how to set prices at a bake sale fundraiser? [difficulty level: vegan]
May 1, 2013 10:54 AM   Subscribe

I've been organizing and running a vegan bake sale in my city twice a year for the past three years. It's a pretty manageable affair; over the course of five bake sales, I've raised just over $5,000, met some wonderful people, and had a lot of fun. While I am lucky enough to have an incredible standing venue and an amazing group of regular volunteer bakers, I keep getting stuck on one thing: PRICING. I've run into problems with every approach I've tried to use so far! Can you help me figure out a solid, reasonable pricing method for homemade vegan baked goods that will be 'sold' at a fundraising event?

What I've tried so far:
+ For my first bake sale, I went with a "pay whatever you want" tactic that resulted in at least a half-dozen people saying they couldn't pay anything and then walking away with a handful of cookies. Alternately, some folks would throw some coins into my donation jar and then start grabbing as much as they could carry with two hands even though I insist upon doling out the goods with latex gloves and tongs.
+ For my second bake sale, I went with hardline prices that were lowballed to resemble 'regular' bake sale prices ($0.50-1 for cookies, $1-2 for bars, $2-3 for cupcakes, $3-5 for special/fancy stuff). Most everyone paid the lowest price listed and not a penny more; unfortunately those prices did not match what was spent on ingredients (in raw dollar value, not counting time or effort; vegan butter, for example, is 3-4x the cost of dairy butter).
+ For the others, I've been printing out a few "suggested donations" lists and placing them strategically next to the baked goods. As a guideline, I noted the prices of locally available vegan baked goods (which are rather high; we are not a city well-known for our vegan-friendliness, so supply will always fail to meet demand) and subtracted $1-2 for each item. EX: Small-batch single vegan cookies are usually $2-4 each at the store, so at the bake sale, they're $1-2 even though they're almost always fancier/more exotic than the store-bought kind -- think chocolate chip vs. double-chocolate peanut butter chip with caramel and chopped walnuts.
This approach has been met with a surprising amount of umbrage. Last time, I actually had a fully grown adult throw a cookie across the table at me and tell me in less-than-genteel terms that paying an entire dollar for just one cookie was basically unconscionable. She also called me "stupid girl" to my face... and she did not even buy anything. It was intense! I had no idea delicious baked goods could make anyone so upset.

More on the woes of using a "suggested pricing" approach:
It has continued to result in a number of people telling me that they cannot afford to pay anything at all while loading up an actual Tupperware container full of whatever they please. They usually show up right when the bake sale opens to do this, so they can have the best selection, or even start picking stuff out as I'm loading everything into the venue from my car. A few people will hand me $2-3 and then meander around the tables picking up more and more as they go along, presumably thinking that if they distract me by continuing to speak, I will not realize what they are doing.
When asked to stop, they just remind me that it is technically illegal to require a monetary exchange when it comes to the 'sale' of homemade baked goods, even after I point out that they are basically taking money away from a non-profit, volunteer-run fundraiser just because they want to eat some tasty treats without paying for them. I've also had to deal with situations like when a friend who makes incredibly intricate, hand-frosted cakes (sold in stores for $20-25, marked at $15+ for the bake sale) donated a few of them and a woman tossed a crumpled $5 bill at me as she silently walked away with one. Huh?!
Altogether, it's made me feel a bit demoralized -- my volunteers and I are paying for ingredients out of pocket, and spending anywhere from a few hours to multiple days baking/making stuff in the hopes that it will result in more funds being raised for charities and causes we believe in, but I keep getting scolded by would-be 'customers' no matter how I try to shift or adapt the pricing schemes. Anything above unreservedly free seems to be viewed with great suspicion by anyone who is not vegan. Do 'regular' bake sales work that way?

