Back To School Week: School Fundraising Programs Can Suck It

With kids returning back to school, in only a matter of weeks my own kids will be busting through the front door brandishing school fundraising packets that weight as much as a phone book and yammering about how if they sell $300 worth of products they can be eligible to win a plastic duck. Which will then make them eligible to enter a drawing where they can win a bigger duck. If they win the bigger plastic duck and sell an additional $500 worth of products they can be eligible to possibly win a fourth generation clip on 4GB MP3 player and a pizza party for their class.

Does your school participate in these programs?

Gift wrap,  frozen pizza, coupon books, candles in jars, frozen cookie dough, boxes of chocolates, magazine subscriptions, calendars. You are expected to take your kid door to door and wait in the driveway while they tentatively knock on doors of neighbors you never speak to unless your dog gets out and pees all over their annual garden and you need to apologize because you get caught. So your kid rings the doorbell, order form in hand, and if the neighbors actually do answer the door you have to coach your kid from 20 feet away because hey, you are teaching your kid to be independent and speak to adults and your kid will never remember why the hell they are ringing the door to begin with because they are too busy thinking about the half can of Pringles chips back home in the kitchen cupboard.

“You need to speak up Honey!”

“Tell them why you are raising money for your school Honey!”

“No, Honey, they don’t need to know you may win an MP3 player. Mrs. Smith is 90 years old and she has no idea what a MP3 player is.”

So usually what happens at this point is the parent brings the school fundraising materials to work so that they can harass their poor co-workers into buying junk or the parents make a Facebook post asking distant relatives to order junk or if you are me, you throw the fundraising materials into the trash and instead write a donation check to your school.

I’m not going to force my kids to be some community theater version of Willy Loman so my school can get 45 percent of the profits off a roll of shitty gift wrap. I totally agree that schools are underfunded. I understand that these programs can help raise money for additional classroom computers or library books and that a lot of schools rely on overpriced magazine sales to buy necessary supplies. But what I don’t understand is why making our kids go door to door selling blocks of frozen cookie dough is any better than just writing a check. I will always answer the door to these pint size Avon ladies. I’ll buy the Girl Scout cookies and the Tahitian vanilla coconut green tea candle in a jar and the overpriced subscriptions to Vogue magazine, but there is no way in hell I’m falling into the trap of shilling products to raise money for my school. They can have a check, my kids don’t have to waste valuable homework or playtime going door-to-door, and my husband’s co-workers don’t have to be annoyed by him.

My kids can deal with being the only ones not participating in school fundraising. I’ll just buy them a plastic duck at the dollar store.

(Photo: Auremar/ Shutterstock)

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  • C.J.

    Last year my kids school decided not to sell anything because everyone is tired of being bombarded with stuff to sell from school and extra curricular activities. Instead the kids got pledges to go around and clean up litter around our town. The local winery even donated the use of their trolley to bus the kids around so the whole town was cleaned up. To meet the fundraising goal it averaged $20 for each child to collect in pledges instead of hundreds of dollars in sales. I was thrilled with this idea and hope they do it again this year.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      That is the coolest idea ever. Love it. I should steal this and tell our school

  • LiteBrite

    Well, my son is just entering 4k this year, so I haven’t had the “pleasure” of tons of fundraisers. His daycare will occasionally hold fundraisers, but frankly we suck at those. I just don’t have time to walk/drive around my neighborhood after work, begging people to sign up, and I absolutely refuse to harass my co-workers. Ditto for my family. There are so many school-age kids that my siblings would have to take out a small loan in order to buy all the stuff these kids are told to sell.

    If the district needs money, we’re happy to donate. (I love C.J.’s idea too.)

