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PTO Planning School Playground Funding

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Whether your PTO is researching the cost of a new playground or you’re facing a tight budget, building a school playground may require some funding efforts. Preparing well in advance for PTO school playground funding can ensure you’re prepared for the potential costs, prevent unexpected expenses and help stretch your funds.

If your PTO or PTA wants to develop a plan for school playground funding, we cover more about how to do so below, including how to set your playground budget, budgeting factors to consider, how to fund your playground, top fundraising ideas and how USA SHADE can provide the shade structures your playground needs.

How to Set Your Playground Budget

To successfully set your playground budget, consider everything from the space available to the needs of your school and what the playground can accommodate. Taking time to establish a plan and budget lets your school facilitate a playground kids will love while maintaining finances and saving room in spending for other outdoor upgrades.

Follow the tips below to set a playground budget:

Determine the Needs of Your School

Determine your school’s needs to inform your budget. The school’s capacity and the student’s characteristics both impact how much this budget should include. For example, a playground that will serve only preschoolers may have a different budget than an all-ages playground.

To understand your school’s needs, identify the playground capacity. If many kids will use the space, a larger budget may cover the amount of equipment your school needs. Include any site amenities you will need in the budget, such as picnic tables, on-site restrooms or shade structures.

Identify the Available Space

Consider how much space your school has available for playground equipment. If there is a large open yard, there will be more flexibility to include both independent play structures and play systems. With enough space available, multiple play areas can be built for kids of all ages, so each child who wants to play can find the playground equipment that suits their age, play style, abilities and preferences.

The amount of available space also affects the total cost of building the playground. Partnering with a professional contractor or equipment provider can help your school successfully design a playground that fits within the available space.

Consider What the Playground Can Accommodate

Consider the characteristics and factors the school playground should accommodate. Kids of any age and ability should have a place to play and have fun. While setting the playground budget, consider the characteristics of those who will use the equipment. The type and height of play components like slides and swings will vary depending on the kids’ age range.

To successfully cater to each age range, designate specific areas for every age group by including age-appropriate play equipment. Consider the different abilities of the kids who will use the school playground. Kids who use mobility equipment like wheelchairs can benefit from play structures that offer accessible, inclusive play. Incorporating inclusive playground equipment ensures the school playground provides a more accommodating space for every kid to play and grow with peers.

Budgeting Factors to Consider

Many factors impact your school’s playground construction budget, such as the equipment, amenities and surfacing. The costs of installing and maintaining playground equipment and are also essential considerations. Before starting your school playground project, consider the following factors for your budget:


While playgrounds are a great addition to a school, they can garner more interest from the community during non-school hours or make the space more enjoyable for adults and teachers when paired with on-site amenities. Examples of playground amenities for schools may include:

  • Benches
  • Bike racks
  • Splash pads
  • Picnic tables
  • Trash receptacles
  • Signage
  • Basketball hoops
  • Hand sanitizer stations
  • Water fountains

When parents and teachers have a designated spot from which to watch the kids or enjoy a picnic lunch, they may feel more comfortable coming to the playground. Restrooms are another amenity to include so students don’t have to enter the school building during recess. They also make it more convenient for families and community members to use the playground for non-school activities.


Equipment is the most noticeable part of a school playground, and it generally takes up the greatest portion of your budget. The best school playground equipment is engaging, durable and inclusive:

Engaging: While simple playground equipment may be affordable, ensure the selected equipment is also engaging and exciting enough to interest kids.

Durable: The right equipment is durable and long-lasting, so investing in high-quality equipment is essential.

Inclusive: Select equipment to prioritize for play and learning, such as inclusive spinners and climbers. Incorporating inclusive equipment shows parents and kids that everyone is welcome.

Consider investing in playground equipment in specific colors, like your school’s colors or bright hues for young kids. Some equipment is available in themed designs — like nature or pirate-inspired — to inspire imaginative play among toddlers and lower-grade students.

Building Permit

An essential part of constructing a new playground is obtaining all the building permits your school needs to move forward. The state and municipality may impose zoning requirements and building codes that apply to your new school playground. In some cases, a permit is required only for constructing a new building, such as a rest area. Regardless, contractors must comply with all local regulations to ensure the playground passes inspections. Your school will likely handle this part before investing in equipment to make sure there isn’t anything that could stall installation.

Anticipate paying a fee for obtaining the building permit, though this amount may vary depending on your location, the amount of changes your school needs to make to the land to accommodate the new structure and what type of school funding is being used for the project.

Shade Structures

Another potential school playground expense to include is shade structures. While some play areas may have adequate shade from trees, many need additional shade structures to provide cooler areas for kids and adults to relax away from play equipment.

Consider what times of the day kids will use the playground and if there is enough shade from trees and nearby structures. Shade structures help keep everyone cool on a hot day, so including these elements in the budget is a great way to make the playground more accommodating and comfortable for year-round use.


