Okay, parents. You’ve made it through the start of a new school year and the kids are settling into their new routines. Extracurricular activities are in full swing. Many of you are spending Saturdays on the sidelines of the town’s soccer fields or cheering from the bleachers at football games. It’s officially fall, and that means more than crisp nights, changing leaves, and picking ten pounds of apples for $20. The Patch Mamas and Papa weigh in on fundraising!
In my house, we have five fundraisers underway. Cub Scout popcorn, Galvin Buddies candy sale, Galvin magazine drive, Calareso’s gift certificates for Woodville, and kids’ entertainment coupon books for Woodville. That’s too much inventory for my customer base to handle, and most of them have kids of their own selling the same stuff.
I understand that fundraising is necessary to supplement the cost of providing activities for kids, but I hate it. I even keep a mental list of my least favorite fundraisers:
- Coming in at #3: magazine drives. I love the idea of sitting down and flipping through a magazine. The reality is that I stack them up into a precarious Jenga tower and recycle them when the pile’s structural integrity fails. At least the Woodville gets in on some of the action because I throw about fifty pounds of magazines into the recycling dumpster each year.
- In the #2 slot: holiday catalogs. During my tumultuous, bittersweet time as a PTO board member last year, instituting a moratorium on catalog fundraising was the first order of business. Kids sell wrapping paper, bows, and assorted crappy tchotchkes to win assorted crappy Oriental Trading prizes. I don’t think there are any “winners” when it comes to holiday catalog fundraising.
- The perennial champion at #1: canning. As a society, we sometimes allow specific behaviors normally frowned upon by placing them in an alternate context—like thinking nothing of the runner who pauses in the middle of Comm Ave to relieve himself because he’s running the Boston Marathon. Canning is accepted begging. We get annoyed at or afraid of the man in the dirty overcoat shaking a coffee-stained paper cup at us in a city street. Slap smart, matching uniforms on the beggars and it is a-okay. Canning is begging. Tomato, tomahto. Both canners and beggars operate from the same perspective: “I would like X. X costs more money than I have. I will ask strangers for money so I can have X.” It doesn’t matter if X is a Big Mac, a bottle of Thunderbird, or supplemental income for a cheerleader’s trip to the national championship s at Walt Disney World. You are on the street asking strangers for money.
I’d like to see kids learn some social responsibility through fundraising, and I’d like more useful offerings than a king size Kit Kat. How about a delivery service to take food donations to the Food Pantry? I’d give $5 or $10 toward an organization if the kids went through my neighborhood and collected food pantry items. How about helping seniors with yard work or clearing snow? I’d pay a school group to help an elderly neighbor. What about that single mom who never gets a break? I’d gladly give to a club that offers volunteer sitters to single moms in exchange for donations. Admittedly, the logistics of these suggestions are more cumbersome than saying, “Here’s your can. Go get ‘em!” In the end, though, fundraising (and donating) would be far more rewarding.
Since it is unlikely that our schools and organizations will ever have enough resources to do away with fundraising, the trick will be to “build a better fundraiser.”
Adding to Paul’s contention that fundraising would be more palatable if it incorporated a service/charity/giving-back aspect, I am more inclined to support a fundraiser that delivers goods I already use or those that are beautifying or helpful to our world, like plant sales or recycling drives.
A plant sale makes it easy for someone like me to decorate for fall, for instance, with no difficulty, often for a comparable price I’d pay at a store, while making money for the organization. A recycling drive is another fundraiser done at my sons’ school which makes money for the school while giving homeowners a chance to get rid of appliances, electronics, clothing and toys that are otherwise cluttering up basements and attics.
I love the idea of the Dinners Out fundraisers wherein an area restaurant agrees to donate a percentage of sales to an organization on a given night. In practice, however, these seldom work for our family because of food intolerance issues. We’re happy to participate when the restaurant chosen has gluten free options, but otherwise, I’d be more inclined to donate the money we’d have made through our meal purchase directly to the organization.
This approach to fundraising takes away much of the stigma and awkwardness associated with fundraising where parents get to feel like they are pimping out their kids to make a buck. It also alleviates the terrible feeling of squeezing one’s family members and co-workers to purchase things they couldn’t possibly have a use for on this earth. Guilt, shame and manipulation are all tools of classic fundraising strategies. Ugh.
One of my favorite ideas for fundraising is a concept called, “Scrip.” In this program, parents buy gift cards to myriad numbers of retailers, grocery stores, restaurants and the like, through a central company. You place your order for, say, a Starbucks card, a GAP card, a Sunoco gas card and a TGI Fridays card. You pay face value for the card, but the Scrip company kicks back a percentage of sales to your organization. Percentage returns vary from 2% all the way to 18% or more per card, depending on the company.
Yeeeesssss, I do happen to chair the Scrip program at our local school, but I promise this isn’t a shameless plug for my particular fundraiser. In fact, I wish that I could say I’ve done a better job growing the program over the past two years than I have. What I want to focus on here is the potential of a Scrip program. At our school, the Scrip program is wicked small potatoes. Wicked small! But there are private schools nationwide that use their Scrip return profits to defray the cost of tuition per family. Thousands upon thousands of dollars are made/saved each year by families adding the extra step to their shopping of pre-purchasing gift cards to spend at places they are already shopping at in the first place. Of course, gift cards can be purchased through a Scrip program to give as gifts as well. Our school makes a goodly amount of money just from parents using Scrip to buy gift cards for coaches and teachers at the end of a sports season or school year or for holidays.
