As parent volunteers, we’re always looking for creative ways to raise money for the school, the PTA/PTO, and for other organizations that affect our schools. Penny wars are an exciting way to fundraise while feeding a spirit of healthy competition among classmates.
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What is a Penny War?
Penny wars are a fun way for schools, offices, and small organizations to raise money for a good cause. Most common in North America, this unique fundraiser involves real coins in the donation process, giving participants the chance to have a more hands-on approach than with other fundraising activities.
Often known as “battles of spare change,” a penny war is a friendly competition that can be a great way for students to learn both the value of money and the importance of fundraising.
How does a Penny War Work?
Each team, group, or class has their own transparent jar or bottle. The container is labeled clearly and placed in a central location that is accessible to each group participating.
Sometimes, using an opaque container (one that nobody can see through) can add an entertaining twist to the competition. However, keep in mind that this option might not be best for every situation, especially if you feel that your teams would benefit from physically seeing the progress of their donations over the course of the fundraiser.
In general, the goal is for your team to have the most points (1 penny = 1 point) by the end of the “war.” This is accomplished by members of each team bringing in their spare change throughout the course of the fundraiser.
However, it doesn’t always have to be so simple…
2 Types of Penny Wars
1) Basic Penny Wars Rules
To run a basic penny war, you can keep the rules fairly straightforward in which 1 penny = 1 point. This is a good option for younger students who might not be able to fully grasp the concept of coin value yet.
As mentioned above, 1 penny equals 1 point. For every penny that each team deposits into their own jar, they earn 1 point. The team with the most pennies/points by the end of the penny war wins!
Collecting ONLY pennies will inevitably limit the amount of funds you can raise since the monetary value is so low. Therefore, you could make a basic penny war more profitable by changing the rules to say 1 coin = 1 point. This choice will depend on the characteristics of your group of students and your fundraising goals.
2) The Points System Approach (Our Favorite Way to Run a Penny War!)
To make it a little more interesting, you can add some fun extra rules that make this fundraising activity feel much more like a war! In this approach, 1 penny is still equal to 1 point, but silver coins can be used to sabotage other teams. By depositing nickels, dimes, and quarters (5 points, 10 points, and 25 points each respectively) into rival teams’ containers, they can deduct points from their competitors.
For example, a team could work together to collect 100 pennies and earn themselves 100 points. However, if a rival team then deposited 4 quarters (25 points x 4) into that team’s jar, it would deduct 100 points and leave them at 0.
This is when penny wars can get interesting, because competitors tend to be more focused on deducting points from their opponents using larger value coins than collecting less valuable pennies for their own jars.
In addition to pennies being worth positive points, it’s a good idea to include dollar bills as positive points as well. This will increase funds earned and will even out the playing field for students.
Pros and Cons of a Penny War
There are many pros and a few cons to running a penny war fundraiser. The cons can be easily overcome though! We believe the pros far outweigh the cons for this school fundraiser.
- Penny wars are super popular with schools, students, and families because they are so much fun!
- Given that the only materials needed are containers and a few flyers, this activity has a high profit margin and has the potential to earn big money.
- The volunteer hours needed are relatively low! The “warring” competitors run the game virtually by themselves with their coin deposits. Volunteers are only needed to collect the jugs and count the money.
- At the end of the penny war, counting the change can be very time consuming (mitigate this challenge by counting the donations daily or every other day).
- You might collect so many coins that you’ll have to use a sorter machine, which charges a fee. (One way to overcome this is to ask a bank if they are willing to count the change for free.)
Steps to Start a Penny War
Create Rules and Distribute Them
Design fun and easy-to-read cheat sheets for those participating in the penny war so that no one forgets the rules. Another good idea is to create posters with the rules written clearly on them, and display them near the coin collection containers.
If you’ve chosen to run your penny war using the point system, you can download the printable PDF cheat sheet below to post around the school.
Present each participating team with their container. You can use a variety of different types of containers, from empty milk jugs to 5-gallon water bottles. Try to estimate roughly how many coins your competitors are capable of collecting ahead of time and provide the appropriate sized container.
Also be mindful of how heavy the containers will be when filled with coins! 5-gallon water bottles are crazy heavy when filled with spare change (yes, I know from experience!). Unless you have a few buff staff or PTO members, empty milk jugs are a solid choice and don’t get excessively heavy.
