2.  Determine Your Budget

If your organization has put on a previous carnival, you may have an idea of your fundraising goals. Hopefully you also have a record of the previous years' expenses to use as a guide. But fear not if you are starting from scratch, through careful planning you can come pretty close to estimating how much you can spend and how much you will raise.

There are two basic ways to set your budget; a top-down approach and a bottom-up approach. With the top-down approach, you estimate how many people will come to your carnival, set a ticket price you are comfortable with, and then use those numbers to figure out how much you can spend and still make a profit. With the bottom-up approach, you estimate how many people will come to your carnival, how many games you will need, what you will spend on the games, and then decide how much to charge to make a profit. I've detailed the bottom-up approach here, but the same information applies to a top-down approach.

Estimating from the bottom up

Whether you are starting from scratch or not, following these steps will help you come up with a reasonable budget.

1.  Determine the cost of games and how much to charge:

  1. Estimate how many people you expect to come to your carnival. Chances are that even if your organization has not put on a carnival, they have put on events of some kind. Ask the administrators of your organization how many people typically turn out for events. If you are also inviting the general public, you may have to take a best guess at how many people to expect. You can also ask other schools in your area how many people attend their carnivals.

  1. Once you have an estimate of how many people will attend, you can decide how many games you will need. You could make a chart like this:

    If we expect 200 kids,

    And we have this many games:  Then lines will be this long:

    10 games

    20 players

    15 games

    13 players

    20 games

    10 players

    25 games

    8 players

    Of course, this is an average, more popular games or games that take longer to play will have more kids in line. If there is food at your carnival, some kids be off eating at any one time. But you can get a general idea of how many games you will need.

  1. Have your Games Coordinator prepare a proposed list of games and their costs. This is just a preliminary list to give you an idea on costs. You probably want to start with a bigger list of games than you expect to use, since some may turn out to be more cost effective for you than others. The costs would include expenses for renting, buying, or making the game and any needed supplies. At this point the costs will not include prizes.

  1. Determine how many players can play each game during your carnival. You could make a chart like this:

    If our carnival is 3 hours (180 minutes) long,

    And the game takes this long:  Then this many can play:

    30 seconds

    360 players

    1 minute

    180 players

    2 minutes

    90 players

    3 minutes

    60 players

  1. Have your Prize Coordinator work with the team to come up with target cost for prizes for each game. You could make a chart like this:

    If 180 players do this game,

    And this many win:  And prizes for this level cost:

    Level 1 prize - 84 winners

    $0.05 each

    Level 2 prize - 60 winners

    $0.10 each

    Level 3 prize - 36 winners

    $0.15 each

    Then this game's prizes will cost: (84*$0.05)+(60*$0.10)+(36*$0.15)=$15.60.

  1. Determine the total cost to you for each game:

    Cost to build, rent, or buy the game and supplies + Cost of prizes = Total cost of the game

  1. Determine how much each game will cost you per player:

    Total cost of the game / Number of players = Cost per player for the game

  1. At this point, you can see which games are the most cost-effective. Using the Cost per player as a guide, decide on how much to charge to play a game:

    Price to play - Your cost per player = Your profit per player

    You may decide to charge more for a game that has higher costs. If you decide you need to charge more than $0.25 to $0.50 per game, you may need to rethink your game and/or prize costs. Keep in mind the economics of your area. If each child will play about 20 games at a cost of $0.50 per game, that will cost them $10.00. For some areas that may be fine, in others it might be impossible.

    Also, look at the total picture. If you have some games where you barely break even per player, and others that you make $0.25, you can afford to subsidize the less profitable games. It depends on their fun factor for the children. For example, jumping structures tend to be expensive to rent and have a low number of children that can go through per hour. But they are a lot of fun and add atmosphere to your carnival.

    Another consideration is the money generated from food sales (we'll tackle this next) and raffles. You may be able to generate income from these areas to cover some of your expenses on the games and prizes.

  2. 2. Determine the cost of food and how much to charge

    1. If you are doing the food concessions yourselves, have your Food Coordinator work with the team to come up with a proposed list of foods and their costs to prepare and serve. Again, this is just to give you an idea on costs.

      If you are planning to have outside vendors do the food, contact them now to discuss their availability, what they can provide, and how they handle the distribution of profits.

    1. When you have a handle on costs, set the prices for your food. If you are using an outside vendor, they may want to do this themselves. As with the games, take the economics of your area into account. If a family of four comes to your carnival and spends $2 each for hamburgers or a slice of pizza and $0.50 each for sodas, that will be $10.00. Is that reasonable to expect in your area? Maybe $0.50 hot dogs and $0.25 lemonade would be a better choice.

    1. Using your estimated number of attendees, estimate the amount you expect to make from the food concessions.

    3. Determine other expenses

    Brainstorm with your team to make a list of any other expenses you can think of, for example:

    • Decorations
    • Advertising
    • Tickets (purchase or printing)
    • Custodial fees
    • Security
    • Insurance
    • Table rentals
    • Tent rentals

    You probably won't be able to think of everything at this point, but the idea is just to get close.

    4. Estimate your bottom line

    Now that you know how much you expect to make from games and food, and how much your expenses might be, you can figure out the bottom line -- How much total profit is your carnival going to make?

    Profit from games + Profit from food - Other expenses = Your carnival's total profit

    It's best to give yourself a lot of leeway here, especially if this is your organization's first carnival. What if the weather is bad and your turnout is much less than you expected? What if the food concessions aren't as popular as you'd hoped and you end up with lots of (expensive) leftovers? The last thing you want to do is lose money, so shoot for a larger profit and be happy if you come close. And if your carnival is a rousing success (because of all your great planning of course!) be very very happy when you exceed your best estimates.

    This is a good time to communicate with the administrators in your organization. Does your profit estimate match up with their expectations? Are they comfortable with the prices you've set for games and food? Can they think of any expenses you haven't covered?

    I'm sure you can now see the value of keeping good records from year to year. Knowing how many people to expect and what worked and what didn't in the games and food departments will make the planning much easier for next year's committee.