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Why I Don't Do School Fundraisers

Why I Refuse to Do (Most) School Fundraisers

Like reader Tara K., I dread seeing fundraising envelopes come home from school. Tara said she's bothered by the competitive nature of these types of fundraisers, and I couldn't agree more. Not only are my children being told they should go door-to-door selling things, they are also sitting in assemblies being shown what kind of perks they get if they sell enough knickknacks and tchotchkes. When did fundraising become a "what's in it for me" endeavor?

I'm tired of the overpriced catalogs of items nobody really needs, and I hate that I'm the one who ends up trying to sell the stuff. So much so, in fact, that I refuse to do them anymore.

It's bad enough that these fundraising "packets" come with stipulations of what percentage of the sales actually goes to the school, but there are also warnings and — even worse — incentives.

It used to be that fundraising was an attempt to raise funds for a specific cause, one that kids were invested in, but lately it seems as though my kids don't even know where the money goes. Apparently, they're not the only ones.

One reader named Holly said the parents in her school district pay for kids to go on field trips, for after-school events, and even school supplies. "Where does the fundraiser money go?" she asked. She adds that like me, she will no longer be participating in fundraisers until she can get an answer to this question.

Fundraising Should Be a Cooperative Experience

What happened to car washes, cakewalks, collecting pennies, or spaghetti suppers prepared and served by our children? Those are the kinds of fundraisers I would get behind. As Tara said, "They also teach teamwork, cooperation, and accountability in a way that doesn't line the pockets of some overpriced importer and doesn't pit one kid against another."

Not only do these types of events make fundraisers fun, they give kids a chance to be real participants by brainstorming ways to make money, and they build a sense of community. After all, if we're trying to raise money for a community of people, shouldn't we all feel like we're part of that community?

Fundraisers Worth Supporting

There are some great fundraising ideas that I would support, and though I'm a little afraid if I enumerate them and get roped into running the next one at my child's school, I'm willing to take the risk!

  • Talent Shows: Charge parents admission to see what they love — their children and their children's friends taking pride in what they do well.
  • Basket Auctions: Let each classroom pick a theme for their basket and write letters to parents and local businesses asking for theme-related donations. Once the baskets are filled, they can be auctioned off to parents, either as part of a bigger auction or as a stand-alone.
  • Community Dinner or Breakfast: A number of readers said they'd love to see more spaghetti suppers or pancake breakfasts as fundraisers. Who doesn't like pancakes?
  • Schoolyard Sale: Think yard sale but in the schoolyard. It gives your children an opportunity to really think about what they're willing to sacrifice to raise a little money, and it's a great way to swap toys, clothes, and books out for new (to you) ones.
  • Recipe Books: As Jodi explained, "Parents contribute their favorite recipes, it gets collated and published, and then sold." My daughter's school did this one year. Ten years later, I still have the book and make recipes from it almost weekly.

OK, so maybe I wouldn't refuse to do all fundraisers, just the ones where the parents have to do all the work for an unspecified cause so kids can earn dinky prizes. Anything else, I'm willing to consider.

Image Source: Corbis Images
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DaveStrand1389043761 DaveStrand1389043761 2 years

Amanda, I own a fundraising company, and I agree with everything you say here. It's frustrating when I ask a potential client "What are you raising money for?", the answer tends to be, "To support the school.", which is sweet, but nonspecific.
I get a similar answer to the question, "How much are you hoping to raise?". Standard answer - "As much as we can." which is a target they'll never hit.

For a time, we offered the incentive prizes you hate. Thing is, I hated them too. They were cheaply made, and were virtually guaranteed to break before the kids got them home. I really think that those prizes are one of the reasons why kids get turned off from participating in fundraisers. They know a scam when they see one.
They also added to the cost of the fundraiser, so we had to raise our prices.

In the end, we eliminated incentives altogether, and instead try to keep our prices reasonable, so that our clients can afford prizes that their kids would really enjoy.

The truth is, a product sale fundraiser can be a cooperative experience, if the group can get away from the "every seller for him/herself" approach. It's always more fun to sell as a team. There's no reason that children can't set their own goals, and strategize together. Schools and sports teams alike, should ask their members what they'd like as a prize if they reach their goal. They should be included and engaged.

If you go to the Girl Scouts Cookie webpage, they don't even call it a fundraiser. Instead, it's "The number one entrepreneurial program for girls in the U.S." They've embraced the positive aspects of product sales, and you can't argue with their results, or the fact that the girls seem to have a great time.

I don't know if I can change your mind about item sales fundraisers. But I hope I've managed to make a fair case for approaching them in a different and fun way.