Historically, the attendees are about 60% vegans who traveled to the venue specifically for the bake sale and 40% non-vegans who just happen to be there -- usually seniors or families with very young kids -- because the bake sales are held in the lobby of a beautiful non-profit nature center/preserve smack dab in a densely populated, fairly frou-frou urban area immediately adjacent to the biggest college campus in the city.
I've found that many vegans are willing to done basically any amount they can afford for anything they can get their hands on, because vegan baked goods are fairly hard to come by here and I am always raising money for animal-related NPOs, while a sizable percentage of non-vegans are willing to do nowt save complain about the prices, ask me how I can live without cheese, and refuse to give any more than whatever change they have in their pockets. There are always a few donor angels that throw $20 and sometimes even $50 or $100 bills into the donation jar without a second thought, which is usually how it all evens out in the end, but I wish I didn't have to lean so hard on the generosity of those special few.

I had no idea that I could possibly run into so much indignance at a fundraising event that comprises, in total, two tables, a couple hundred cookies and cupcakes, and yours truly, slinging cash, boxing and wrapping up treats, and handing out informational pamphlets on how to bake without dairy or eggs.
It's not a personality thing, I hope -- I remain extremely chatty, personable, and friendly for the duration, even after an entire day of being asked why I don't eat bacon, or why god made animals out of meat if we aren't supposed to eat them. I try to make my bake sales as pleasant and low-key as possible; there is no moralizing, guilt-tripping, or gruesome PETA literature because I'd rather win hearts with tasty food than by bashing folks over the head with traumatizing stuff like that. But a considerable number of people have continued to freak out over the prospect of paying a buck or two for a damned cookie at a bake sale.

Current issue:
Bake sale #6 is in less than two weeks! As always, I have my trusty website, Facebook event, baking and organizing supplies, recipes, and fantastic volunteers... but not my prices.

With these parameters in mind: AskMe, are there are any tried and true methods for bake sale pricing, in particular vegan bake sale pricing, or pricing for any other baked goods where the ingredients are simply more expensive than 'standard' ones (gluten-free might also be a good example)? Should I ask the volunteer bakers to decide/mark their own prices before they hand over their donations to me for selling? Is there any way I can increase or improve outreach to people who view the prices with such suspicion? What would you feel comfortable paying for fancy homemade baked goods? (Please assume the vegan baked goods I am slinging are at least equal in quality to non-vegan baked goods.)
Also, how do I respond when someone inevitably curses me out about pricing -- this has happened probably ~10 times? Is that just a side-effect of non-[x] clientele at an event specific to [x], or something to be expected anytime you're putting yourself out there in public? My favored approach of meeting ornery objections by calmly stating, "C'mon, it's just a bake sale -- we're actually raising funds for the building you're standing in right now!" has not gone over so well.

As always, thanks so much for any information, advice, or suggestions you might have!
posted by divined by radio to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
"You are not buying a cookie. You are contributing to the upkeep of this building. The cookie is just our way of thanking you for contributing."

If people have a problem with that, you don't need their money.
posted by Etrigan at 11:02 AM on May 1, 2013 [7 favorites]

I participate in an online bake sale/auction every year. The bakers/candy makers set our own base price (like, I make a locally specific type of cookie that's customizable to whatever the person buying wants -- the buyer gets 10 in a batch). I set my base price at 20, and normally end up having people go up to 40-50 for 10. The cookies are huge, and twice baked, and to me that's a fair price. I'm okay, basically, with setting the base price at 20, because I feel like at 2 bucks a cookie, my labor and cost of ingrediants is at least getting acknowledged, but the 40-50/10 is much more representative of the "true" cost of the cookie.

So, uh, I'd basically stop doing a "suggested" price, have the bakers suggest a price, then go up like 2 dollars to compensate for the cookies being vegan. I think set prices will keep things from getting out of control rude.

Then, I'd mimic what they do at some military bake sales I've been to, and would have a few example cookies or whatever on the table with the price and the ingrediants list by it, and then have the REST of the cookies in a tupperware by where you are and behind the table, so that 1. you can keep it sanitary and 2. you can control people with grabby hands.

