Aaron Widmar
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8 Steps for a Successful Car Wash Fundraiser

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happy people car wash together outside

With winter ending and spring arriving, you might be planning to organize a car wash to raise money for your school, sports team, church, or charitable cause. If you’ve ever attended one before — whether as a participant or as a customer — you know there are things you should and shouldn’t do.

Once you have your team members (you should have at least five people participating) who are committed to making this event work, follow these eight steps to have a successful car wash fundraiser.

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1. Pick a good date

Because you want a lot of volunteers to attend, pick a date 4-5 weeks in advance so everyone can plan around it. Saturdays usually work best, as many people are on the road without the time constraints of weekday commutes. Have a backup date planned in case it rains.

2. Find a location

Go for a place that has a large parking lot and is easily accessible from a main road or intersection. See if there are any other community events going on that day you could set up near that’s already going to be drawing a crowd.

Make sure you ask the parking lot owner for permission and don’t get in the way of their normal business. Ask the property owner about insurance for event liability. This location should have access to water, too.

3. Plan ahead

Check your city/county environmental laws about drainage. Then, gather your supplies (the more you can borrow, the better): tons of 5-gallon buckets, eco-friendly car soap, towels, sponges, brushes, a 150-foot garden hose with a spray nozzle, large advertisement signs, a donation bucket, a clothesline for drying towels, and any specialized cleaning items (wax, window cleaner, etc). Have drinks on hand for your workers!

4. Advertise!

Get the word out before the day of your event through flyers, social media, and community boards. These posts should specify when, where, who, why, and how much. Create bright posterboard signs with fun graphics and expressive words you can wave on the event date.

Determine a fair, attractive price that will still make you money; $5 is typical but you could have two different prices depending on the size of the vehicle.

5. Organize your system

Assign each participant a specific job, like they’re members of an assembly line. This approach should be used both for preparation (location scouting, procuring supplies, etc.) and on the day of (the washer, dryer, money collector, advertiser).

Meet a half-hour early on the day to coordinate and set everything up. Have your system organized like a drive-through.

6. Wash the proper way

Limit the actual washing/drying time to 12-15 minutes. And if it gets busy, be prepared to break into two or more lines.

It’s important to wash the car a certain way so it’s effective and doesn’t annoy picky patrons. Start by rinsing the car using the hose (once all the windows are closed), then drench your sponges in soap and scrub the entire car, including the wheels, windows, and license plates. Begin on the roof and work your way down. Re-wet the car periodically, keeping it from drying until you’re done — especially if it’s hot outside. Keep the buckets filled with clean soap and avoid getting dirt/gravel in the sponges.

7. Sell other items

While your customers are waiting in line to get their car washed, sell them things like drinks, baked desserts, candy bars, hot dogs, snacks, and such. You could even charge a little extra for fancy services such as waxing, vacuuming, or washing windows with a special cleaner.

8. Find a balance

This is probably the most difficult aspect of working with a group of volunteers. Finding a balance between having fun and staying on task can be tricky. If you do, you’ll have a fantastic car wash fundraiser that’s memorable and rakes in a lot of money.

Organizing a car wash can be a great way to gather support for your cause. Make sure you take a moment to introduce yourself and your purpose before your patrons drive off in their sparkling clean car!

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