BTW, if you're curious about my company, you can find out more at; www.wecarecoffee.com. I'm also happy to help folks trying to help their group's fundraisers be more successful.

DanaLittle13247 DanaLittle13247 4 years
I completely agree fundraisers are horrible. except at my kids school. the do the basket (gift) action at a school carnival.And the also did a penny war last year at my sons school for a kid in his school with a brain tumor. he was starting chemotherapy so the principal and and two other teacher said (btw.. 2 were females) that if they raised a set amount of money they teachers and principal would shave their heads. The kids absolutely LOVED it. It showed pure support for their school and community. Made me so proud of ALL those kids.
PeggyLemos PeggyLemos 4 years
I never participated in these overpriced, poor quality fundraisers with any of my older children ( I home school now ). If they want to have raffles or something where 100% of the profits go to the school I would help and donate. I refuse to give anything to these companies that just rip off the schools so they can make big money for themselves. The schools and parents need to wake up. I made a baby quilt and donated it to the school my kids attended at the time. The school made almost as much off it as they did on all of the other things. All because they kept ALL of the profit, not one or two percent. Just send a note to your child's school and tell them you will support anything where they get 100% of the profits but not the others. If you quit supporting it, they will quit holding them. So simple.
WendyShappard WendyShappard 4 years
@Crystal Durm - As a PTO president, I sincerely apologize for poor treatment you received from your PTO. While my daughter was in kindergarten, I too experienced something similar & referred to those as the "Alpha Moms." However, at our current school, we have a wide range of economic statuses within 1 school with the majority being Title 1. While many of our participating moms families do make more money than the majority, you would never know it and I can assure you I do not fall into the "rich people" category living in a trailer park. But 1 thing we do all share is the love for our children & community. We all despise the fundraisers, & I can attest that even the catalogs aren't the easiest to coordinate, but it's the biggest money maker. Other smaller projects never bring as much money. (I wish they did). Although, this year was particularly hard in our community & we are allowed 1 more. I plan on implementing some of everyone's suggestions. Everything we do at our school is completely free for all students. We welcome any parent to attend our meetings. Although, we are rarely taken up on the offer. Most people dislike sitting through the drudgery.
KatrinaFroats KatrinaFroats 4 years
As a former PTA president I'm really bothered by some of the comments. I come from a very poor district and if it wasn't for the fundraisers in our school our children would not get to go on field trips, have assemblies (such as the anti bullying one being put together now), literacy programs, family events, supplies for teachers and students. We rely heavily on our donations. We do not bring them into the gym for some big assembly, we NEVER ever tell our students to go door to door, nor do we expect every child to sell. It is extremely hard to come up with ideas for fundraising. We would love to get away from the typical catalog fundraising but in a community where parents typically don't like to come back to school for any sort of extra event is hard. I did like some of the ideas such as the recipee book. I will certainly take these ideas back to my PTA members. I would like to see the people who are complaining about the fundraisers go to one of your parent group meetings you would be surprised at how much they really do for your school. These people are volunteers and some of us work full time and to hear people complain that don't acually go to a meeting or help come up with other ideas really upsets me. We always welcome new people, we love it the more people there are the more ideas which could lead to change.
KatieDaniel KatieDaniel 4 years
I couldn't agree more! We have to pay for field trips (if they even get to go on one, which is VERY rare), so where is this money going? I think I'm gonna join you on this!
SandyBurger SandyBurger 4 years
Hi Amanda...you are so right! I have often wondered about what exactly it is that we do when we encourage our kids to go door to door selling wrapping paper or boxes of chocolate or even cookies. I much prefer the kind of fundraisers that involve kids working and donating their talents and time. Car wash, Talent Show, etc. Thank you for your thoughtful post.
ADRIENNEW44474 ADRIENNEW44474 4 years
I can't walk out of a grocery store without passing 4-6 kids fundraising outside, usually selling candies of sorts. But as of lately I have come to find out that not all the fundraising is LEGITIMATE. I think to take the ease of people's mind there needs to be more creativity when it comes to fund raising events. There should be more Arts & Craft Faires in the schools, with products produced by the students. School can also have Flea Markets and Rummage Sales which would cost the school nothing other that parents agreeing to Get rid of itmes they are no longer using. You know the old saying " One mans garbage is another mans TREASURE". Plus it sends an early message to students about being GREEN and Recycling.
JenniferMcClure JenniferMcClure 4 years
