In what could be described as true "kitchen magic," school organizations are cooking up a virtual feast of funds by sharing culinary secrets. By gathering recipes and publishing them in the form of school cookbooks, complete with student art and school history and tales, these groups are building community spirit and providing a much-needed source for additional money to cover those icing-on-the-cake items some schools couldn't otherwise afford. Included: A marketing expert explains what makes a "hot seller" in the field of school cookbooks.
"Our cookbook has everything -- Laotian egg rolls, sloppy joes, Korean bulgogi, pasta salads, puppy chow, silly putty, and espresso cakes," reports Jenice Con Foo. "The enthusiasm that arose within the school community once the recipes started being used has been infectious."
The foundation for the Thoreau Elementary cookbook was laid when a member of the PTO received about 40 recipes and photos and published them in a full-color book. The format was expensive, but it proved the viability of a lower-cost cookbook that would raise funds for the Madison (Wisconsin) group's many goals.
The first step was to form a committee of interested volunteers. Only six members joined the group, but this was an ample turnout. Members assumed responsibility for gathering recipes, designing the cover, finding sponsors, and leading the group, and some assisted with more than one task. They began by researching cookbook publishing companies and requesting kits and samples for comparison.
"We finally decided to publish our book through Morris Cookbooks," Con Foo reported. "Morris had a lot of information in the kits, a DVD, and also Internet support. Most importantly, this company had an option for entering the recipes online via their Web site, which turned out to be a time saver as well as a money saver."
Morris offered guidance about how to structure the committee, timelines for publishing, and how to seek sponsors. Con Foo and the other volunteers selected a publication date in April so that the books would be available before Mother's Day, which required the materials to be ready by early February.
"We scheduled three calls for recipes in October, November and January. Each call for recipes was accompanied by a description of what we were doing, how many recipes we needed in total, and how many each person could contribute," recalled Con Foo. "We also encouraged people to include notes about their recipes. The sharing of food is also about sharing experiences, and we wanted to include that in our cookbook."
Because Thoreau Elementary has a significant Hispanic population, recipe calls were also issued in Spanish. Each collection period lasted only two weeks to increase the sense of urgency. The first drew the most submissions, with diminishing returns in subsequent periods. With the final deadline looming, the group was stuck at about 120 recipes. The principal shared a cookbook that the staff had put together for her birthday, and with selections from it and the original full-color book, planners reached the requisite 186.
"The hardest part of the cookbook was definitely collecting the recipes," Con Foo told Education World. "One of the things we wish we had done differently was promote it more in each classroom to get each student excited about contributing family recipes."
The Thoreau cookbook committee set the price of the books at $10, which seemed fair for a number of fully-tested recipes. Publication costs were low, but the group sought to offset the expenses through donations from sponsors. Half-page ads at the end of the book were purchased by sponsors, and with their generous support, the group was able to turn a profit after selling just 38 books. To gauge interest in the product, a pre-order offer was issued for a one-week period. It garnered 145 prepaid orders for the group and encouraged planners to publish 300 books.
Thoreau Elementary is fortunate to have among the students' parents very skilled photographers and graphic designers. The custom color cover they created for the cookbook has been called "sophisticated" and reminiscent of "Williams-Sonoma." According to Con Foo, the initial "wow" inspired by the professional-looking cover prompted potential buyers to open the cookbook. Once they looked inside, they were impressed by the layout and variety of recipes.
Cookbooks have the advantage of not becoming "dated" in the same way that yearbooks do, so part of the overall scheme generated by the committee at Thoreau was to order enough books that they would be in reasonable supply for sale in the fall as Christmas gifts. The plan is to hold a cookbook fundraiser every three years because a large fraction of the school population will change in that timeframe, meaning different recipes and different purchasers. Con Foo is so proud of this cookbook that she can easily imagine repeating the project.
"I've had kids tell me that they don't like pumpkin, but one bite of pumpkin chocolate chip bread [a recipe from the cookbook] is enough to turn them around on that notion," she says. "I'm hoping that the next time we make a cookbook that people remember how great this one is."
"Cookbooks stand out from other school fundraising products because they do so much -- they preserve favorite recipes and history, they are long-lasting, and they are great keepsakes that sell easily with a high profit margin," observes Heather Shotkoski of Morris Press Cookbooks. "No other fundraising product can do that!"
