How To Organize A Successful Spring Carnival From Start To Finish

Spring is nature’s way of saying, let’s party!
Spring is nature’s way of saying, let’s party!

Spring is nature’s way of saying, let’s party! – Robin Williams

And what better way to party than to spend a day outside in the sun with kids, other families, neighbors, and community members! Spring Carnival is a fun-filled, almost a day-long event, organized by many PTO/PTAs usually in the March-May timeframe to bring together the community members. Many schools make this a community event and sell tickets just to cover their costs, but given the scale of the event and the amount of work and planning that goes into this event, you could score big by making this a fundraising event. If you hold both fall and spring carnivals, you could make one a community event and another a fundraiser event.

As much as Carnivals are fun for the families, they are also a LOT of work for the parent-teacher groups who are responsible for putting together this gargantuan event. The event has many moving parts and requires a ton of advanced and meticulous planning to ensure that the event runs smoothly. After all, “I am such an expert in running carnivals that I can do it in my sleep”, said no PTO/PTA volunteer ever! Let’s look at some of these areas which need thoughtful planning and execution. 

  • Schedule
  • Attendance
  • Venue
  • Theme
  • Rentals
  • Insurance and Permits
  • Sponsorships/Donations
  • Sources of Revenue
  • Tickets
  • Games
  • Decorations
  • Concession Stands
  • Prizes
  • Marketing
  • Crowd Management
  • Event Staffing
  • Timeline
Schedule:

One of the most important things to start with when planning your Spring Carnival is the date/time of the event. This is your starting point as this will drive the timeline for the entire planning process. Make sure you have at least 3-4 months of runway to work with. Ideally, you would follow the same timeline and processes, as your previous team did, but if you are holding the event for the first time then you must take the planning for this event very seriously. Don’t tell us we did not warn you!

Attendance:

Get a rough idea of the number of attendees at the event as this number will drive the quantities and amounts of everything from venue capacity to ticket sales to food, the number of prizes, etc. If your school has held this or similar event before, it is better to take that number and adjust it by 10-15% to arrive at the final number. If this is your first time, then it would be worth the while to spend some time to collect the numbers. You can do so by either, a) sending out a survey to parents to gauge the interest or, b) taking a percentage of the entire school size. Let’s say if you have 800 students in your school, you can estimate that 15% of those families will attend your event. Each family will have at least 2 attendees – a parent and the child. Add 10% to account for neighbors, sponsors, non-school volunteers, friends, staff, guest of honor, etc. Add 10% to this number to get extra quantities of food, prizes, activities, etc. It is better to go slightly over than under.

Venue:

As mentioned above, the number of attendees will drive the decision on Venue selection. Besides considering the size and safety of the venue, also take into account the venue’s accessibility, weather, and parking capacity. School football fields, parks, and cordoned off school parking lots make for a good venue for an outdoor Spring Carnival.

Theme:

Pick a fun theme. Some of the popular spring-time themes for the Carnival are Tropical, Earth Day, Luau, Snow-cone, Easter, Mad Hatter, Rainbow, Unicorn, Southwestern, etc. Almost anything can be converted into a theme as long as you are able to tie it all together via decorations, food, activities, and marketing. Make sure to pick a theme for which you will be able to find/make related items (decorations, food, games, etc.) easily.

Rentals:

Besides basic equipment such as canopies, tables, extra lighting, music, etc., you may also decide to rent games, rides, or professional artists. If you anticipate a challenge with arranging sufficient manpower on the day of the event and if you have the budget, you could be well off hiring a professional event planning company who would be responsible for taking care of all of the amusement and entertaining for you, including set up before the event, operation during the event, and clean up afterwards. But if you are counting pennies and have enough manpower, you could involve kids and parents to build DIY games and activities, and staff the event with volunteers to take care of it all.

With rentals, do shop around for rates. Make sure you are aware of all the extra fees, hidden costs, cancellation policy, etc., Double and triple check their agreements, dates, costs, etc.