  • The Real Kelly

    Our elementary school’s PTO moved to direct donations a few years ago. We did a pretty heavy push on asking for a one-time donation from families with the promise that there wouldn’t be any other fundraising throughout the year. The beauty is that the school keeps 100% of the money, it’s tax-deductible, and, perhaps best of all, no overpriced crap to sell (and buy!). We came out pretty much even.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      LOVE this idea too

    • Andrea

      My school is doing this for the 1st time this year and I ALL OVER IT. I hope they get the money they need, because otherwise we are back to the fundraisers. And if they do that, I’m back to boycotting it. I won’t turn my children into peddlers. I will write a check AFTER the fundraiser is over.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      This is a perfect example of why more schools should do things like this and the litter suggestion above, parents are MORE than happy to donate we just wither at the idea of selling stupid popcorn door to door.

    • Amy Hauck Nelson

      I wish that was the case with every school. I’ve been on the school’s PTO for 8 years now, and it is awful. We are buying everything from math software and reading books to janitorial equipment and risers. The money we pull in is absolutely essential. We also do a number of family events that the kids adore, and that help build a sense of community. Nearly every family in the school attends each and every one.

      So – you would think we’d have tons of volunteers and donations, right? Super important, super fun. Nope. No one wants to donate, and we end up with a core group of about 5 volunteers who plan and carry out pretty much everything. We’ve tried offering free daycare for meetings, we’ve offered cookies for bribes, we’ve downright begged – no one wants to volunteer (cause they’re all “so busy”, like we aren’t), and when we offer donation as an alternate, we generally get 1-2 small donations. That won’t cut it when we’re purchasing laptops and active boards.

      But – when we had the dumb fundraising company come in with the ducks and the promise of mp3 players, the kids got excited, even when the parents did not, and they made the selling happen. It is a sad state of affairs when bribing the kids is the only way, but we have tried every other alternative. Everyone just assumes someone else will handle it.

  • bb

    I ended up just buying the minimum so my daughter could attend some sort of stupid assembly for those who sold. I don’t like it. I don’t think kids should have to ask strangers, inconvenience coworkers etc or not get to go to some assembly.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      Oh that’s the worst. I know from my kids they always feel left out because they can’t go to the special assembly. I think when we make a donation the school should count that towards the purchase, even if we don’t want the stupid box of chocolates.

  • Naomi1988

    I once was told that I couldn’t join the swim team until I sold $50 worth of lollipops. When my mom heard about it, she wrote me a $50 check and told me to tell the coach that she should focus on my swimming and not my salesmanship. The coach was PISSED, but I got to swim anyway!

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      I love your mom! haha, good for her!

  • cat

    Those fundraisers suck, yet they work and the coffers are filled (which everyone seems to agree is necessary). Some of the ideas below involve a LOT more work on the part of a couple of the “planner” parents- which is likely why the “planner” parents choose to go with the annoying order forms. (Although direct donation sounds great and easy!) And then, on top of that, the whole “let’s get all crazy and get you pumped up about a plastic duck and special party!” thing works, too. It gets the kids mobilized.

    PS- The last 7-8 years, I’ve seen tthe parent groups/fundraisers say NOT to let your kid go door to door.

  • http://www.facebook.com/katie.dehesa DeHesa Katie

    LMAO!! i hear ya loud n clear! i HATE the way they push the “limo lunch” crap on my easily-manipulated 9 yr old-desperately-trying-to-get-bff’s- daughter. i hate that they are drilled with NO NEIGHBORHOOD asking- only family and close friends that visit you. ummm, friends don visit us.. because i run a friggin ZOO!! i am so so so sick of the fundraising. they even make a sku # for straight donations now… #0009 :)

  • SCErRN

    Our school asks for donation in lieu of selling stuff. Tax deductible and no crap around the house!

  • MommyK

    I completely agree with your approach to school fundraising. My sister and brother-in-law in this past year have had to cook and sell burgers, etc. for a concession for hours at a football game (while she was 8 months pregnant), along with selling magazines, gift cards, and flowers during the year, and this was just for preschool! When I’m at work, people are constantly asking me to buy their kid’s chocolate almonds (okay, I buy those because they are delicious!), cookie dough, pizzas, coupon books, and even sausages (gross.) for fundraisers. I think all schools should at least make a direct donation an option for parents who don’t want to waste their time pressuring their peers to purchase crap.

