'I was looking for an eye-catching fundraising idea when I came across the Ecoracing website. It supports schools and charities in organising online virtual balloon races - an initiative that not only offers the all-important novelty factor but is eco-friendly too. I had just launched a £10,000 school fundraising campaign to replace our old whiteboards with TV-style screens and interactive touch panels for Key Stage 1, and visualisers and wireless keyboards for Key Stage 2. To achieve this target, I knew I needed to come up with a range of fundraising ideas to capture the attention of the school community and wider public.
Holding a virtual balloon race was a good fit with our Eco-Schools Silver Award status, and the prizes offered by Ecoracing across participating schools (£500, an iPad and Waterstones vouchers) proved to be a big draw.
There were no set-up fees and we created our school page for a seven-day race in a matter of minutes. You are essentially organising a computer game, with virtual balloons designed to respond to real weather conditions. Once the race begins, you can track the balloons on Google Maps and zoom in to find out more about where they are.
We publicised the event widely and sold 139 balloons in just a few days. In the run up to the race, purchasers were able to personalise their balloons with colours, patterns and text. They could also alter flight parameters such as helium content, rubber thickness and shape to suit predicted real-weather conditions. On the day of the launch, the children were really excited and we had a last-minute surge in sales as parents bought balloons on their phones outside the gates. I opened the school early and invited everyone to watch the balloons go up on a big screen in the hall. There was a real buzz around the school, and the children's awareness of geography increased as they logged in to monitor the progress of their balloons over the week.
Not everyone wants to swim Windermere or climb Ben Nevis, so a prize-based fundraising system that works on your laptop or mobile may be the way forward. We'll be making the virtual balloon race an annual event!'
Tom Garner, headteacher, Fairhaven Primary School, Stourbridge, West Midlands (306 pupils)