A fun activity related to the containers would be for each team or class to decorate their own bottle or jar with their group’s theme or grade level. It’s a fun way for participants to bond with each other within their team or classmates.
Publicize Your Event
Because of the simplicity of a penny war fundraiser, there isn’t a whole lot of planning and advance notice needed in order to run a successful penny war. All students need to know is that they should be bringing their spare change into school.
However, particularly for young students, it might be a good idea to publicize the event for parents via the school website or Facebook page so that they know why their children are asking them for their spare change!
Use the editable template below to create a custom flyer to advertise your penny war fundraiser. Once edited, the flyer can be downloaded and shared digitally through social media and email, and physically printed. Students can take home the flyer and show their parents the rules and intent of the penny war.
Penny Wars Fundraiser Flyer
To customize the flyer template, edit each section as follows:
- Where: Add your school name with location of the containers (ex: main hallway, cafeteria, library, etc.)
- When: The start and end dates of your penny war
- How to Participate: Establish your competing teams (classes, grades, etc.) and reiterate the location of the containers
- The Grand Prize: Let the participants know what reward the winning team will get (see our list of suggestions later in this article).
- More Details & Contact Info: Where or what the funds will be used for and when the winning group will be announced. Also include the contact information for the person in charge of the fundraiser.
Encourage Participation with Announcements and Charts
One of the best ways to encourage participation in a penny war is by supporting healthy competition. Create charts to display near the containers which indicate each team’s progress at the end of each day or week, depending on how long you intend for your penny war to go on. This is a fun boost for participation because teams can work to take down close competitors with larger coins if they see another team approaching their higher point count.
Don’t underestimate the power of visual motivation, especially for students who are used to a high level of visual stimuli in their classrooms. For young students in particular, who are still at a stage of learning that is more focused on images and colors (rather than dense blocks of words), things like posters and charts are a great way for them to understand their progress.
Another method for increasing excitement for and participation in the fundraiser is by having daily announcements. This can be tied in with the results that are displayed on the aforementioned charts.
Progress announcements can be fun and throw exciting twists into the “war.” Some teams might even form “alliances” with each other to sabotage one team that seems to be earning way more points than the others.
Count the Donations and Reward the Winners
At the end of the war, collect the containers and gather some trustworthy and neutral authorities to count the pennies! As discussed before, this could be quite a lengthy process if your warring groups collected a significant amount of coins, but you could always find a coin-sorting machine with low fees or ask a bank if they’re willing to do the counting for free.
When a victory is declared, reward them for all their hard work! Some great rewards include:
- Ice cream party
- Pizza party
- Afternoon movie and popcorn
- Extra recess time
Whatever the reward is, make sure that the winning team knows they earned something great for their hard work! It’s also very important to remember to tell all the competitors that they contributed positively to a productive fundraiser.
Tell each team, whether they won or lost the metaphorical war, how much money they raised over the course of the fundraiser. Mark each team’s amount down on a chart and leave it up on display for a while so that the participants can be reminded of the good they did for their cause.
Conclusion: Is a Penny War a Good Fundraising Idea?
The short answer is: yes!
All in all, a penny war is a classic fundraising idea that is a tried and true way for students to earn money for their school, team, or organization and see the real value of their donation efforts. There are a variety of ways to run a penny war, ranging from playing with very simple rules (1 penny = 1 point) to competing with more exciting rules of point deduction with larger coins!
You can also personalize your penny war with a theme. Perhaps it’s the holidays and your students are fundraising for an end-of-the-year holiday party. You can create themed posters, flyers, charts, and containers to make it special and to remind your students what they’re working for. You can follow a similar method no matter what the goal of the fundraiser is, whether it’s a field trip, a new classroom gadget, or a charity.
Penny wars are a great way to encourage friendly competition among students. After all, studies have shown that young people learn how to deal with conflict in a healthy way from teamwork games like penny wars.
Penny wars also have hidden educational value in regard to the involvement of coin counting and money values. This makes it a great option specifically for young students. There’s no doubt about it – penny wars are a delightful fight for funds!
Have you ever run a penny war fundraiser? If so, I’d love to know more about your experience! Feel free to email me at email@example.com anytime!
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