 

 

Insurance and Permits:

Carnival is a crowded event, and chances of accidents and damages happening at the event could be high. Protect yourself from any kind of liability, through insurance.  Make sure your insurance covers injuries, damages to property, person, accidents, etc.  If you already have a PTO/PTA insurance, call the provider to verify if they cover event insurance, if not, you can purchase one-day event insurance online from websites, such as:

Your rental companies should carry insurance as well, in case of damage to their property and/or injuries to employees. File all the paperwork securely in case you need to make any claims later.

You may also need permits to operate amusement rides, to sell food and other items, or even for street parking. Check with your city to ensure you have proper permits in place for the event.

Rentals and permits require advanced planning.  Many rental companies may require 30-90 days advance notice on booking. Arranging for permits could be time-consuming too as it requires proper submission of paperwork. To avoid miscommunication and confusion, assign one person to work with all rental companies and to be a single point of contact, even in case of emergencies.

Spring Carnivals are fun
Spring Carnivals are fun
Sponsorships/Donations

There are many ways you can cut costs and add to your bottom line. One of the ways is to find event sponsors and to solicit donations from local businesses. Local businesses or parents who own local businesses are the best people to solicit sponsorships from as they are more inclined to support local schools. Consider various kinds of businesses, e.g. local restaurants can run a concession stand and give back a portion of the profits to the school, local businesses or artists can perform at the event in exchange for hanging their banners or passing out the flyers. Other businesses, such as realtors and those running child care, or child/family-related businesses can donate money in exchange for hanging their banners and passing out flyers. Consider creating tiered packages for Sponsorships such as Bronze, Silver, and Gold. The sponsorship amount and hence the promotion will vary based on the packages. Some other ways to promote the sponsors is to a) add their link on your website, showcase their company in your Facebook’s profile picture, send home flyers with the carnival packet, print name on tote bags or t-shirts, etc.

Solicit donations of items, cash or gift cards from local businesses. Local branches of chain stores tend to give out $25 gift cards, which can be used to buy things like water, printing paper, decoration items, etc. To solicit donations, present the business with a donation request letter on your PTO/PTA letterhead. Make several copies of the letter.

Click on the link below to download the editable Sponsorship/Donation Request Letter Template

Download Sponsorship/Donation Request Letter Template
SOURCES OF REVENUE

You may choose to sell tickets for your event as part of fundraising effort or just to cover your costs.  If fundraising, ticket sales would be one part of the income for your fundraiser as there can be other ways of making money. For e.g. by selling concessions, raffle tickets, or even putting up your own booth to sell, say spring bulbs or plants, arts and crafts, and other knick-knacks. May schools invite local vendors to hold a vendor fair and get a percentage of their profits donated back to school. If your school holds both, Fall and Spring Carnivals, you could decide to make a community event and another a fundraiser.

TICKETS

Tickets can be sold in multiple ways to make them affordable to all as well as to make them more attractive

  • Value-based pricing: One of the ways to sell tickets would be at a flat rate which would include the general admission as well as entry to all the rides and activities.  If you have tons of games/activities and concession options, value-pricing could be a good option. E.g. flat fee of $20.

Tip: Discounts you could offer: Volume discount, sibling/friends/family discount, early bird discounts.

  • For those who can’t afford to buy a flat-priced ticket, you could also sell some tickets which have two-part pricing – a small fee for general admission, and a certain amount, say $.50, for each ride/activity. E.g. $5 for general admission plus $.50 for each ride.

Tip: Create value packs of ride tickets in multiples of 10 and offer a discount of $1 for every pack. E.g. $4 for a pack of 10 tickets

Remember you have many more avenues to make money during this event and ticket is only one part of it, so price the tickets to make it affordable for everyone, not just a few.