Also, I haven't ever done a bake sale where someone's wanted to be a douche about pricing. I'm really sorry that happened to you, and I'm wondering whether you've shared that with the organization that manages the building, because ultimately it's their responsibility to protect their volunteers from that kind of rude, entitled attitude on the part of their patrons.
posted by spunweb at 11:06 AM on May 1, 2013 [11 favorites]

The other thing you can do is ask the venue to rent a display case, so that your wares are behind glass. If there's a coffee shop or a gift shop on premises they might even have one on hand they're not using.
posted by spunweb at 11:09 AM on May 1, 2013

I know this doesn't help much with specific pricing, but may help with getting people more on board with actually donating the money. What is the bake sale supporting? Could you put out lots of photos showing the work the organization does or hand-drawn pictures from children if you are helping a children's charity? Could you recruit volunteers from the organization to help with selling the food? They might be able to talk up the organization. Having tangible things like this may connect people to the fact that you are trying to raise money for good instead of just giving away food.

This helped when we did a bake sale for our day care, which was also a "pay what you want" deal. We put up lots of pictures of the kids having fun and a lot of their cute artwork, and it seemed to work.
posted by ElleElle at 11:12 AM on May 1, 2013

Personally, I think you should set hardline prices and ideally have a large scary looking friend willing to escort people off the premises if they throw a hissy fit over it. Because seriously, what the hell is wrong with those people. Your prices sound very reasonable, especially for speciality goods with expensive ingredients (they're actually still cheaper than any charity bake sale I've been to here in the UK). Don't let scroungers take advantage of you.
posted by stillnocturnal at 11:14 AM on May 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

Many volunteers from non-profit organizations serving people have a tendency to think of the people they serve as customers that must be pleased and cannot be offended. Such a perspective is not helpful - some people are not worth pleasing and any attempt to please them is not worth the volunteer's sanity. A phrasing I've used before is, "I think this sale/group/event/organization is not for you. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day". Don't say anything more and definitely don't attempt to justify yourself. If they persist, remove them from the premises. Remind yourself that they were never the sort of person you're interested in attracting. You are not losing anything by ignoring them. Further, you are preserving your own sanity.

Put prices - as in actual, fixed, prices that reflect the amount of money you are trying to raise for your cause - on all items. Make it clear that until you pay for the item, you don't touch the item. A display case is great for this, as is having any form of barrier between the customer and the goods. Even a sign saying "please no touching" is great. In other words, turn this into a business.

The chance of you getting in trouble for selling homemade goods for a reputable cause is effectively zero. The worst that I could possibly imagine happening is the county health department showing up and very politely telling you to close shop, and I doubt even that.
posted by saeculorum at 11:18 AM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd make pricing as easy as possible - one price for cookies/bars, one for cupcakes, and if something is larger or far more elaborate, a separate price. No price ranges, no pay what you want/suggested prices, and don't price everything differently based on various factors. Make it as easy as possible with simple and hard-line prices and make it clear that this is a fundraiser and you aren't just a food vendor.

I'd also solicit some help. This sounds like a sale that could use a larger number of sellers. Maybe the nut-jobs won't feel as comfortable bullying you, hurling cookies at you, and stealing from you if you have some back-up.

Have you considered a different location? You seem to have a disproportionate number of problem people wandering by. Stealing from a fundraiser? Cherry picking the best items with a tupperware in-hand without donating the proper amount? Being abusive toward the seller? This sounds really out of hand.

It sounds like you do a lot of these. I'd consider investing in covered trays or display cases that will keep things more transactional and less "grab whatever you want from the free buffet of goodies!".
posted by quince at 11:21 AM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Set fixed prices and don't make it negotiable, well maybe at the end of the day if there is any left but until then fix those prices in stone, no price ranges or suggested donations, just stick a price sticker on the plastic wrap front and centre and don't waver. By having suggested prices or just donations you are implying your goods are not worth the money you are asking, I'd play up the ingredients too, maybe have signs or stickers clearly stating free range eggs, or organic flour or whatever.

