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School Carnival Planning Guide

Planning a carnival can be a daunting task but US Toy is here to help. Our business began by selling directly to carnivals in the 1950's.  With our decades of experience in supplying carnivals we've learned a thing or two about setting one up.

This guide is very detailed. If you want a more brief version click here.

Here are a few tips that might help in the planning process:


Create a Team and Put Them to Work

Carnivals don't get planned by one person alone.  Assemble a team of people to divide the work and help keep organized.  Here are some suggested team member roles.  While some roles can be individual people, we suggest having committees to help spread out the work in addition to brainstorming on ideas, possible problems that might arise, etc. Create a team and have them meet right away because some of the information will be needed right away to plan budgets. Team members and sub-committees should meet often to keep the lines of communication open and the process flowing smoothly.

Chairperson – the keeper of the timeline.  This person's job is to make sure everyone knows the schedule, keeps on task, and facilitates communication between the different groups.  Need help with the timeline?  Click here for a sample timeline.

Treasurer – determines and keeps track of the budget, sets all the pricing based on feedback from committees to ensure a profit, collects all receipts from the expenses and sales at the carnival, and provides a post mortem report on the expenses and profits.  Short on personnel?  Combine the chairperson and treasurer role.

Game Committee - chooses the games that will be played, manages the building of any games or procurement of the games from rental companies, writes instructions for the game operators, and helps solve any problems with the games that might arise on carnival day.   While one person will lead, we highly recommend having a game committee to help come up with the different games that will be played and the instructions for those games.  Looking for carnival game ideas?  Click here for ideas and premade games available purchase.

Redemption Center Coordinator and Committee– decides how many prizes to order, buys the prizes, sets up the redemption center and runs the redemption center.  The redemption center team should work closely with the Game Master to determine the different prize levels and quantity of prizes needed for each game.  Not only will this team buy new prizes, but should also solicit donations from school staff, parents, PTA members, and local businesses for prizes for raffles, etc.  Need ideas for redemption prizes and raffle prizes?  Click here to get started.

Concessions Coordinator and Committee – determines what food will be sold or offered and procures the food from food vendors.  Will also need to trouble shoot any food issues on carnival day as well as have a plan in place for donation of any unused food.

Ticket Sales Coordinator –arranges tickets, bracelets, etc. for entry to the carnival, games, etc.  Will need to order the tickets and run the ticket and bracelet sales at the entry point for the carnival. Need help figuring out what supplies and tickets are needed?  Click here for a list of different ticket and wrist band options, uses, and other ideas. Short on staff?  Combine this role with the treasurer role.

Volunteer Coordinator –will need to work closely with all the other departments to determine the number of volunteers needed for each station, recruit volunteers, and check them in on the day of the carnival.  This role can be combined with the chair person role if needed.

Marketing/Decor Committee –will determine how to market, or advertise the carnival or event. Includes arranging printing of flyers for mail, posting, or for students to take home.  Will also manage the decoration of the school or venue for the carnival as well as appropriate signage directing carnival guests to various activities such as food, games, etc. 

Entertainment Committee –Some people will omit this step as not being necessary but we really think this is a great way to involve more community members and ensure people will linger at the carnival for longer periods of time, thus spending more money.  This person will recruit talent or entertainment for the carnival.    Short on staff?  The marketing and entertainment committee roles can be merged into 1 role/team.

Facilities Coordinator – determines the layout of the carnival, parking, and checks for insurance coverage for the carnival.  Make sure all insurance is in place that will cover hosting the carnival and what requirements are needed for full coverage in the event of any accidents or liabilities.
Short on staff?  Merge the volunteer coordinator and facilities coordinator into one role/team.

Set Goals and Determine a Budget

Set the budget to fit the fundraising goals.  This can be much easier to calculate when the organization has hosted carnivals in the past.  Simply review past data to get an idea of how many people to expect and what type of profits can be expected.  
It's important to remember the ultimate goal is to raise money.  To that end consider each part of the carnival as a profit center.  For example, people can pay for a bracelet which will cover the costs of the games and prizes.  Then sell tickets that can be exchanged at food concession stands and for activities like tattoo booths and face painting.  Lastly, sell raffle tickets for the chance to win grand prizes.
First time hosting a carnival?  Here are a few steps to help get started with the planning and the budget.

