Reunion Fundraising Ideas: Quilts and Cookbooks

by Edith Wagner

Paying for your reunion may be among your most creative challenges. There are many reasons why you may want to raise money, from paying for basics to the altruistic reason of helping younger family members attend college. Planning fundraisers will require time to develop properly. When done well, fundraisers can be both entertaining and profitable. The best fundraisers are ones that are not only profitable but also contribute to the enjoyment of the reunion. Long term projects require extra time to plan. These include soliciting corporate support, decorating and making quilts, collecting recipes and producing cookbooks and many other publishing projects such as directories, memory and history books. In this article, we'll focus on quilts and cookbooks.

Reunion Quilts

"We are proud of our quilts and pleased they allow us to encourage our young to pursue higher education." So wrote Opalene Mitchell, Palo Alto, California, whose brainchild resulted in such overwhelming family involvement that the Carter-Jordan-Pennington Family Reunion raised $3,000 for scholarships. Only one quilt was planned. Enormous interest increased the number to four. Then, enough painted, appliquéd, embroidered, computer-scanned, cross-stitched squares arrived to make six quilts. The intrinsic value of the quilts is in family history and memorials, not dollar value.

Quilts are traditionally embroidered, appliquéd or patched pieces of fabric. Modern materials and technology have broadened the scope of quilt making and enable non-stitchers to participate. Color Xeroxes can be printed on heat transfer material (commonly used for making t-shirts) and ironed onto fabric. You can use slides, photographs, drawings or any small picture. For best results the transfer can be fused to the fabric with a dry mount press. Many copy shops which do Xerox transfers will also apply the image to your fabric. Textile paints are machine washable and recommend working on natural fibers. Some paints come in tubes for drawing or writing, others come in jars for brushing onto the fabric. With the popularity of hand decorated t-shirts, new products are rapidly being developed for working on fabric.

Check art, craft and fabric stores for new products and ideas. Below are themes and techniques for unique reunion quilts that can be combined with old techniques and patterns or used to create something completely new.

  • Try traditional patterns relevant to your group, such as Pennsylvania Dutch patterns.
  • Signature quilts record the names of family members. Each person stitches or paints his/her name on panels to be sewn together.
  • Story quilts are an African American tradition that adapt well for fund-raisers. One of the most famous, "The Creation of the Animals" by Harriet Powers, has appliquéd squares depicting a biblical tale. This idea works well for long distance quilt making. Each member could make a square to be stitched together later.
  • Other story quilts are traditional for Hmong and Chilean families. The Hmongs of Laos make story quilts that have one continuous story embroidered across a single fabric panel. Chilean women make appliquéd tapestries about everyday life similar to the Hmongs with the addition of three dimensional stuffed figures.
  • Symbolic quilts depict organization logos, family crests, military insignia, school mascots, etc.
  • Ancestor quilts display the names or pictures of antecedents and could be used with story-telling to relay a family's history.
  • Album quilts with photographs of members or baby pictures make unique, novelty items.
  • Grave stone rubbings can be reduced by a printer onto high contrast photo paper. The black and white image can be changed into color by a color Xerox machine.
  • Children's drawings can be Xeroxed and transferred onto one color fabric and alternated with squares of a different color. This would make a particularly good family fund-raiser. The youngsters could tell the story of their ancestors, depict their homes, families, friends, pets and ancestors.

Pulling Together a Quilt
It may be wise to present your quilt idea at one reunion and the finished quilt at the next reunion. One person must coordinate the details. Distribute muslin squares with instructions about size and materials. Expect to do some prodding to get all your squares submitted. Recruit quilt sewer(s) early and provide materials they'll need with enough time to have the quilt finished for the reunion. Most experienced sewers can tell you how much time they'll need.

Here's how Opalene Mitchell's family carried out their quilt project: Reunion area chairpersons distributed and collected muslin squares for assembly. Designs included a family cake recipe, doilies brought by slave in the underground railroad, an award emblem from an early space shuttle mission, sports, hobbies, portraits, infant hand prints, buttons from a grandmother, material from grandchildren's clothes and much, much more. Each quilt had an envelope in back with quilt committee names, a record of who made each patch and what it commemorates. Each square immortalizes some event, experience or person. Going beyond the traditional uses of quilts, the committee also photographed the quilts and then made stationery, puzzles and posters to sell.

Reunion Cookbooks
Family cookbooks are popular fundraisers and keepsakes. They are a lovely way for sharing some of life's pleasures and a great way to preserve cherished, heirloom family recipes for future generations. Many families publish cookbooks which also incorporate family history.

