School Fundraising Programs Need a Complete Overhaul

piggy bank ABCs blocks fundraiser

"Dear parent, due to increasing budget gaps, we seek additional funding to support your child's educational enrichment programs. This year, instead of asking your children -- and thus, yourself -- to hawk overpriced wrapping paper, high-calorie snack foods, and unwanted knickknacks, we're simply asking you to donate what you're able. Attached is a comprehensive spreadsheet detailing this year's budget, our funding goals, and how we'll use the money."

This is the sort of letter I'd love to see from my kids' school ... but I doubt I ever will. Instead, my kids will come home with catalogues of garbage that no one needs, which we're supposed to foist upon our friends, family, and neighbors. Not only that, they'll be teased with "prize incentives" they can win if only they sell enough of this crap.

I. Hate. School. Fundraising.

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I understand that the reason so many schools do those catalogue fundraisers is because they work. PTOs don't always have the volunteer staff to run more complicated community event fundraisers, and most parents may find buying a candle easier than collecting pledges or helping pitch local businesses for donations. I get that, and I completely get the rock/hard place PTOs and schools are in with regards to dwindling budgets and the economic hardships of school families who can't necessarily afford to donate at the start of the year.

But just because it works doesn't mean it's efficient. When our kids are asked to peddle products, the schools aren't getting the full amount of each sale. Let's say they sell some cookie dough for $8 -- what does the school get, maybe $4? Why not just give $8 directly to the school, then?

Well, probably because it's easier to tempt friends and family with the promise of cookies. And maybe over the years schools have found that parents are simply more likely to buy a "treat" rather than write yet another check after ponying up for school supplies, classroom funds, and field trip contributions.

Okay, so it may be a necessary evil, but at least I can donate and opt my kids out of fundraising altogether, right? Except every year they're subjected to a creepy school-wide presentation hyping the various prizes they can win if only they sell enough gourmet popcorn/coupon books/whatever-the-hell-it-is. Then they come home all starry-eyed over the possibility of getting their very own iPad. Come on, schools. Really?

What if instead of selling shoddy merchandise, fundraisers came in the form of a list of things the school actually needs? Sort of like the Heifer International catalogue? It doesn't have to specifically call out every individual item, but maybe people would be willing to purchase a "field trip package for 30 third-graders to visit a science center" or "supplies for 10 teachers" or "overhead projectors for 5 classrooms"?

Honestly, I don't have the answers, and I realize that makes my complaining sound pointlessly negative -- but I think more parents do need to complain. Catalogue selling may be tried and true, but it's high time for a different fundraising model to emerge. No one needs more junk food or tchotchkes, and schools should benefit from the entire amount we donate rather than a percentage.

How does your school deal with fundraising? Would you rather donate a dollar amount than be asked to buy products?


Image ©iStock.com/MarkPiovesan

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