    Chairperson - Estimate how many people expected to show up at the carnival.  Never hosted a carnival?  Data from other events like plays and other fundraising events can be used to determine expected turnout.  Other area schools, churches and other organizations can also be used to gauge expected turnout as well.  The number of attendees expected will help to determine the number of games to organize so that carnival guests will have enough game and entertainment to keep them occupied.

Here's a chart to help estimate how many attendees will be at the event:

# of Students at School


Turn out at previous events about 10%


General public invites: quantity mailed 1000
Expect a 1% turnout


Total Turn out expected


  Add another 10% to ensure supplies don't run out


Once the number of expected guests is determined, release this information to all the committees so they can start planning.

    Game Committee – With an estimate of carnival guests expected it is easier to figure out how many games will be needed to keep carnival guests entertained.  Here's a chart to help calculate this.

Expect 330 guests

If have this many game options

Then the lines will be this long

10 Games

33 players

15 Games

22 players

20 Games

16.5 players

25 Games

13.2 players

30 Games

11 players

Obviously not everyone will be standing in line or evenly distributed among the games but this will give a good idea of how many games the Game Committee should develop.  Lines shouldn't be too long or guests may become bored.   Less than 5% of carnival guests should be waiting in line at any given time.   So for the scenario above it would be best to develop 20-25 games.  Some games may be more popular so consider setting up 2 or more booths for that game. 
Need ideas for some games? Click here for ideas and premade games available for purchase.

    Game Master and Committee - Put the Games Committee to work developing the games and working out rental costs or supply costs needed for each game.  The best method is to have each committee member bring at least 5-10 game ideas that the group can debate and plan in the meeting.  After determining what games to play, assign each committee member a game to research costs, suppliers, etc. and have them bring to the next meeting so the team can determine the budget needed to create the games. Click here for a form to track supplies, costs, vendor info, etc. for each game.
    Game Master and Committee – Now that the games are established, the Games Committee will need to figure out how long it will take to play each game in order to determine how many players can play the game in the allotted time period.  Also, the committee should make a determination as the number of winners a game can expect so that the Redemption Committee can plan the prizes.  This chart can help figure out how many players per game.

If carnival is 3 hours (180 minutes long)

And the game takes this long:

Then this many can play:

30 seconds

360 players

1 minute

180 players

2 minutes

90 players

3 minutes

60 players

Once the committee has gather all the data for the games:  # of players, # of winners, rules for the games, vendors and costs associated with the games complete a data sheet for each game that can be distributed among all the committees.   It is crucial that the treasurer and the redemption committee receive this information as quickly as possible so they can begin planning ticket prices and redemption prizes.

    Redemption Committee – Once the game sheets are completed it is time to put the redemption committee to work.  They will need to research the different prizes they want to offer and the costs associated with each prize.  They can start this process while the games are still being planned but will need the game info sheets on number of players so they can figure out exact quantities of prizes needed.  Once the redemption committee gets the game sheets they can complete the specific prize levels, prices and quantities needed.

Here is a helpful chart to help figure out the total cost of prizes needed for a game.

If 180 players do this game

And this many win:

And the prizes for this level cost

Level 1 Prize - 84 winners

$.05 each

Level 2 Prize - 60 winners

$.10 each

Level 3 Prize - 36 Winners

$.15 each

Then this game's prizes will cost (84x.05)+(60x.10)+(36x.15)=$15.60

Repeat this process for each of the different games in order to determine a total cost of all prizes.   Be sure to investigate the piece counts and minimum order quantity amounts required by each vendor.  Typical redemption prizes are often sold by the dozen (12) or in gross packs (144) so plan the purchasing accordingly. It is ok to buy a few extra prizes.  In fact it is probably a good idea to have some extra to make sure the prizes won't run out.  Just make sure all the costs associated with prize purchases, including any extra that is bought, is included in the total redemption costs for each game.  Carnival guests may even choose to buy additional tickets, rather than just relying on winning tickets, so that they can purchase the prizes that are most desirable.  Extra prizes can also be set aside for the next carnival or event.   

Does the redemption committee need some ideas to get started?  Click here for ready-made carnival prize packages.

Will the carnival have raffles?  Then redemption team should also plan the raffle prizes as well.  The committee may choose to purchase prizes for raffles and or solicit donations from PTA members, school staff, and other community members like businesses.