The Scrip program I use at school allows the potential to add local vendors to the list of gift cards available. I think this would be particularly attractive to those in our Wakefield community, who strive to support our local economy. In this win-win-win scenario, folks would make money for their school/organization AND the local economy by spending not a penny more than they would have spent otherwise on regular shopping. If this kind of fundraiser could catch on and grow, it has the potential to be the only fundraiser our school would need. It’s something within our grasp and something I will resolve to tackle…just as soon as I can cross “Birth This Baby” off my list. Anyone want to donate a dollar to guess birth time, weight and height?
P.S. In line with Paul’s wish for a service-oriented fundraiser, I heard about the following fundraiser from a friend:
The Wakefield High School Music Boosters are sponsoring a Lawn Clean Up Fundraiser where the homeowner supplies the lawn bags and the boosters will rake and bag them for only $5 per bag!
Dates: Saturday, November 10th and Sunday, November 18th
The WHS marching band students, chorus & orchestra will be performing at Disney World in February and are raising funds to defray costs!
For more information, contact Sandy Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 781-245-1782 after 5 pm.
Tasha Schlake Festel
I will not peddle stuff door-to-door, to friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. Do not ask me.
I will not spend money on things I don’t need – or ask others to – so my organization gets a whopping 4% of the purchase price. Do not ask me.
And I will not apologize for it. Do not ask me.
I don’t do fundraisers.
What I do, however, is contribute in other ways. I give more in my dues (not as much as I’d like, but as much as I can) and I give a lot of my time. I also donate things to the classroom, purchase supplies for Brownies, make snacks for parties, and make myself available whenever someone needs something.
I just don’t sell stuff.
I understand the need for fundraising and don’t begrudge the organizations that do it. I participate in “Dinners Out” and will buy the occasional box of Girl Scout cookies. (Who can resist those Thin Mints and Caramel Delights! Those things are like CRACK!) But that’s it. End of story.
A lot of people whine about all the crap they end up with because they have to support their kids’ organizations. To them I say, kick in $50 and be done with it. The organization will make more money that way anyway.
Despite my outspoken disdain for the whole “begging for money under the guise of selling” thing, my daughter desperately wants to walk the ‘hood, ringing doorbells, soliciting orders for over-priced wrapping paper and low-quality chocolate roses. Her whole face lights up when we get a new fundraising opportunity. (Ha! Opportunity! How’s that for a marketing spin?) She begs me to please, please, pretty please with sugar on top go out and sell.
Without exception, I say no. I don’t let her do it.
One might wonder why I would squelch the entrepreneurial spirit of my child. Well, it’s really easy: I resent people trying to sell me crap, and I don’t want my kid to do it to someone else.
I hate to be put on the spot by some little kid looking up at me with big sad eyes, holding an order sheet, asking for support, while the parent stands a few steps back on my front porch, arms crossed, looking at me expectantly, waiting for the kid to close the deal. I. Hate. That. I won’t be that parent, and my kid won’t be that kid.
Now excuse me while I open my checkbook and get ready for lunch duty. I’ve got some contributing to do.
Every year I feel like I spend the entire month of September writing checks. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to support the schools and my children’s activities, I just think there must be a better way to do it, rather than asking the kids (parents) to sell one thing after another. I don’t want to buy any stuff or sell any stuff. I already have too much stuff I don’t want, which is why I think a community yard sale is a great fundraiser, as are the electronics and soft goods recycling drives that our school holds every year. I get rid of stuff I don’t want, and the school makes money. Everybody wins.
I do remember slogging through the snow as a kid in upstate New York with my wagon full of Girl Scout cookies, but mostly I remember fundraisers being about doing something rather than selling something. By far, the best fundraiser was my high school’s annual Dance Marathon. Granted, the money went to charity and not to the school itself, but it would work either way. Each kid needed to raise a minimum amount to participate (I think it was $45 in 1987) which of course meant begging from family members and neighbors, but those generous donors were not then stuck with tchotchkes or buckets of cookie dough or stinky candles that they probably didn’t want. The event itself was 15 hours of non-stop dancing. 9am to midnight. We had breaks and meals, but the rest of the time we had to be on the dance floor. Non-dancers could make a donation to come and watch. Every crappy high school garage band got to play their Loverboy and Rick Springfield cover songs, we all got to be on the news, and we raised thousands of dollars. It was awesome. I’d much rather support an event like that than fight with my kids about how many magazine subscriptions we really need.
My daughter had a minor freak-out this morning because she thought she had to have her magazine orders in TODAY. The students are not really encouraged to sell door-to-door but they are still pressured to get those orders in, which means Mom and Dad and grandparents and family friends who don’t have kids in the school are on the hook for fundraising support. The kids don’t really do much of the selling, but the school still needs the money, so in the past seven years that I have had kids in the public schools, I have been asked to buy and/or sell, wrapping paper, candles, cookie dough, cookies, coffee cakes, discount cards, calendars, chocolate roses, coupon books, dinners out, and my personal favorite, cocktails. The cocktails were part of our school’s Spring Fling— an evening out for the parents where the proceeds from the tickets, raffles, and silent auctions raise money for the PTO.
And lastly, a word on “canning” … I had never seen this until I moved to Massachusetts, and I find it really strange. I mean I’ve seen it, but not usually as an official method of fundraising, more a method of getting another 40 of Crazy Horse. Have a car wash, a bake sale, a yard sale, a carnival or whatever, but don’t just panhandle for money. Aren’t these fundraisers supposed to teach kids the value of volunteering and working together as a community? What exactly does “canning” teach?