When their usual PTA activities had to stop due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kempshott Schools Association decided it was the perfect time to try a virtual balloon race. PTA Chair Vicki tells us how the event came about.
“I’d seen the idea months ago, but we didn’t do anything with it at the time - because of all the physical events that were happening there was no time to try a virtual event. But then lockdown happened, so I orgainsed a Zoom call and put it to the committee.”
The committee all agreed that it was the right time to give it a go, they felt it would keep interaction and enthusiasm for the PTA going, and help the 2020 Year R families become part of the school community. So Vicki went ahead and looked into the idea some more. She found two companies running virtual balloon race events, one that would provide all the prizes, is fully automated and takes a percentage of your sales; and another, balloonrace.com, that charges a £24 flat fee and you do a bit more yourself. “I worked out that the flat fee option was cheaper if we sold a certain number of balloons and as a committee, we also preferred that the race was just for us, so we could guarantee that someone taking part from our school was going to win.”
Up, up, and away!
Vicki discovered that different providers run their races in different ways, she explains “some simulate real time and are updated using wind speed and direction. The one we chose uses an algorithm moving the balloons a certain number of km every hour, so it’s all random. To make it a bit more interesting I found a site that could plot a radius so I could update everyone on where the balloons were rather than just how far they’d travelled. The first day the balloons went 100km, so I plotted the radius from our school and updated on Facebook where the balloons were. We got to some interesting places like Cairo, I shared that to make it fun and include a bit of geography for the children who were following it.
“It was a bit more work for us, but I set it all up on our PTA Events website. We wanted to make sure it wasn’t expensive to take part, so a family could buy one balloon for £2, but we found lots of families bought one balloon per person.”
Using their PTA Events website, Vicki set up a donations option too, for anyone who wanted to give a little bit extra: “Lots of people did which was lovely, I think it was because they knew we weren’t doing all the ice cream sales and things like that this year.”
As the balloons were sold, Vicki added the participants into the balloon race and then picked a release day.
As it was the first time they’d organised this type of event, the PTA took a cautious approach. “We had no idea what the uptake would be, it could’ve been just me sat there with my four balloons, so we didn’t want to set a prize up front.”
In the end they sold 200 balloons and gave 30% of the profit to the winner, 20% for second place and kept 50%, raising just over £200, which, as Vicki puts it, is “a cake sale or two ice cream sales!”
The sky’s the limit for online events
Although PTA activities have slowed down over the last four months, the committee are keeping in touch via Zoom calls and Vicki has been busy organising leavers hoodies: “Our PTA Events website has been really helpful for selling hoodies during lockdown because parents can’t get into the school.”
And following the success of their first virtual event, the PTA decided to arrange an end-of-term online disco: “We’re working with our usual DJ, he has a website where he can broadcast one way (him to us) so there’s no safeguarding issues – we’re hoping to do something with that and maybe charge £1 for the link.”
Asked whether the PTA has any plans yet for the autumn term Vicki says “We would love to have a Christmas Fair not having had a summer one, we’ll probably do a raffle, but it’s hard to know what we’ll be able to do. We’re talking to the teachers and we’ll wait and see.”
Been inspired by Kempshott Schools' success? Here are our top tips:
- use your PTA Events website to sell tickets, collect donations and post updates on the balloon flight path
- keep prices low to encourage more entries
- do your research and think about what would work best for your school community when you're comparing balloon race companies
- use our new poster to promote your event
- contact the Member Support Team if you have any questions.