Put up lots of signs stating that it's vegan bake sale and what the money goes to. Pictures of cute animals, or before and after shots of rescue dogs etc around will help too.

Clearly label each item with a price. Put the cookies in zip lock bags so people can't handle them if you can't get a display case.
I live in a small town and the older ladies have bake sales all the time for charities, clear pricing is a must as is having all the food covered or in zip-lock bags or plastic wrap so no one can touch it directly. If you don't want to go those for environmental, cake covers from a restaurant supply store aren't that expensive if this is a regular thing and might slow some people down.

If anyone tries to haggle a price, use your best judgement, if they are buying a bunch of stuff I'd probably throw in a small discount, but don't let anyone try and haggle you for one cookie. You can simply point at the label and go, sorry that's the price. If they act like dicks about it, it's their problem.

Act like a business and they'll treat you like one, hopefully, because yeah people can be dicks sometimes in any retail business. Good luck.
posted by wwax at 11:34 AM on May 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Keep all cookies behind you to mitigate people simply grabbing them. Perhaps you have a table in front of you that people walk up to and table behind you for displaying and storing the treats. (in containers)

Have a batch of very basic cookies set aside for those that cannot donate. Have a clearly visible and legible sign with something like "If you can't afford to donate anything today, please enjoy *one* of these treats for free." This way there is no expectation that the fancy items are available sans donation.

Label the fancy options with "Minimum Donation" levels (as few as possible to keep things simple), basically the public radio model as suggested above. (Be ready to give a short explanation about costs and breaking even, etc. If people aren't willing to pay more than the cost why wouldn't the bakers simply give their money to the charity?)
posted by oddman at 11:35 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I see two problems here: the goodies are underpriced, and it's too easy for the customers to take them. I agree that the situation is out of hand.

I think for most people, purchases at a bake sale fundraiser are essentially an impulse purchase. For example, when I buy cookies from the Girl Scouts outside the grocery store, it's not because they are a better deal (taste/quality/price) compared to what I could get inside the store. (In fact, they are very expensive compared to the store cookies.) But! GS cookies are rare (not available year-round) and I get to feel good in the moment about supporting the GS. So for your random person in the park, your bake sale is just like the GS bake sale, but without the name brand recognition. Fresh homemade goodies for sale in the park is rare. Thought process of most impulse purchasesers "...Yummy, sweets! Oh! It's for a charity! Not going to sweat the fact that this isn't the most economically efficient way to get sugar INTO MAH BELLY. Hey, this is vegan? It's pretty yummy! You can do vegan baking at home, huh? I wonder if they have a newsletter I could subscribe to ..."

Don't have suggested ranges of prices or anything. Keep it very simple but also priced relatively high. ($3/cookie, $5/cupcake, etc - I think you want to charge more than what a cafe would charge for items). No negotiation or freebies. So maybe you are skirting the law in your municipality, I wouldn't sweat it. So I make an exception to the no freebies rule: maybe give a free cookie to a cop who might otherwise write a ticket.

Absolutely, set up the table so that no one is picking out the goodies for themselves. The Girl Scouts in my area don't even allow that to happen in my area. You tell one GS what you want, another GS gets the boxes for you. The boxes/money are typically guarded by parents.

There's nothing you can do about the cranks who complain about the cost of cookies at a fundraiser. Sheesh, some people. Unfortunately the downside of being in a very public place is having to deal with the public at large and all that it entails. (A lot of mentally unwell or homeless people don't have other places to go during the day.) This is a great script: "I think this sale/group/event/organization is not for you. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day."
posted by stowaway at 11:43 AM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Is encouraging people to eat vegan baked goods part of the mission of the bake sale? Or is it primarily about fundraising? If, as I kind of suspect, your purpose is two-fold, maybe you could try a system where people get to try one free sample, then they have to pay.
posted by mskyle at 11:48 AM on May 1, 2013

Set firm prices on things. Here's an example, you may want to go up or down a buck.