GAMES

Besides food, games and activities are a big attraction at the Carnival. Consider mixing it up with prize-based and non-prize based activities, games and rides. Games and rides can be rented or can be  DIY with a twist on traditional games and activities. Whatever you plan, make sure you have test-driven the games in advance to avoid any last-minute faux pas. Have enough stations to avoid long lines. Having a few volunteers to manage lines around popular game stations is advisable. Some of the traditional carnival games/activities that can be easily made/done yourself with some help are: 

Decorations

This is the most fun part of the carnival. Decorations are vital to your theme as they bring the “fun” aspect to the event and tie it all together.  You can either purchase decorations and party supplies for bulk party supplies stores or get a few artsy parents and high school students together to create your own unique, funky decorations. The best thing about making your own decorations is that you get to involve parents and students and make something that is unique and fun, instead of using the cookie-cutter, store-bought decorations. To cut down on the costs, you can request families or local arts/craft store to donate decoration items such as ribbons, glitter, glue, etc.  When making decorations for outdoors, take care to make them sturdy enough to withstand the winds as even a light breeze may carry away the decorations, especially those made out of Paper or Styrofoam,  though they should be light enough to transport from indoors to outdoors and set up. They should be large and eye-catching as they will be competing for attention with other decorations, canopies, etc. There are hundreds and thousands of videos online that can help you create unique decorations. Use a few centerpieces for people to take pictures which the marketing team can use to share on your Facebook and Instagram accounts.

 Concession Stands

Food concession stands are a versatile part of any carnival. Consider renting concession stands and getting food catered if you are considering selling hot food. You can either invite local food caterers or restaurants to set up concession stands for you or hire professional companies who specialize in running concession stands at fairs and carnivals.  Traditional carnival foods include Hot dogs, Popcorn, Funnel cake, Cotton Candy, Nacho and chips, Ice Cream, Slushy, etc. You could also sell packaged foods such as popcorns, chips, donuts, candies etc. If you want to make it a healthy fare, don’t be afraid, go for it.  Create a menu, build a shopping list and purchase items in bulk from large warehouses to keep the costs down. Keep the menu simple, and clearly state the number of concession tokens required to purchase each item.  

In recent times, food trucks have gained popularity at carnivals due to their exotic food offerings. Depending on the space, accessibility of the venue, and your budget, you could mix it up! You could negotiate with food truck vendors to give your school back a portion of the profits.

Prizes

One of the main attractions for kids at Carnivals is not only to play fun games but also to win prizes.  The simplest way to handle prizes is to have kids collect a specific number of tickets or tokens each time they win a game. Each token is worth a certain amount. Based on the number of tokens they have collected, kids can then pick prizes from the Redemption center at the end. This method ensures that a) kids or parents are not running around with hands full of prizes and b) kids are excited to collect tokens and compare them with their friends. The prizes don’t have to be anything big or expensive. They can be small trinkets, candies or soft toys. Parents do hate small trinkets and junk, so size matters more than the value of the prize. Soft toys, balls, etc. are more popular prizes at the carnival. The committee will need to ensure that the Redemption center is well-staffed to handle large crowds towards the end of the event and that all items are well stocked. It is best to order extras than to run short. You can always hand over the extras to the next year’s committee

Tip: If you are using the same type of tickets or tokens, color code them for prizes, food, and rides to make sure kids do not mix them up.

Some resources for purchasing your prizes…

MarketinG

Nothing would be more disappointing than seeing half of the tickets unsold. It is the marketing and communications committee’s job to create buzz and excitement about the event to get maximum participation at the event. Start early and create creative about your communications. Create beautiful marketing materials – flyers, posters, etc. and distribute as much as you can! Enlist the help of art students from high school or artsy parents to create beautiful/funky flyers and posters. Include important details such as date/time/venue/activities/prizes and ticket prizes, but do not crowd them with too much text. Add eye-catching images/graphics. You can use the following sites to create beautiful flyers and posters for free or for a very low cost

Create a page on your website:  Create a page dedicated to this event on your website if possible, and include all the details not only about the schedule, venue, and ticket prices but about the games/activities, prizes, food, even mention the sponsors. Add a banner on your website’s home page and if possible on school’s website announcing the event. If you have pictures from the previous event, make sure to include them on your website or on the Facebook page.