Playground surfacing is crucial for providing an enjoyable playground that meets all regulations and reduces the chance of injury. Grass is not an approved or recommended surfacing material.

Common options include loose-fill and unitary surfacing. Loose-fill surfacing, like engineered wood fiber or rubber, is standard on playground surfaces. While these surfacing options are affordable, they may require more upkeep. Whether mulch, wood chips, pea gravel or sand, the playground requires at least 12 inches of material. Unitary surfacing includes poured-in-place rubber and rubber tiles. This surfacing tends to be more accessible for kids with wheelchairs, as it remains in place when people travel over it.

Price, aesthetics and durability all factor into your decision for surfacing. Include spending room to make any other necessary changes for surfacing installation, like tree or tree trunk removal, stone removal, water drainage or dirt leveling.


Depending on your playground equipment supplier, costs for shipping could be more or less than expected. Speak with your playground equipment supplier about shipping rates early to include these costs in your budget.


The playground budget may include installation costs for equipment. Proper installation is crucial for ensuring every piece of equipment meets durability and installation standards. The equipment manufacturer may offer on-site installation as a service. If not, work with a trusted contractor with experience.

Playground installation expenses may include the cost of equipment, labor and concrete. Budget for preparing the site for construction and removing any old or broken equipment.

Construction Contingency

Every budget should include some wiggle room. Unexpected costs are always a possibility during large-scale projects, so add extra funds to the budget to cover these potential expenses. A construction contingency provides coverage for the costs that arise due to unexpected supply issues, miscalculations or delays due to weather conditions.

How to Fund Your Playground

Your PTO or PTA may have a few options for how to fund your school playground project. The following are some options to consider:

1. Fundraising

Holding a fundraising event can be a great way to collect the funds needed to build a school playground, and it’s a great way to involve the community in the project. Your school is likely familiar with fundraisers, such as 5K runs and bake sales. Host a fundraising campaign on your own or working with a professional fundraising company if part of the fundraiser includes selling products to incentivize donations.

To fundraise for a playground, follow the steps below:

Select a fundraising event or activity: Determine how your school will raise the money. Plan an event or activity that will interest your community and incentivize them to support your school playground project. Supplement fundraising efforts with passive opportunities, like letting local businesses pay to “sponsor” a bench.

Create a budget: In your playground budget, account for maintenance, professional installation, site preparations, durable equipment and amenities like signs, benches, trash receptacles, picnic tables and basketball hoops. Include costs to carry out the fundraiser, such as equipment, advertising and supplies.

Determine a timeline: Determine a timeline of the event and goal for the school playground. Share the timeframe and concrete goals with your fundraising team and community.

Form a fundraising team: A dedicated team can carry out plans to fundraise for the playground. Split teams into committees according to their strengths for greater efficiency.

Develop marketing measures: Create promotional materials to share information about your playground with the public. Promotional materials may include advertisements, emails and posters. It might help inspire donations if your school focuses part of its fundraiser advertising on the many benefits a new school playground can provide students and the local community.

Establish a method to thank donors: Establish a method to thank each donor for their contributions. Showing gratitude is essential for making donors feel appreciated for their donations and efforts. Examples include a thank-you dinner or banquet or cards personally signed by students.

There are numerous ways your PTO or PTA can collect funds via fundraising, and we will cover more of these ideas below.

2. Grants

Your school playground project could be eligible for grants from organizations or the government. If pursuing grants for your school playground project, begin by researching local philanthropists and foundations. After this, branch out to state or local governments and businesses. For example, the American Academy of Dermatology offers a national shade structure program that awards funds to schools that can be used to install permanent shade structures in outdoor locations.

Grant applications may provide a timeline and budget for your playground project. Some grants are location-specific, so research all options available in your school’s region. Follow the tips below to write a grant:

  • Outline the proposal
  • Edit the proposal carefully
  • Write concisely and clearly
  • Answer every question in full
  • Adhere to grant requirements
  • State your school’s goals clearly
  • Explain how the funds will be used
  • Use visuals like playground design ideas
  • Submit all materials by the grant’s deadline

Consult the school board or local community organizations about professional grant writing services.

3. Leasing

Leasing can be a good option for your school playground project to install equipment and structures quickly when funds are insufficient. Leasing equipment lets your school immediately set up the playground equipment and pay for the costs later. Look for a leasing partner that offers a reasonable rate to preserve cash reserves. Every loan or leasing agreement has its own terms, and some may require a down payment or initial deposit before issuing funds.

4. Phasing

Phasing is a financing option that lets your school pay for and build the playground one section at a time. Paying for an entire school playground project upfront can be a large investment that exceeds your current budget’s limits. Use phasing to finish the playground on time and spread the cost over a period of time to make funding the project more manageable.