Two small cookies for $1, one large cookie for $1, $10 for a dozen.

Cupcakes $3

Slice of pie $3

Brownies $2

The price is the price. People are not compelled to pay, if they don't like the price, they can get a cookie elsewhere.

I recommend whole dollar pricing because it's easier to make change.

Don't let the assholes get you down. But don't give them carte blanche to fuck you over either.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:50 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, when you set up the table, don't put everything front and center. Use a chalkboard or a dry erase board and list what you have, with prices. Have people order off of the board, and keep all the goodies behind you.

One person up front interacts with the customers and handles the money, someone else will plate up the goodie and hand it off. Kind of like Starbucks.

This will keep people's grubby paws off the goods and it will give you more control over everything.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:55 AM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm in food sales. You will always get someone irritated about the price. A lot of people feign anger to see if they can get you to budge on the price. Don't do this!

I would encourage your bakers and you to first make sure they're keeping their costs low. Are you working with food distributors for ingredients or just going to the grocery store? See if you can get donations of ingredients from companies also- maybe in exchange for a table tent that says "Made with brand X flour" or whatever.

At food shows, you will notice that there are plates with small cuts of pieces of the foods for people to sample and the product for sale is behind the person taking the money. That would give you a lot more control.

Have your prices clearly written somewhere near the entrance and again at the table. Also consider paper menus that people can read from while they are in line.

Also- besides facebook, maybe start a website with info like location, links to the volunteer bakers, a product listing and pricing.
posted by haplesschild at 11:58 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Okay, the first thing is that this is not just about pricing. You cannot fix this problem with pricing. The problem is some fundamental misunderstandings that you need to correct before you even think about pricing.

First: no one who is not vegan understands the cost of vegan cooking. Not even people with vegan friends. One of my bridesmaids is a radical vegan, and I still had no idea about vegan butter being more expensive until you just told me. Do not assume other people know - like your "these cakes would cost 20$, she only gave me 5$" may not have been an insult. People assume prices based on what it would cost them to make things. Nonvegan cookies take maybe $10 for an enormous batch, well more than 10 cookies. People are offended at the high prices because they don't understand why things are priced so high. Listing "store" prices will not help you - no one ever, ever, expects to pay store prices for homemade things. The idea is that stores have overhead, and you do not.

"Pay whatever you want" is hands down the worst approach you can ever do. Because it does result in people taking things for free - honestly, maybe even in higher proportions in the vegan crowd which sometimes has a lot of anarchist crossover. "Capitalism sucks, yay cookies" doesn't really help you in this instance.

Offering a range of payment has this same problem. If people want delicious cookies, but don't love the cause, they will give you the lowest price, hands down, every time. Every single time. Do not be surprised by this.

So charge a set price. If anyone tells you that charging for homemade food is illegal, tell them that you're not charging, you're giving cookies to people who are awesome and their harangues just disqualified them.

And put up signs talking about what goes into vegan baking.
posted by corb at 12:50 PM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm in fundraising. Figure out how much you're trying to raise this year for your great amazing cause and then work the price per baked good from there. You want to raise $2,500 and have 250 baked goods, then you need each item to go for a $10 donation. I think you need to separate the price it cost to make the items from the cost they go for. The idea is really about the grand total that everyone raises together. Alternatively, you could have really high end items (specialty cakes) go in an auction - so the highest bidder in the hour wins it.

And then be up front in all your materials, on Facebook, and the day of the event that your amazing vegan bake sale is going to raise $2,500 to fund X (be as specific as possible - everyone wants to know that the cookie they're "buying" is helping rehabilitate George the Giraffe). The day of the event - have a board with a thermometer tallying how much you've raised. (But make sure to keep the money in a locked room away from the bake sale!)