Cookbooks often sell well because they are useful and other cooks are always looking for new recipes. Also, cookbooks draw recipes from many contributors, most of whom will buy copies. Cookbooks are often spiral bound and cost between $2 and $5 each to produce, depending upon size and quantity. The more recipes you include, the higher the cost per book. The more contributors you include, the more potential customers you'll have!

A cookbook publisher's experience and large printing capacity can reduce prices to as low as $1.75 each (minimum order 200 books). The basic cookbook includes recipes you submit along with pages for tips and hints, preprinted recipe category dividers, acknowledgments, history, a family tree, or poems.

Order an information packet from a specialty cookbook publisher to help collect recipes. Many cookbook publishers offer workbooks that contain guidelines, options, sample pages, covers and dividers, free recipe collection forms and suggestions for distribution and how to increase boo sales.

Some companies include a table of contents, others provide free title indexes. Each company offers cover design choices or you may use your own drawing or logo on color cover stock. A color photograph on the cover costs extra. Other options include colored paper, colored ink, laminated covers, heavier cardstock dividers and promotional materials. Weigh each option carefully. Decide if the improved book is worth the extra cost.

Some cookbook companies include:

  • G&R Publishing, Waverly, Iowa, 800-383-1679
  • Walter's Publisher, Waseca, Minnesota, 507-835-3691
  • Cookbook Publishers, Lenexa, Kansas, 800-227-7282

How to Assemble Your Cookbook
Recruit volunteers to collect and input recipes, stories, traditions and hints. Include and stick to a deadline. Follow-up regularly. When recipes start to arrive:

  • Sort recipes and stories into folders for each food category.
  • Eliminate duplicates.
  • Clarify recipes that are confusing.
  • Standardize measurements and abbreviations.
  • Proofread every word and have more than one person proofread. Careful proofing ALWAYS pays off.

Printing, assembly and binding books takes two to three months after the company receives your recipes. You are responsible to check proofs before the cookbook is printed. Payment is due thirty to ninety days from shipping. All companies allow re-orders. One company guarantees you will sell enough books to finance your order, if you charge a given minimum price and have included a minimum number of contributors. One family who published a cookbook reported they "really lucked out" with a publisher whose minimum order was only 100. The cookbook took a couple of years to complete "but was well worth the time and effort."

If you must self-publish your cookbook, answer these questions:

  • What are the book's specifications? standard (8 1/2" x 11") size, softcover or hardcover, font, binding (plastic comb, wire, perfect bound softback)?
  • How much do you want to spend?
  • How many will you print?
  • How many can you (realistically) sell?
  • Where will books be delivered and stored?
  • How will you promote, distribute and sell them?

Mary Barile's Food From the Heart is a workbook designed to help you produce your cookbook without a professional company. Barile includes instructions and blank forms to organize and collect recipes. She recommends asking for recipe origins, including extra instructions or uses. She explains old ingredients and how to translate antique recipes. The advantage of writing and publishing the book yourself, says Barile, is that it increases your flexibility to include stories and background, a keepsake that preserves your family's heritage.

Let Your Reunion be the Beneficiary!
There are some limited situations in which you may get non-family members to contribute to your reunion. In general, these are between-reunion events and activities whose proceeds help pay for ongoing expenses. If the activity is something you know your friends or others not related to your reunion might enjoy, invite them ... and let them help pay for your reunion.

Solicit family volunteers to organize these events. Negotiate group rates, food, and entry/ticket prices. Mark up the price and add the difference to your reunion account. Here are some options:

  • A theater party requires transportation (bus), driver, meals and tickets.
  • A fashion show requires a location, decorations, volunteer models, clothes and accessories, meal /dessert /brunch and tickets.
  • A progressive meal or party can be paid for by generous hosts or deduct the cost of food.
  • A casino night requires a rented hall or room, games, equipment, food, beverages and volunteer dealers.
  • Tours require transportation (bus), driver, meals and tickets (negotiate group rates).

About the Author
Edith Wagner is the editor of Reunions magazine, author of Reunions Workbook and Catalog and The Family Reunion Sourcebook (Lowell House, Los Angeles) in bookstores now. She collects material for this column and Reunions magazine from family reunions and invites you to share your reunion ideas, concerns or questions. You can e-mail Wagner at or visit the Reunions magazine Web site.

Home | About Us | Site Index | PRIVACY
© 2011