bit of thought as well. The first year, they advertised in local newspapers and in neighborhood newsletters, put signs at all neighborhood mailboxes, developed an online ordering mechanism and had students sell door to door. They sold twice as much as they’d

originally targeted! Kip noted, “Next year, we plan to take orders for mulch at every football game and expand advertising in the local area.”

About the 2013 sale, Kirk added, “We had some social media connections. This year, target goal and sales increased significantly and we hit our target.”

This has become a very successful annual fundraiser for Vandegrift. “I’ve already been coerced invited by the boosters to run operations next year,” Kip told us.

If your organization can hustle like Vandegrift, your group could stand to make between $15,000 – $20,000 on this single fundraiser. “Pricing and profit margins will best be determined based on the local market for the booster organization,” Kirk reminds us. In other words, your mileage may vary.

Vandegrift provided a helpful sample timeline.

January 4
Student Sales Meeting

January 27
E-mail Requesting Vehicle Information Pickups, Trailers, SUVs,
Rental Vehicles – Flatbed TT, Pick-ups

February 8
Student Leadership Team Meeting

February 9
Student Delivery Team Formation Meeting

February 11
Last order & money in

February 12
Order Mulch

February 15
Student Delivery Team Formation complete

February 19
Mulch Execution Meeting (ALL STUDENTS)

February 22
Pre-Execution Meeting for key leadership members Rental Vehicle Pickups
Set up command centers

February 23

The best fundraisers are those in which an organization spots an existing need in the community and moves in to fill it. That way, the community can support your organization while getting things done all at the same time. It’s great PR for the group because you’re successfully delivering a product or service. I’ll bet that even if they’d never heard Vandegrift play, half the town knows who they are: the “mulch” kids. Take a look around and think about all the ways in which your organization can be of service to your community. You never know how it might pay off!

Download Vandegrift Mulch Fundraiser (146.03 kB)