    I remember having to sell chocolate almonds for band every year. My parents didn’t want me going door-to-door to strangers’ houses – stranger danger!! – and didn’t want to harass their friends and coworkers to buy them, so they just bought the mandatory case of 25 boxes, and ended up just giving most of them away.

  • person

    You think that is bad? My school actually forced me to call a business to try and get a donation. If I didn’t, I would get an F- in a homework grade!

  • Buynance Mail

    As you all know, school fundraising is a mess. To an extent kids are
    being used. We’ve decided to do something about that. We started with
    the restaurant fundraising model. It has it’s pluses, a) everyone eats
    b) you’re paying standard menu price – no expensive markup c) the money
    stays in the local community. But the problems are that a) restaurant
    fundraisers are often on off situations where you pour your heart and
    soul into one night and pray for the best b) no matter how hard you try,
    you’re simply not able to get EVERY parent to participate.

    So
    meet grubraise. We make it easy to feed your family while supporting
    school at the same time. The infographic on our site explains it all.
    You just order food during give back hours, and your childs’ school
    receives credit. Here are two standout features:

    1. It’s
    portable. Let’s say your family resides in California and dad has a
    business trip in New York. When dad (and perhaps his business partners)
    order from grubraise restaurants in New York, your child’s school in
    California receives the credit.

    2. It’s perpetual. It never ends. As long as a restaurant stays open, you can order in support of your child’s school.

    Again,
    we’re excited to help get rid of this whole notion of these
    ridiculously priced products and keep more money in local communities.
    We know that based on all the averages; (family size, school size,
    ticket size, etc), if each parents orders just 6 additional times per
    year, their school will raise an additional $15,000. That does not
    include Grandma in Texas, or Aunt Cathy in Florida, or the neighbor next
    door, or mom or dad’s co-workers, Facebook friends, etc.

    We’d love to hear your feedback. Our number is on the site! Feel free to reach out!

  • http://twitter.com/marziemallow mars opulencia-ramos

    I think going for a popcorn fundraising and watching their favorite movie. Afterwards, perhaps the adults can also have their fair share of watching their preferred film.

  • Alexandra

    I completely agree and sympathize with your frustration! You might be interested to know about a site called Piggybackr. It is an online fundraising platform that motivates and teaches kids to fundraise and helps them learn valuable technical and communication skills. Door to door is painstakingly inefficient. Take a look – http://www.piggybackr.com

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  • SarahJesness

    I hated those stupid fundraisers when I was in school. My parents might’ve bought one or two things, but that was it. You had to sell obscene amounts of items to get any of the prizes (lol at the duck thing) and the purchased items took forever to come in, after which you were supposed to deliver the stupid things, and a lot of the stuff was low quality. I think the only fundraiser that had it good was with the chocolate bars sold by the ROTC. They were like, two bucks, and pretty good, and the students selling them actually carried the boxes of the candies around, selling it directly, none of that “place an order” bullshit. They were always able to sell a lot after lunch time, especially after the school had these new health rules and couldn’t sell “junk food” in the cafeteria or vending machines, and this organization that would sell lunch outside every Friday got similar restrictions. (I’m guessing the health rules were what stopped them from selling their awesome fries, and I KNOW it’s why they stopped selling candy and soda, but the school cafeteria still had a bunch of nasty greasy food, including fries, so I dunno)

    What I’m wondering is, what do the schools really expect? When I was a kid, the only students who sold more than 10 items were the ones with large, usually wealthy families, and the ones who had parents who were the bosses wherever they worked, so they could sell that junk without risk of shame or getting in trouble. I’m not sure any of them were allowed to go door-to-door.

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  • ?

    I agree; if parents donate directly, the fundraiser companies won’t get any percentage of the money. This year, my school did a fundraiser selling bags made from recycled materials. To put the price in perspective, a pencil case (one you could get at target for $3) costed $10 dollars, and the designs are super lame! They wanted everyone to sell 12 items (at least $120 of merchandise), but nobody I asked wanted to buy one! They can’t expect us to sell this shit just because they can’t sell it themselves!