Create online event: Create an online event on your website as well as on your Facebook page. Include a link to the event in the signature of the committee and the Executive team’s all outgoing emails.

Send out regular updates: Send out updates in form of fun facts or details about the event. E.g. “We booked 5 new gigantic games for the carnival today”. Or another example would be “Guess which is going to be the most finger-licking good food at the carnival?” It’s about building the fun and the excitement leading up to the event, so be creative.

Send multiple reminders: As you get closer to the event, send out multiple reminders. With each reminder send some new information so that the messages don’t sound boring and repetitive. Use upbeat tone and voice in your marketing materials.

Get help: Enlist teachers’ and principal’s help to send out reminders. Get teachers to generate buzz about the carnival in the classroom. Maybe practice some games that will be included in the carnival or do a taste test of the food items to be included in the carnival.

Get creative about your outreach.

  • Post flyers at local stores and coffee shops that parents visit.
  • Hang large size posters near the parking lot where parents pick up/drop off kids.
  • Add the event to your marquee.
  • You can also hold contests amongst classes/grades to sell tickets to their friends and families. The winning class wins a pizza party!
  • Get a local celebrity, such as a local politician or a local band to post about the event to their followers
CROWD MANAGEMENT

Even a small crowd at an event like Carnival can pose a challenge when mixed with wild, soft-toy-wielding kids, strollers, canopies, etc. Make sure you have clearly marked signs for restrooms, stations, games, food, parking lot, etc.  to ensure smooth flow of foot-traffic. Appointing crossing guards and volunteers to guide the crowd from parking lot to the venue and back will ensure a safe and smooth flow of people.

EVENT STAFFING

Carnival is a resource-hogging event, in terms of time, people, money and of course your energy. Make sure you are able to attract enough volunteers to help you out with the event. Start by creating a Carnival Committee. Recruit plenty of volunteers by creating volunteer signups for parents to sign up. Take time to describe each role and associated duties clearly. Merely mentioning that you need volunteers to help may not sound so appealing. Elevate the volunteer status by giving them fancy titles. E.g. Decoration Derby Team, Food Frolics, Crowd Pleasers, etc.  Enlist the help of local high school students, churches, and youth clubs to get more volunteers. Students can get free food and service hours in exchange for their help. Keep time slots short so that even time-strapped folks are able to pitch in. Instead of asking people to volunteers for 3-4 straight hours, ask them to volunteer for  60-90 minutes. Parents may want to accompany their kids and enjoy the carnival so it may be a challenge to get them to volunteer. Offer them incentives, such as a free pass, free food, extra raffle tickets, etc.

Oroola allows you to create beautiful, theme-based signups and invite anyone by sharing them on your Facebook page or in an email. Users need not have an Oroola account to sign up.  So even high school students or other non-Oroola community members can sign up for volunteering or donations. Automatic reminders and reports ensure that organizers have a handle on the state of volunteers and donations at any point.

Following are some of the important roles that you may want to staff in your committee and the tasks they would be responsible for.

Committee Chair:

The committee chair will head the committee and will be responsible for overlooking the planning and execution of the entire event. 