Need some appealing raffle prizes for kids?  Click here to find our collection of Redemption Prizes.

Turn in the completed game sheets with prize costs and raffle information to the treasurer.

    Food Concessions Committee – After playing so many games, carnival guests are sure to get hungry.  Keep them playing and spending money longer by adding food to the carnival.  The Concessions committee should brainstorm for what kind of foods they want to sell at the carnival and then contact local suppliers for rental costs in addition to estimating food costs etc.

Strapped for time and money?  The food concessions committee doesn't actually need to run concession stands.  Instead, contact local restaurants to see if they would be interested in setting up a booth to sell food.  Even with outsourced concessions, it's still possible to add to the bottom line.  Negotiate with the concessions vendors to see if they will be willing to donate a small percentage of the profits to the carnival.  Promise to include their names as sponsors on carnival flyers and be sure to include them in all of the marketing efforts.  They'll love the exposure.

Once the concessions committee has determined all the costs, turn this info in to the treasurer.

    Entertainment Committee – Most people have short attention spans.  Keep guests at the carnival longer by keeping them occupied with other forms of entertainment.  This is also a great way to get the local community involved. The entertainment committee should contact local clubs like martial arts, dance and gymnastics clubs and ask them to put on free demonstrations.  In turn, these local businesses can use the carnival to solicit additional membership so it is a win-win for all involved.  If the school has a music program, the music students can also perform a recital as well.

Not all entertainment needs to be free of charge.  Create another opportunity for fundraising with activities like face painting, tattoo booths, bouncy houses and more.  Make sure to calculate the costs of any rentals or supplies associated with the activities and turn in a completed activity sheet to the treasurer.

Click here for a sample activity sheet form.

    Ticket Sales Coordinator– Keep the carnival running smoothly right from the start with a ticket booth at the entrance.  Using tickets instead of cash will help reduce the risk for theft or loss and centralizing where all cash is exchanged at the carnival will help with traffic flow as well.

Selling wristbands for entry to the carnival is another great way to eliminate cash and ensure that everyone playing the games has paid for entrance.  Game operators can make sure everyone is wearing a bracelet in order to participate in a game. 

Sell tickets at the door to cover additional expenses such as activity booths or food concessions. 

Also, sell raffle tickets at the door for any donation or high ticket redemption prizes.

Click here for info on wristbands and the different types of tickets and their uses.

    Marketing/Decor Committee – Even the best planned carnivals won't be successful in fundraising efforts if no one knows about it.  Create a marketing/décor committee team that will be responsible for getting the word out about the carnival.

First, the committee should create flyers that can be posted around the school or organization advertising the carnival.  Be sure to include the carnival date, time, place on the flyer along with noting any sponsors for the event.  Also entice guests to the carnival with some of the activities and games that that will be available.  Remember less is more in advertising messages and fun pictures with people will always catch someone's eye over words.  
The marketing committee should budget the creation and printing costs of these flyers.  If the committee plans to mail flyers or invitations to invite the general public be sure to include all those costs in the budget as well.

Another task for the marketing/decor committee is the carnival decorations.  Not only should the committee create a fun and festive atmosphere but they should also plan for functionality as well.  Not all carnival guests will be familiar with the layout of the location so make sure things like games, food concessions, activities, restrooms, ticket sales and entrances and exits are clearly identified.  . 

Once the committee has figured out all the costs for signage, posters, and decorations turn this in to the treasurer.

    Facilities Coordinator – All the other committees have met and determined what kind of events are going to be held at the carnival.  The facilities coordinator should meet with all the departments to determine the space needs and work on a design layout for where each event will be held.  There needs to be enough room for operators, guests waiting to play the games or participate in the activities, as well as spectators.  Make sure there is plenty of room and the events flow easily from one to the next.  Be sure to work with the marketing/décor committee to make sure everything is signed and the flow of traffic is easily directed with signs.

How are the parking facilities at the venue?  If parking is a potential hot spot issue the facilities coordinator may want to consider valet or attendant parking.  If the venue doesn't have enough parking spaces research street parking regulations or work with other organizations in the area to see if parking spaces can be shared for the carnival date.
Is the school or organization covered in case of accidents or other liabilities? Make sure the insurance will cover the event against accidents or other liabilities.  Rental companies should also carry liability insurance as well.  Make sure to keep a copy of all the proofs of insurance on file in case it is needed for any claims.  Make sure to investigate all requirements or obligations required to fulfill any contractual obligations with the insurance company and ensure that all games, activities, and concessions comply.