The day of the event, keep sample cookies/baked goods out front, but then keep the majority of the goodies off the main tables. And you're always going to have people that are upset, because they want a free cookie and you're the meanie who is trying to save the trees. Have some freebie piece for everyone who stops by (maybe a vegan cookie recipe?), and just keep on doing your awesome good deed!
posted by zamdaba at 1:01 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've raised just over $5,000

But only because your goods are being donated to you. It sounds like were you running this as an actual business with cost of goods overheads, you'd be losing money and I think you need to approach it from that point of view.

Do something flat rate, easy to understand, and pushing towards bulk buying: cookies are $2 each, $10 for a half dozen. Cakes are $25. Everything else is in between. People who are grumpy about this don't need to buy anything, and people who are delighted by this can throw extra cash in the donation jar.

It's a business, not an outreach program; you do not need to cover every potential punter in rainbows and love, you know?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:14 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I hope you are making it clear with your signage that it is a fundraiser. I know when I walk up to a table like that, and I think "Hmmmm, I would pay a dollar for that item" and it's marked $2, I give them $2 BECAUSE IT'S A FUNDRAISER, especially if it is for some cause I agree with. I agree with having the food behind you, and only you touch the food packages as you are handing them over, after you have the money. On the table in front of you, have printed "menus" with all your wares, with prices. If somebody hands you a $5 for a $20 cake, tell them it is only enough for a bag of cookies, would you like a bag of cookies? If they give you a hassle, give them their $5 back and you still have the cake to sell to another person. And unfortunately, some people are still just not going to get the purpose of a fundraiser. For me, the issue is less of wether the food is vegan or not, and more "how do you avoid getting ripped off by people trying to take advantage of the situation" no matter what you are selling. I am going to guess that if unpleasant customers are forced to transact with you, instead of flinging a $5 bill at you and scurrying away with a cake, those unpleasant customers will keep on walking.
posted by molasses at 2:14 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, so many amazing answers!

I love, love, love the idea of doing it PBS-style and having the baked goods "free" in exchange for certain donation levels. To make it even easier, I might color-code stuff into maybe 3-4 different categories, so a $5 donation would get you two of anything marked with a red sticker, $10 would get you three reds and a green, etc. This is such a great way to help ease the apparent sting of being asked to pay $2 in exchange for a cookie. I'm going to ask the NPOs about, for example, what a particular level of donation might 'pay for' (like, "your $5 donation will buy wild bird seed for a week!" or "your $20 donation will help the nature center purchase a new turtle aquarium!" even though it's not guaranteed to be used for that specific purpose -- a la Kiva) and use that in the pitch as well.

I also have a ton of love for the thermometer idea (my fundraising goal is always an even $1,000), chalkboard and/or handheld menus, working in concert with the volunteer bakers to see what their ingredient costs were and then basing prices on that, making a batch of easy and tasty cookies for tasters/freebies, and keeping nearly everything out of sight/covered up with only a few samples left out for viewing purposes. The appearance of scarcity, real or not, definitely drives sales.

Overall, it is definitely clear that this is a fundraiser. It is widely advertised as such by the venue that hosts the event (to whom I donate half of my proceeds), by the other NPOs that receive donations, by the signs that I post outside, all the advertising I've done online including hiring a designer friend to build me a lovely professional website, and flyers all over the city as well as on the tables and all over the building on the day of the sale.
At the sale itself, I have lots of pamphlets and photos of the great work that all of the donation recipients are doing and have done in our community, and I'm always ready to chat about their goals. I also have a ton of information about vegan baking (how-tos, common ingredients, easy recipes, debunked myths, etc.) and am always willing to chat about that as well... unless/until I get the ol' hurf durf bacon treatment. One or more of the head honchos of the venue/hosting organization is usually on-hand to give personalized tours of the building/site and explain their mission statement, too; people are always super into that.