Our school does a variety of fundraisers throughout the year to support the kids. We do a walk-a-thon and a carnival for PTA. If you want to know what the PTA uses the funds for (assuming that is who is sponsoring the fundraiser), you need to go to the meetings! Our PTA does great things for our school and our teachers and classrooms. I also have a 6th grader this year who is trying to raise money for a 3 day field trip at the end of the year since this is her last year in elementary school. We are doing a variety of fundraisers for that including community nights at local restaurants, bakes sales, candygrams for Halloween and Valentine's Day, a traditional catalog type fundraiser, carnival night at Halloween, a social supper, collecting aluminum cans, and maybe even a schoolyard sale if it is necessary. Plus we do a fun practical joke fundraiser where people can pay to "flock" their friends and neighbors with pink flamingos - we have actual yard ornaments and this year we are adding paper flamingos so we can "flock" kids, teachers, and classrooms at the school.
EmilyStoweEvans EmilyStoweEvans 4 years
Our only fundraiser now is called the Dragon Dash--kids (parents) get sponsors to donate a set amount and the kids see how many laps they can run in a set amount of time. No doodads or useless objects to force on people and the kids get some extra exercise. Parents can go to the dash and cheer their kids on.
KarlaReese KarlaReese 4 years
The things that annoy me are the cookie dough and other unhealthy product promotions! REALLY??? Pushing kids to sell the very products that are causing millions of Americans to suffer from obesity related diseases is unethical. I think the spaghetti dinners are fine. Dances are GREAT! And recently, we figured out a way for the PTSA to sell HEALTH RELATED products. As many times as I have volunteered for committees to raise money for different projects, it is good to see other options presented by OTHER people. Thank you for this article!
Pamela72540 Pamela72540 4 years
I LOVE the recipe book idea! When I was a kid, we did this for church, and I raised a TON of money to go to camp, missions trips, and other fun activities. I even sold them door-to-door for "donations" instead of a specific price, which actually gained me more money. Having "themed" recipe books is another great idea. just "italian" or "mexican" or "desserts" gives a bigger variety in recipe books. LOVE THIS IDEA!!
anonymousanonymous anonymousanonymous 4 years
When I was in school, my mother did the same thing Megan's mother did, she threw out the catalog and sent me back to school with that stupid cardboard suitcase the school expected us to sell items from. I felt left out and embarrassed but she was making a statement. She told me she didn't feel safe sending me door to door and she was right! She also didn't want to pester people into buying things they didn't need or want. I now understand where she was coming from and agree with those mothers and fathers who refuse to sell junk for their kids' schools. They need to be more creative. My kids' school also did something just like the Trumbauersville school did with a walkathon. The walkathon is a great idea if the parents can find people who can afford to donate money. Again, I felt funny asking people to donate money so I only asked 2 people. Everyone we know is feeling the affects of this horrible economy. 'Tis the season for craft shows so I can't understand why our school can't ask people to donate and help out to raise money. This could draw in people from the neighboring community. I for one would love to bake, make homemade soup or help out in the kitchen instead of asking friends and family for money they don't have.
PatRichards PatRichards 4 years
A parent always seems to wind up selling or when the child themselves go they have to depend on neighbors or relatives or people their parents work with. Like you I think the child could be involved in the car washes or bake sale. Something they actually appreciate doing. The prices on what the kids sell are terribly expensive and a parent may as well just donate some money verses the prizes a child gets for doing the work requires such a high amt for them to get to go on a limo ride or just some small prize. Times have changed but its something every week ,go to a restaurant and the school gets money or skating rink but who really gets the benefits is just a small amt to the school. What is the percentage. Its to much to often. Every few weeks
anonymousanonymous anonymousanonymous 4 years
@Diane Harrison: well put!!! I couldn't agree with you more. You're right about these people who come up with these fundraisers - they don't understand that many people just don't have the money for the overpriced junk they want to sell. Many people agree with you; I'm certain of that but few have the courage to speak up to say "No!" to these ridiculous fundraisers.
DianeHarrison13468 DianeHarrison13468 4 years
We are having a really hard time with this right now. We have three kids, but only one school age (1st grade) and they are doing a fundraiser selling overpriced cookie dough. My husband's office has banned fundraising for schools because all the people with kids have their own money to raise and all the ones without felt harassed constantly for money. I am a stay at home mom, so obviously no coworkers to hit up and all the grandparents are on limited, retirement incomes. They probably would buy the stuff, but I don't ask because I know they have very little extra. Since I stay at home with the kids and my husband lost his good paying job a year ago, we are on a SUPER tight budget - so I guess it's silly to point out we don't need cookie dough when we need real life stuff- like diapers and milk. I won't let my little boy go door-to-door because we live in the country and don't know the few people that live near us. None of these things would be a problem- I literally just trashed the brochure and forms when he brought them home - except they had a spokesman come talk to then and show them they could win an iPad or wii or some other big prizes. And now my son's heart is broken. He.literally.sobbed when I tried to explain our situation. Honest to god- I hate those people- they make it sounds like its just asking a few of your grandparents and mommy and daddy's friends. He doesn't get that none of us have it to give!!!!! We are trying to put freaking food on our table and grandparents are trying to afford medicine and my baby is crying because of some asshole, rich, psycho-competitive pto mother felt like YAY(!) -lets raise money for new volleyballs. Sorry- had to vent.
