Face It, We All Need a Good Fundraiser
Curator of Education
Sunset Zoo, Manhattan, Kansas
Fundraising is a difficult aspect for many non-profit organizations. Most people are not comfortable selling items and it is difficult to find fundraisers that are also educational. Sunset Zoo Docents have discovered that face painting is a great fundraiser that has a wonderful educational message.
In 1992 Sunset Zoo started face painting as a fundraiser. We originally started with one face, a cheetah, and charged $1.00. This went over exceptionally well and gave our volunteers the opportunity to talk with guests about the animals. Although painting an entire face may seem difficult, it is often easier than trying to paint something small on a cheek because you have a bigger canvas to work with.
We originally used oil based stick paints. Although these were easy, there were many drawbacks.
- On warm days, the oil based paints would melt
- Children would get the oil based paints on their clothing which was often difficult to get out
- Keepers complained that there were oily face prints on viewing windows (we actually thought this was really funny)
- The painters tended to end up with paint all over themselves
- The paints easily wiped off so some children wanted touch-ups throughout their visit
We currently use powder based paint sticks from Disguise Stix. The paint is dry on the stick. You use a wet paintbrush to activate the paint. It dries quickly and needs few touch-ups. Best of all they do not melt. We generally set up two to four painting stations. Each station has everything painters need:
- One water bowl with fresh water
- Three to four paint brushes of various sizes
- Two to three face sponges to cover the whole face with paint
- Towel for the painters lap
- Small mirror
- Red, blue, brown, black, white, grey, green, yellow, orange, and purple paint sticks
- Paper towel to put paint sticks on
- Face painting pattern book (this was developed by volunteers at Sunset Zoo)
- Wet wipes (to clean a child’s face if they are dirty)
We discovered that the best tables to use for face painting were the economical plastic shelving units you can
purchase at any discount store. Most shelving units have four levels. We broke each level down which allowed us to have four tables that are about two feet tall. Two chairs are set up at each station, one for the painter and one for the child (and an occasional adult).
It was quickly discovered that on busy days it was helpful to have one person who was in charge of the waiting line. This person will hand out numbers, collect money, and help people choose a face painting pattern. They can also help change out water in the paintbrush bowl and keep people entertained while waiting in line. On busy days this position is very important.
The Volunteer Painter:
You do not have to be an artistic person to paint a face. You simply have to enjoy interacting with people. Most people are happy with whatever you put on their face as long as you are nice to them. Since you must be in very close proximity to people, always start out by introducing yourself. “Hi my name is Schaneé. What is your name?” Next let the child know what you will be doing. “Is it ok if I touch your face? The first thing I will do is use this sponge to put orange all over your face. Then I will add white above your eyebrows and on your chin. No tiger is complete without a black nose and some stripes so that will be the last thing I paint. Is that ok with you?” Taking the time to let children know is well worth it. They are then comfortable and do not wiggle as much.
As I paint the face I also try to talk to the children about the animal they are becoming. “Do you know how to say hello to a tiger?” or “Why do you think tigers have stripes?” This gives you time to talk to the children about the animals. It is also a great time to talk to them about proper behavior at the zoo. You can discuss the importance of not running, chasing animals or feeding animals. Each face takes between five and ten minutes to paint depending on the pattern.
In 1996 a Docent at Sunset Zoo started making a face pattern book by using the attached blank face pattern and looking at animal photos. By simply using crayons to color in the same animal markings on the blank face pattern we can create a paintable face. This allowed us to have several specific faces to choose from and follow. We started with about a dozen face patterns and have grown to about 30 patterns.
I recommend you start out small. Choose one or two faces to highlight during a special event. Get a core group of volunteers comfortable with those faces and add more slowly. Some of the most popular faces at Sunset Zoo are: tigers, butterflies, bunnies, dogs, snow leopards, and bats during Halloween.
In order to increase our educational message, we developed small “If I were a…” cards that highlight information about an animal. After a child has their face painted we hand them the card to take home so they can continue to learn about the animal and remember their terrific experience at the zoo or aquarium.
Today we charge $2.00 per face and can earn several thousand dollars from face painting. We host face painting at the zoo during every special event and are now contacted by local businesses to paint faces during corporate picnics, city festivals, and fun days. Due to word-of-mouth, we have never had to advertise this service. However, it is my belief that if we did advertise it, we would be busy painting faces every weekend.
We quickly discovered that you need to set a minimum fee for any event held off zoo or aquarium property to ensure the event is economical. Generally we set $100 as a minimum. If we paint less than 50 faces then the organization must pay us the difference up to $100. This ensures that they will advertise you properly and put you in a high profile area.
It is often helpful to also have the face-painting volunteers paint their faces beforehand so there are some real life examples of the faces. This is a great way to practice before paying customers get there and a good bonding experience for the volunteers.
Face painting is a great way to educate young people about the animals in your collection as well as develop a low maintenance fundraiser for your organization.
Lets get painting!