It was the company's typensave online system, which provides a simple a fast way to gather recipes, that won over Thoreau's cookbook committee. Recipe contributors can enter the group's account and add their own recipes at any time from any location. According to Shotkoski, the system spreads out the workload, reduces production time, and saves customers $.25 off the cost of each book.
Morris specializes in cookbooks and touts its affordability and unique features, such as a variety of binding styles, full-color covers and divider sets, and full-color cooking hint pages. To enhance the book and build sales, Shotkoski advises customizing the cover and dividers with students' artwork. When a child's art is featured, parents often buy additional copies for family members. Personal pages with school history, photos, stories, and more, also increase appeal and sales.
"Encourage as many parents, teachers, staff, and alumni as possible to submit recipes," Shotkoski suggests. "Recipe contributors are built-in buyers, and our rule of thumb is that for every contributor, you can sell three cookbooks."
The weeks before Christmas and Mother's Day are prime time for cookbook sales, requiring recipes by October or February. Morris allows users to advertise their cookbooks for free online so that out-of-town friends and family can review books and place orders. Its Download Center includes a marketing guide with information about pricing a cookbook and using the Internet for sales, advance sales coupons, gift certificates, sales posters, and news release forms to help schools announce and presell books.
"So many schools have experienced success, but one that particularly stands out is the Kinkaid School in Houston, Texas," reports Shotkoski. "The cover and dividers featured original artwork and photos from students, custom categories -- such as Falcon Fare, school recipe favorites -- and more than 900 recipes from students, parents, teachers, and staff. The Kinkaid School made a gross profit of more than $47,000, which far exceeded the school's fundraising goals."
Free cookbook kits can be obtained through the Morris Cookbooks Web site or by phone at (800) 445-6621. Each kit contains a cookbook publishing guide with the necessary details to create a cookbook.
"A fundraising cookbook project is a great community-builder -- it unites students, teachers, staff, parents, and more," Shotkoski shared. "Your cookbook will be unique to your school; it will become a favorite keepsake for many. The more love you put into it, the more satisfied you'll be with the results."
Morrow is a parent and member of the garden committee that set out to produce a book called "The Helping Hands: Lowell School Garden Project Family Cookbook." In developing the Lowell School Helping Hands Garden, the group wanted to create an outdoor learning classroom for the children in Missoula, Montana, where teachers could incorporate the established curricula for each grade level. The cookbook was designed to provide quick access to garden-based recipes for teachers to use in teaching.
"We believed creating this cookbook would celebrate the spirit of gardening, that it would be something that the children could use for years to come, and that it would encourage families to eat healthy food they could prepare using their own garden-fresh ingredients," said Morrow.
When a small group of planners came together to brainstorm about the most important aspects to include in the book, the decision was made to focus the recipes on those that made use of garden-grown or fresh fruits and vegetables.
"In honor of our school's namesake, James Russell Lowell, we wanted the book to have an artistic touch," Morrow explained. "Thus, a cover was designed by a local artist/parent, photos were collected from a local photographer/parent, and poetry by Lowell was included throughout. It was also the 100-year anniversary of our school, so it was important to highlight that historical piece in the cookbook as well."
Like Thoreau Elementary, the Lowell School printed about 300 cookbooks and sold them at $10 each. A small-profile cookbook was chosen because it was more convenient and cost effective. The holiday season was in full-swing, so the group had just 30 days in which to complete development of the cookbook for delivery as gifts.
"The process began with notices sent home in student folders, asking parents to send in their favorite garden-based recipes for publication," said Morrow. "Each class was assigned a particular category of food: appetizer, soup/salad, main dish, and so on. We set a deadline and encouraged parents to submit their recipe via email or through a link on the school's Web site, which was created by Andrea Phillip, our school librarian."
Once the committee had compiled the book and received the pages from the printer, many volunteers gathered to help with the collation and binding process. The first goal was to prepare all pre-ordered books for delivery, followed by the remaining books that were made ready as demand dictated.
"This fundraiser met our expectations, but what exceeded our expectations was the community support received from this project," Morrow observed. "We had a number of grocery and retail stores that purchased books to sell in their businesses. We held a holiday market at the school and offered the cookbooks for sale there, as well as at other community events hosted for school fundraiser purposes."
Article by Cara Bafile
Copyright © 2010 Education World
Originally published 11/22/2010