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What Is a Popcorn Fundraiser?

By C. Mitchell
Updated: Feb 12, 2024

The term “popcorn fundraiser” can apply to any of a variety of schemes wherein popcorn is sold to raise money for a specific cause. Popcorn fundraisers are often set up in conjunction with movie theaters or group movie nights, such that patrons can purchase a snack to support a certain group or effort. Groups may also sell packaged gourmet popcorn door-to-door, often on a mail order basis. Basically any organized sale of popcorn or popcorn-related products that is structure such that profits funnel into a certain group's activities can qualify as a fundraiser.

Popcorn fundraisers are usually put on by organizations that need money for a specific cause. Charity groups may sell snacks to raise money for medical research, food pantries, or local homeless shelters, for instance. Scouting troops or sports teams may also organize sales to fund trips or camps, and schools commonly use fundraisers to improve facilities or as a means of getting funding for classroom supplies. In a popcorn fundraiser, money comes into the organization through popcorn sales.

There are many different ways of organizing a popcorn fundraiser. One of the most straightforward involves direct sales. A youth fundraiser group might set up a popcorn machine on the night of a school play and sell bags to audience members. Larger community groups may also get permission from a commercial movie theater to operate concession stands on certain nights or during specific shows as a means of earning money.

In a direct sale popcorn fundraiser, the take-home amount is usually whatever profit is made, less any operating expenses. Renting a popcorn machine, buying the raw kernels, and supplying bags often requires some upfront cost. If these supplies are donated, all profits can generally be kept.

Commercial partners like movie theaters are not usually willing to allow fundraising groups to keep all profits. Most of the time, only a percentage of the total sales will go to the sponsoring organization. Theaters provide the supplies and often also the advertising, and members of the fundraising team will often act as vendors. Owners usually count on people being more willing to buy snacks like popcorn when they know that a portion of the proceeds will go to charity. This often means that the theaters end up making a profit anyway, all the while supporting a good cause.

A popcorn fundraiser does not have to deal with fresh popcorn. Many snack companies make flavored or pre-packaged popcorn that some groups choose to sell as a means of raising money. This often involves partnering with a snack company or working with donated merchandise.

Not all snack companies are open to the idea of fundraising, but many of the larger brands are specifically set up for this sort of endeavor. Selling popcorn through a major distributor is common for kids’ fundraiser groups or corporate funding opportunities. Manufacturers in this category typically have ready-made fundraising “kits” for groups that include brochures, order forms, and sales tips. They also generally include set policies for sale minimums, profit margins, and time lines.

Commercial-based fundraising often works on a similar economic model to movie theater sales. Companies often see higher sales when allowing charitable groups to take over sales of the branded snacks. Allowing organizations to take home a percentage of the total profits also acts as motivational tool, encouraging sellers to be aggressive in their strategies in order to reap higher rewards.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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