KimDarrowDebold KimDarrowDebold 4 years
I somewhat agree with the writer on this email. With 2 children in school, one in 2nd grade, and 1 in 5th, they both receive the same fundraisers. You try to be fair and sell the same amounts for both, but, it is hard when people feel obligated to buy from both. Last year, each time they received a find raiser package, I sent it right back. They are in different schools this year, so, being that my 5th grader is in a new school, I thought I would let her do one. However, the PTA at my 2nd graders school is the worst PTA around. They do not ever, and I mean, ever, respond to phone calls or emails about any inquiry you may have. For that reason alone, I do not fell as though I will ever support any fundraiser they support. My 5th graders school, actually takes the monies earned from their fundraisers and place it in an account, from 5th through 8th grade, and at the end of 8th grade, plan a huge field trip for the class to take. Last year, the 8th graders actually went to Washington DC. While some out of pocket expense for the parent, almost half was covered by the fundraising. While the other childs school does not do anything special at all.
CoMMember13628830101334 CoMMember13628830101334 4 years
Our elementary school in Trumbauersville, PA does a great fundraiser every year. They have a "Fall Fitness" Fundraiser where family and friends send in donations directly to the school. In turn the kids get a day where they get to go outside and play all sorts games. The idea is to get the kids up and moving. The school sends home packets of letters & envelopes for the children to address with the names & addresses of their family and friends and return to the school. The school then sends out all of the letters along with little paper sneakers and an envelope addressed to the school with a stamp on it. People that receive the letter can make donations, decorate the paper sneaker & return everything directly to the school. The sneakers get displayed in school for all the kids to see. They love it. This is the only fundraiser that the school does now. No one minds donating because 100%of the proceeds go directly to the school. You wouldn't believe the amount of cool learning tools that the school was able purchase to benefit the kids. They've purchased laptops, smart boards, overhead computer projectors, etc. It is the best idea ever!
MeganGosiak MeganGosiak 4 years
When I was in 5th grade, my mom decided that the 6th (yes, SIXTH) fundraiser in 4 months was ENOUGH and told me not to sell them (it was ice scrapers, we lived in Minnesota). When I returned the scrapers to my teacher the next day, I was berated in front of the whole class. I was PUBLICLY humiliated because my mom had had enough. Needless to say she called the teacher AND principal and had it out with them about how she isn't raising an AMWAY worker and that they needed to start really thinking about proper ways to fundraise without making the kids have to sell any little thing that walks through the doors. One year, I was determined to get one of the better prizes. I sold door to door for HOURS and STILL came up short. Know why? Because EVERY OTHER KID in school had already sold to those people. I was actually excluded because of my lack of sales. My parents refused to bring the packets to work because their coworkers would always bring in stuff and they would never buy, they didn't want to be hypocrites and it was MY fundraiser. We were never told in school what the money was going to go for, we were only told about the "TOTALLY AWESOME, Simply AMAZING PRIZES!!" and that we needed to sell this or that minimum. No one gives a percentage of sales that actually goes to the schools. Looking back, I'm proud of my mom for having the same feelings as this author. My mom wanted the fundraising to be something other than selling overpriced crap to the whole neighborhood and the family. She was more than willing to help out, but the school rarely came up with ideas. I remember my mom took me to every fundraising event they threw. Penny carnivals (simple little prizes, but they charged admission and all the games cost a penny, guaranteed win), family fun night (admission, concessions, and TONS of fun), car washes, dinners, etc. And we always had a blast. Even the food shelf fundraisers went off very well. Now my mom has an almost 13 year old and is always helping her fundraise, but she also helps with the more creative things (the school district they were in was so broke, they charged the kids a quarter every time they rode the bus!) like box tops, cambell's labels, and they even had one for plastic bags. My mom has no problem with those kinds of things because its more than just buying crap that you will just throw away or never use. How about an aluminum can drive? All the kids have their families save up their aluminum cans and bring them in periodically and then a volunteer family takes the tabs off (donating those to Ronald McDonald house) and then take the cans to the recycling center, giving the money back to the school. Teaches about recycling, helping others in need, and