Add temporary barriers to playground structures to open different parts of the playground earlier and continue making progress as new funds become available.

Phasing is also one way you can continue incentivizing fundraiser donations among the community — as they see what a difference new equipment makes for students, they may be more likely to help fund the remainder of the project.

5. Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is a method of collecting project funds from a group of people. Use a crowdfunding website to help finance your school playground project, but be aware of each website’s various fees and listing requirements. Some keep a percentage of profits raised. Strangers or local community members might donate to your crowdfunding amount, depending on how the event is structured and the website’s privacy options.

It’s up to your school to advertise its crowdfunding efforts. Consider requesting local media coverage and offering incentives to participants, such as advertising space for local businesses. Send newsletters to parents and caregivers encouraging them to support the project and share it with their online social media followers.

Top Fundraising Ideas

Fundraising is one of the best ways to collect funds for a school playground project. During a fundraising campaign, engage in team building and give volunteers and the members of your community a sense of pride. Community members will feel like a team as they work together toward funding the playground, and they will feel a sense of accomplishment when the goal is achieved. Each time every volunteer or donor visits the playground, they can see the results of their work and contribution.

There are countless ways fun, effective and easy ways to raise money for a school playground project. Consider the fundraising ideas below for playground equipment:

Host an Auction

One enjoyable fundraising idea that involves your local community is an auction. Ask local artists and businesses to donate items that can be auctioned off during the event. Members of your community can give to a good cause and purchase an item for their own use. Auction off several smaller items, a few big-ticket items or a combination to draw in a larger crowd. To host an auction, follow the tips below:

  • Categorize items
  • Track donated items
  • Prepare for large payments
  • Sign up plenty of volunteers
  • Establish an auction committee
  • Provide an adequate supply of bid sheets, pens and clipboards
  • Develop a list of businesses in the area that can donate items and contact them

Hold a Bake Sale

A popular staple among fundraising campaigns is the bake sale. For those with a sweet tooth, a bake sale can be a fun way to donate to a good cause while getting a delicious treat in return. Get the entire community involved by requesting that members of the community donate baked goods that can be sold to fund your school playground project. Bake sales are typically easy and affordable to set up and generate plenty of sales. Follow the tips below to hold an effective bake sale:

  • Select the location
  • Research and follow the health codes
  • Establish a team to organize the event
  • Offer baked goods that appeal to families
  • Make the setup appealing to draw buyers in
  • Sell tasty beverages to accompany baked goods
  • Stick with popular baked goods like cookies, brownies and fudge

Turn the fun up a notch by turning your bake sale into a bake-off. Those who want to compete can show off their favorite dessert recipes, and attendees can vote for their favorites.

Hold a Ticketed Event

Another option is to host a ticketed event that involves the local community in your school playground project. Impose a cover charge to bring in funds for every attendee. Optional activities during the event, like donations or sales, can increase the funds your school raises. Common examples of ticketed events include:

  • Fun runs
  • Carnivals
  • Concerts
  • Talent shows

Host different events that appeal to a variety of demographics in the local community to increase involvement and donations. A fun run, for example, may attract athletes and fitness enthusiasts, while a carnival may attract families.

Sell Items Door-to-Door

Selling items door-to-door is another great way to collect funds for your school playground project. Common items that members of your community may be interested in buying include:

  • Shirts or sweatpants
  • Flowers
  • Candies and candy bars
  • Pizza kits
  • Tote bags
  • Cookie dough
  • Coupon books for area businesses

Choose to presell items and record each donor’s information for delivery at a later date or hand over the item during the transaction. Consider partnering with a local business to sell items or donated gift cards.

Approach Local Businesses

Consider approaching local businesses in your fundraising efforts. Though both small and large businesses tend to donate part of their profits, small local businesses tend to give more to nonprofits and community causes than larger businesses. Ask if they would like to sponsor your school playground project.

Offer a way to recognize each company’s donation, which can ensure it’s a win-win situation for both your school and their business. For example, include each donor’s name on a sign or plaque at the playground, such as on playground equipment or benches. This can boost the company’s brand awareness and reputation. Local businesses that offer child-related services like sports equipment stores or daycares may be especially interested in advertising space at your school playground.

This is one of the easiest ways to collect funds for your school playground and support your community’s small businesses. Before selling advertising space, be sure to research local advertising laws.

Request a Quote to Invest in Shade Structures for Playgrounds

At USA SHADE, we inspire stunning outdoor spaces while promoting the benefits of shade. For more than three decades, we have been a proven leader in fabric structure technology and design. As a vertically integrated business, we offer comprehensive resources that lead to lasting partnerships and successful projects. With in-house experts in everything from design development to project management and construction, we are your organization’s source for shade structure and fabric structure solutions.

Our solutions offer functional and aesthetic value. Contact us at USA SHADE to learn more about school playground funding tips, or request a quote today to invest in shade structures for playgrounds.