However, it is quite a small bake sale, and I would like to keep it that way for my sanity's sake; beside me, I only have about 5 or 6 regular volunteer bakers, and usually only about 200-300 items total, which can make bulk packaging a bit impractical. Normally there is someone with me to handle money and take orders when I'm backed up, but she's graduating college that day, so I'll be flying solo. I'll ask the venue if they can loan me one of their volunteers for the afternoon to help run interference.

I will definitely be putting up signs telling people not to grab/touch stuff if they're not going to pay for it -- honestly, until they started doing it, I did not even imagine that grown humans would ever do such a thing. Takes all kinds! I did recently invest in some reusable cake/cupcake stand covers that will help provide a natural barrier, but I'm also thinking of somehow elevating and stringing some ribbon around the entire display (like crime scene tape, but sparkly!), so people can look over at the samples I have set out while remaining deterred from grabbing by the barricade, my signs, and my steely-eyed glare. I'm not sure if I'll be able to find a portable display case, but I'll certainly ask around! Man, that would look so sweet.
I am way (!) past college age but my appearance has often resulted in my being mistaken for a young student -- and occasionally even a high schooler -- which may make people feel as though they can take advantage of me more easily. Something to work on, for sure.

If anyone tells you that charging for homemade food is illegal, tell them that you're not charging, you're giving cookies to people who are awesome and their harangues just disqualified them.
This made me laugh and laugh. So good! I may have to invest in a buzzer or one of those hotel front desk bells for this very purpose. "Ding/bzzt, you are a jerk! Bad jerk, no cookie!"

Thank you so much for all of these incredible suggestions. Truly, every answer has been so helpful.
posted by divined by radio at 2:55 PM on May 1, 2013

> Should I ask the volunteer bakers to decide/mark their own prices before they hand over their donations to me for selling?

No. At the fundraising bake sale I worked at, we told the volunteer bakers that we'd be selling treats for $2 (as I recall) and they should package their baked goods accordingly. If they felt one cookie was worth $2, they put one cookie in a bag. If they felt two dollars should buy a huge slice of banana bread, that's what they wrapped up.

Some things were vegan free-range soy cookies, and some things were grocery store cookies that were repackaged, but everything was the same price. This made it easier for the people running the table, and for the small children who had been handed two bucks and allowed to pick something for themselves.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:55 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

> When asked to stop, they just remind me that it is technically illegal to require a monetary exchange when it comes to the 'sale' of homemade baked goods

Are you sure? I know there are laws against selling trunk cookies, but somehow the nonprofit I was doing the bake sale got around it. I forget how, and the local laws would be different anyway, but we were straight-up selling things and we wouldn't've done it if it wasn't legal.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:58 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you have 250 item, put ~200 in packages. Charge $5 per package. So put 4 cookies or 2 bars to a bag or something, whatever you feel is fair, maybe throw in a thank you note as well. Take the remaining 50 and cut them up into small pieces and put them out as free samples. Only put the samples out in small quantities, so greedy samplers can't grab too many, and if they do, just wait for that crowd of freeloaders to wander off before putting out some more.
posted by Garm at 3:08 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with everyone who's emphasizing that you need to have everything wrapped. It looks more professional and it reminds them that they're not just grabbing a cookie, they're buying a product. Zip locks, saran wrap, whatever - keep everything wrapped up. The suggestion to keep everything behind you and out of "customer's" reach is also fantastic. Stand behind a table that has a few plates of samples, some signs about the event, maybe some copies of recipes that people can take, your donation jar. Keep all the goodies well-displayed behind you, and hand them over once you've gotten the money.
posted by lemniskate at 3:53 PM on May 1, 2013

Some of this has already been covered, but when I've helped run bake sales, we had it set up so customers had to pay before we'd open a box of sweets for them. The boxes of sweets were either behind us or under the table. In your case, it might be better to keep them under a table (with a tablecloth on it), so people can't just see and grab them.