Games sub-committee:  

  • Planning out the various games and activities for the carnival
  • Shopping for or working with the rental/bookings coordinator to rent the games
  • Planning out the stations for each game/activity in detail
  • Determining the prize levels and number of prizes, and
  • Making sure each activity station is properly equipped with games, instructions, and staff.
  • Submit expense reports and receipts to the treasurer

Concessions sub-committee:

  • Shopping for concession stand rentals
  • Signing contracts with the vendors
  • Ensuring proper food permits are in place
  • Determining quantities to order
  • Deciding on the prices of food items
  • Preparing and printing menus, etc.
  • Concession team members will need to work with the facilities coordinator to plan the placement and layout of the concession stands
  • Submit expense reports and receipts to the treasurer 

Redemption Center/Prizes Committee:

  • Deciding on variety of prizes
  • Shopping for prizes before the event
  • Collecting and counting the tokens
  • Handing out the right prizes
  • Stocking/re-stocking all the prizes
  • Counting and reporting ending inventory of all prizes
  • Submit expense reports and receipts to the treasurer

Ticket Sales coordinator and sub-committee:

  • Creating ticket packages and pricing
  • Arranging sales of tickets
  • Collection of payment
  • Monitor the entrance to collect payment of ticket sales at the door
  • Giving out wristbands after verification of ticket purchase

Marketing and Communications Committee:

  • Create, print and distribute all marketing materials – Flyers and posters
  • Manage online and offline communication
  • Manage messaging on social media channel and websites
  • Submit expense reports and receipts to the treasurer

Facilities coordinator:

  • Design the layout of the event to allow for smooth flow of the crowd
  • Ensure that the event organizers and the committee abides by all security and safety codes 
  • Ensure parking facilities
  • Crowd management immediately outside and inside the venue

Volunteer Coordinator:

  • Identify roles and headcounts for all volunteers
  • Create signups with specific roles and time slots
  • Ensure all needs are properly staffed

Fundraising committee:

  • Create sponsorship packages
  • Find and reach out to sponsors
  • Prepare donation request letters and emails.
  • Collect payments or donation items
  • Arrange for collection and placement of promotion materials as per the sponsorship packages
  • Send thank you letters to sponsors after the event

 Decoration Committee

  • Decide on decorations to match the theme
  • Buy and/or request for donations of supplies
  • Recruit volunteers to create or purchase decorations
  • Setup before the event and clean up after the event
  • Submit expense reports and receipts to the treasurer
Timeline

Following is an approximate timeline for the planning process

3 -4 months before the event

  • Create a committee, if not done already
  • Book the venue and the rentals
  • Get all permits and insurance
  • Each sub-committee meets regularly to discuss and plan specifics of their committee
  • Get Sponsors and arrange for donations

 30-45 days from the event

  • Start communicating with families
  • Get all marketing materials ready and start distributing them
  • Start creating the buzz and keep it on until the event
  • Create signups and start recruiting volunteers

 2-weeks before the event

  • Train the volunteers – give them guidance and provide them with as many details as possible
  • Review the status of all the planning and ensure the entire team is on track and updated
  • Call all rental companies and confirm the deliveries
  • Send reminders to all parents and continue recruiting volunteers

One day before the event

  • Reminders to families
  • Reminders to volunteers to be on time
  • Finish any decorations or setup if required
  • All purchases complete and stocked up for easy access the next day

Day of the event

  • Final reminder to families. Send any last-minute information about parking, or other logistics
  • Set up your event
  • Have fun!

 A week or two after the event

  • Take a break and relax! It has been long 3-4 months
  • Send out thank you notes to volunteers, teacher, and staff
  • Share pictures with families
  • Send out thank you notes to sponsors
  • Send out survey to families to collect feedback
  • Conduct post-mortem of the event to see what worked and what could have been done better
  • Create a binder with all information to share with the next year’s team
  • Now it is the treasurer’s job to make sure all expenses are disbursed, all payments accounted for, and all accounts are settled!

Time to say, BRING… IT… ON… !


Oroola is an all-in-one, FREE family engagement platform that helps K-12 PTO/PTA leaders boost family involvement in schools by simplifying communication and providing tools for events management, volunteer management, school directory, and online payments, all in one place. Visit the website  for more information or to schedule a demo

 

 


 

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