    Treasurer – Now that everything is planned out, collect all the budget sheets from each of the committees and set prices for tickets and for bracelets.    Keep in mind the profit goals and expected number of guests/players to best determine expected sales.  Having sponsors can help offset some of the costs.

The table gives an overview of all the expenses of an imaginary carnival and shows how to calculate the cost of the bracelets.  In this scenario below all of the carnival costs are covered with the sale of the bracelets.

How Much to Charge for Wristbands

Cost of Carnival Games & Prizes


Cost of wristbands


   Need 330 (# of guests expected)


   Sold in packs of 100 for  8.99 each


   Total order 4 x 8.99 (400 wristbands)


Cost of activities




   1000 Tickets per roll


  # tickets needed for games 11047 (12 rolls)


     (Target price per piece)


  # Tickets Needed for front desk (4)


   16 rolls of tickets at 3.95 a roll


  Total order 3.95 x 16


Extra Redemption prizes


Activities Costs


Marketing Costs


Concession Costs


Total cost


Total profit goal


Sell price for wristband

(2000+2850.26 / 330 = 14.697758)

Sell Wristbands for $15.00 a piece

Since all carnival costs are covered in the sale of the wristbands, ticket sales can be an extra profit center.
The table below shows the amount of profit that can be expected.

How Much to charge for Tickets

Ticket value at cost for redemption prizes

 $  .05

Double this to value to calculate the sale price per ticket

 $  .10

Sell tickets in groups of 10

 10 tickets x .10 = $1.00

Estimated ticket sales per guest

 5 (not all guests will buy tickets)

Estimate profit

 (5 tickets x 330 guests) x 1.00 = $1650.00

Place Orders and Arrange for Delivery

This works best if there is one person, the treasurer or chair person, doing this job.  This allows one central point for deliveries, vendor questions, and any other issues that might arise.

Make sure to order everything needed well in advance for the carnival.  By ordering in advance it will ensure there is time to come up with alternatives if there are any out of stock situations or delivery problems.  Create an inventory check list and carefully review all the shipments are coming in with the correct quantities.

When working with rental companies for games, concessions or activities, make sure to set up delivery dates and times and re-confirm the week before the carnival as well as the day before, or morning of.

If community entertainment is participating at the carnival, make sure to set up exact meeting places and times.

Staff the Carnival

Make sure there are enough volunteers in place for the carnival. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Set up crew – decorates and sets up all the booths on the day of the carnival.
  2. Game Operators – some games may require 1 operator, some may need 2 or 3.  Go through the list with the game committee and make sure all the games and activities are staffed with enough personnel.
  3. Entry - Need 2-4 people selling wristbands and tickets at the entry point.
  4. Redemption Center – Need 2-3 people per redemption center.
  5. Runner – Need 2-3 people stationed around the carnival that can answer guest questions.  Guests may be unfamiliar with the venue so have people who can give directions.  The runner can also assist the game operators if they suddenly run out of needed supplies or tickets.
  6. Clean-up Crew –make sure to staff a clean-up crew to put everything away after the carnival

Make sure the carnival staff is clearly identified.  We suggest buying skimmer hats and having every one wear one.  Or staff can be identified with a lanyard and staff badge.

As volunteers arrive on the day of the carnival be sure the volunteer coordinator is at the entrance checking off everyone.

Carnival Day Set Up

Have everyone arrive 2-3 hours early on the day of the carnival and start setting up.  For game or equipment rentals make sure to have scheduled appointments with the delivery drivers and call them the day before to re-confirm the time.

The volunteer coordinator should be there early to check in all the volunteers for the carnival and supply them with their identification whether it be a hat or a lanyard or some other means.

Make sure all carnival guests enter at one entrance.  Vendors, entertainers and volunteers should enter at another entrance.  This will help relieve any congestion issues that might arise at the carnival guest entrance.

Post Mortem Review

Hopefully the carnival was a great success.  However the job isn't done yet.  Meet again as a group and have each department review what worked well and what needs improvement.  It's important to meet quickly after the carnival so everything is still fresh in everyone's mind.    Keep detailed notes and the next carnival will be even better!