We used disposable aluminum cake pans from the grocery store to store things (the kind with the plastic, snap-on lid). We would have a few example pieces on the table with clearly marked prices, and signs (large, visible signs) explaining who we were and what the bake sale benefited.

Hardline your prices, and don't be afraid to go high. Use one price per item type, unless the item is way fancier and in a class of its own. Encourage bulk buying ($2 a cookie or 3 cookies for $5). It's a donation; it's not supposed to be the best deal on vegan cupcakes in town. Nthing folks suggesting you get a scary friend or volunteer to escort jerks off the premises. Don't let people take advantage of you (I have a huge problem with this, because I'm a small girl who people tend not to hear, even when I shout). People start listening more when you have a friend with you who's like 6 feet tall and loud. There is also strength in numbers. In addition, you may want to dress up, especially since you mention people thinking you're young. People assume I'm older than I am (and take me more seriously) when I'm wearing makeup and nicer clothes than they are. I hate that the world works like that, but it's how it is.

If you want to, you can slash prices at the end of the sale to get rid of extras. I don't see why you need to have cookies set aside for non-donators. It's a bake sale, not a refreshments table. If anyone gives you crap about it, ask the aforementioned scary friend to have a word with them/remove them.

If you're worried about being shut down for selling homemade goods (don't be), you might want to use the phrase "Minimum Donation: [hardline price here]" on price tags. If anyone tells you your bake sale is illegal, the cookies are just a thank you gift for those who donated the specified amount.

I'm heavily involved with a college radio station, and we can't sell airtime or use the term "prize" in our fundraisers for legal reasons. Instead, the T-shirts and tours we use to thank donators are "gifts."

If you're going to be dealing with huge crowds, you may want to set up a demarcated line (with ribbon or rope). This will also deter people from distracting you and running off with stuff.
posted by topoisomerase at 4:39 PM on May 1, 2013

I'd check with local vegan bakeries, and see what they're charging. If you don't have any, look to big city businesses.
Most places have web sites with a menu, which includes prices.
Since it's a fundraiser, get what you can.
posted by JABof72 at 4:59 PM on May 1, 2013

it is quite a small bake sale...normally there is someone with me to handle money and take orders when I'm backed up, but she's graduating college that day, so I'll be flying solo.

Flat out: you need extra hands. All this uncouthness is happening only because you're by yourself out there. Where are you located? I volunteer to come and back you up as your heavy if you're anywhere near me.

Perhaps, in addition to the volunteer bakers, you need to solicit an occasional volunteer attendant to assist you?
posted by arnicae at 9:16 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: OK, I just got home from the bake sale and had to report that for the first time ever, I did not have a single complaint about pricing. Not one! There were still a couple people who gave me their donations and then grabbed another cookie or two, but they were vastly outnumbered by the people who grabbed a cookie or two and then gave me a $20. The only money-related issue I had was when someone offered me a credit card and, when I said I could not take credit cards -- 'cause, y'know, I'm just manning a bake sale, not running a business? -- snorted and said, "Come on, it's 2013!" (...and then paid with cash.)

Suggestions that won the day:
* Giant sign with clear, indisputable prices. "Cookies $1 & up. Cupcakes $2-3 & up." etc.
* Single-wrapping or otherwise pre-packaging most goods, even if only in Ziplocs.
* Putting all the pre-wrapped stuff up front and the non-wrapped stuff in back where people could not reach it without entering my personal space.
* Minimizing what I had out on the table at any given time -- people would snap it up, thinking it was almost gone, and then I would replenish from backstock hidden behind me.
* Asking people how much change they wanted back (instead of just automatically giving them back exact change) if they gave me a $20 or larger, because breaking $20s sucks. This usually resulted in a few more bucks being donated.

All told, I raised $1,010 in just under five hours. Yay! Thanks, AskMe!
posted by divined by radio at 2:30 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

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