working selflessly to help your school. Holy crap, I think that made sense. I'm very thankful to the author of this article. Not only did she point out the flaws with the system that "works" (if it works, why do they do it so many times a year?!?), but she pointed out different ideas to do that could have better turn out, better pride, and doesn't result in hurt feelings because this kid couldn't sell because their family is poor and can't afford overpriced crap. And don't tell me that these fundraisers don't pit kids against each other. We used to have to race to the neighbor's houses to make sure we were there first because anyone who came after got rejected. The last kid to get to each house was almost always the one that got the dinkiest prize that they really didn't want. Imagine the money saved if those extravagent prizes were done away with! Why does it always have to be such cheap garbage? A few feet of wrapping paper for $8, a tin of popcorn for $20, a tiny candle for $15, a plastic statue for $30, and cheap glasses for $50. Yea, in this day and age ANYONE can afford that, right? WRONG! Have you looked at the economy? So many out of work, on the verge of losing their house and car, can barely afford to put food on the table, and can't afford new clothes at the beginning of the school year. I'm sure they have an extra $20 to spare, not like eating is a necessary thing, right? The kits we were sent home with (the catalogs filled with garbage, magazine sales {90% of the people who bought from me never got their magazines}, cheap things like ice scrapers and key chains, etc) always had a minimum you had to sell. To the people saying its harmless, take a look again. There are better ways to raise the money. There are parents more than willing to help organize things and give more time than anything. Its just a matter of getting off your lazy butt and thinking "we did this last year and it kinda worked, let's do it again and hope for better". Think outside the box and ask for parental input. I bet more parents than you think are sick and tired of those packets coming home, but you don't hear them because you aren't listening.
anonymousanonymous anonymousanonymous 4 years
Money is tight and we are scrounging to send our kids to Catholic school. We are constantly getting e-mails or envelopes home for fundraising. I just write a check and forget about it but I must say that I am sick of it. We don't ask anyone to help because most people we know are struggling as well and many have kids to do fundraisers for as well. I have looked at the catalogs and bought a few things and I must say that 99% of it is junk!! I would love to see the pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners, car washes, etc. instead of the worthless garbage that gets tossed into the trash. We are teaching our kids that buying worthless junk is okay. I hate the crappy pizza kits, stale popcorn, 2nd rate coffee, and overpriced cakes that people feel obliged to buy. We need to come up with more creative ways to raise money. As for the person who stated, buying hot chocolate for the crossing guard, why not ask parents to have their kids bring them a cup once a week? As for field trips, why can't we ask parents/guardians to pay more for their children to have a field trip. If someone is going to argue about those who can't afford it, then they need to put their priorities in order and not pay for the extras they so enjoy like the internet access on their smart phones or the other perks they refuse to give up? I have seen so many parents who cry about their lack of funds to pay for their kids extra curricular activities but they still have enough for the expensive cell phone and the plan that goes with it and the satellite dish with all of the premier channels.
SusieTaylor SusieTaylor 4 years
I agree. I can;t contribute to junk made in China regardless of who the $ is going to ...it simply teachs kids that selling junk earns money...and we wonder why we go to Target and buy stuff we know full well will NEVER last...why..because we were taught that....I was told my company will never make it because we build product that work nd last for years. I was told NO ONE wants that...I was OTLD go to CHINA...build a watered down version and we will buy millions from you...I am taking the road less traveled...PLUS I was PTSA president of my school and in order to get the ice-cream sales removed from my school...which we happening on a daily basis and BLUE BUNNY gave us such a "great Deal;" due to the Branding opportunity this was...I had to have my board vote on it..IT NEVER HAPPENED! The entire board ( minus me) was addicted to the ice-cream and so in the end I left the school over just this issue...WE are not taking responsibility for our actions...I strive to LIVE a passionately and ethical LIFE...so that my kids with yearn to do the same. Susie K Taylor
JenniferMitchell69633 JenniferMitchell69633 4 years
As a co-chair of a PTO, I can tell you that there are many reasons we can't earmark all fundraiser money. Even though we wish we could. Most of the time the money is used for all of the little things that go on in our schools all year. For example, our PTO has used the money to buy seeds for the children to do planting for a science class, special snacks for the kids to make, "Bingo for Books", family suppers, school dances, our end of the year barbecue, and many of the other things the teachers may need throughout the year. If we didn't fundraise, all these wonderful enrichment opportunities would not be able to happen. So hopefully, when you receive your next fundraising flier from your schools, you will think about what your child's school experience might be like without them.
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