Fundraising for fun and insanity

By Mir
August 22, 2007

I realize that not everyone is back to school yet, but my kids have been back for a couple of weeks, now, and the dreaded Fundraising Plague has already descended. Yes, the kids came home with glossy pamphlets of overpriced junk, all in the name of raising money for school.

I want the school to have money. I want the school to have buckets of money! The more the better! But I don’t want to buy this stuff, or try to sell it to others. It offends every sensible (read: frugal) bone in my body.

Instead, I try to keep the teachers in mind when I’m out snagging bargains; I donate supplies throughout the year and hope that’s equivalent, somehow, to hawking stationery.

Does anyone have any other creative ways of dealing with this? I’m open to suggestions, and I know you pretty, pretty people are not spending $8 on a roll of wrapping paper.


  1. I donate my time, I donate supplies, and I offer to do interesting projects with my son’s class.

    Then I self-righteously stuff the glossy magazines into the recycling bin.

  2. We refuse to buy or have my son sell that stuff. What’s sad is that this MUST work, or else, why would they continue to do it?

    We’ve given our teacher’s gift cards to wal-mart, target, and the local school supply store and these always seem appreciated.

    The other thing that REALLY bothers me about the whole “selling” things is that they take kids out of class to have them go to a sales pitch thing and get thing all pumped up about selling this junk… ALWAYS the first day after this I have about 6 kids knocking on my door… then they all give up the following days… Of all the things kids need to learn in school, they are being taken out for WHAT?

  3. I have four children and three of them are school age. They all come through the door wanting to sell the 10 items so they can go to the “Party” at the end of school. Which consits of a moonwalk and a slide thing. I try to tell them that the stuff is very expensive and that we as a family are not going to buy it. They also want to sell the 50 things to get the MP3 player!!! They are disapointed but I tell them I will take you to the Dollar Store and let you spend a couple of dollars.

    When kids come knocking on my door selling to us I tell them that I have 3 children with the same fundraiser.

    It really gets crazy. Not only do they do a Fall one but in the Spring they have one too!!


  4. I remember back in the day when I was in grade school, we used to sell those Gold C Coupon Books (the Entertainment book equivalent). We used to sell a ton of those. But wrapping paper and huge tins of nasty cookies? What a waste of time, money, and glossy paper.

    I wonder who selects the fundraiser ideas – the principal, the school board, or the PTO?

  5. I only have a toddler so I may feel differently about this in a five years, but I buy at least one thing from the kids in the neighborhood that sell. Yes, I have a closet full of wrapping paper. But… a brother and sister came to my house IN THE RAIN to sell me some — and they were going to split the rolls between them so that the little bro could have some of the glory. How could I not buy from them? I know it’s overpriced, but I figure if I had to buy the stuff at Target I’d end up spending $80 there on other things, since that store is demon rum to me. I also buy girl scout cookies but our rule is no more than 2 boxes from any one seller, and I have to remind my husband YES to Samoas, NO to Tagalongs.

    We have a zillion kids in our neighborhood and since I had to sell tulip bulbs for a choir fundraiser I have nothing but sympathy. I’m a total scrooge when it comes to the popcorn stuff, though (shudder)….

  6. I donate cash. I’d rather take the write off than buy junk.
    I also volunteer and send supplies whenever they ask for them.

  7. If it’s possible to get involved in the decision process re: the types of fundraising your school does, here’s a suggestion: Instead of making a party/celebration the end of the fundraising push, set it up as the means. A school that I worked in held a “Chinese auction”. We found local vendors, artists, and business people who were willing to donate something (out of big love for our school, some positive PR, and perhaps free advertising…), and then we hosted an evening in which student dancers performed, a couple of community celebrities came out, etc…then folks bought chances ($1 per ticket) that they could put in the bucket of the item they wanted to win. We raised a LOT of money.

  8. It really bothers me that they pull the children out of class and pump them up to make sales. My kids want all the prizes, too. I hate seeing those things come home. It only leads to disappointment. And I wonder what message the schools are sending our kids with these sales rallies. Sometimes we will buy one or two things to use as gifts. Usually we don’t. I will however buy the Gold-C and Entertainment books because those are worth the money. I hate hitting up neighbors and co-workers. I do volunteer time, baked goods, and supplies throughout the year. So I don’t feel too guilty about the wrapping paper. It’s probably coated with lead anyway…

  9. This may not be too useful to your problem, but if they’re selling the Christmas wrapping paper that’s silver with Santas and penguins on it, I might be talked into helping out 😉

    Loved that paper! But sad that the kid who was selling it was having to sell stuff so they could get football uniforms for the elementary school. Isn’t that why I gladly pay my taxes? So the kids can have those things? sigh.

  10. I suppose I got off easy in my first year of school-motherhood; my son’s school ran two fundraising brunches during the year, one for boys and one for girls, so I spent $5 on tickets and sent my dad in with my son. Only one set of the neighborhood kids has knocked on my door to sell me wrapping paper, and I bought the least expensive thing in the catalog, a bunch of colored ribbon. I had to, the dad was leaning against my stoop behind the kid… “you’ll be doing this soon enough,” he said, with a hint of menace in his voice. I caught his meaning: buy from us, we’ll buy from you.

    I’d rather just send in a check, honestly. I might be convinced to buy and sell if there’s candy involved — somehow a $1 or $2 candy bar is easier to swallow (ha!) than $8 wrapping paper. Candy bars almost never go on 90% off clearance at Party City, you know.

  11. I think the next time I get a form to sell things, I will just send it back with a cash donation. The school probably gets more out of a $50 check made out to them than if you sold 100 pieces of crap, after they paid for the items and took the time to process and sort the orders. As for the prizes, give your child a list of chores and tell them you will buy them the prize of their choice if they complete them.

  12. I’m past this (youngest homeschooled through high school and is off to college tomorrow), but I hated it when it was going on. Twice a year those catalogs came home. The school makes 50% or less on that stuff, so I would just make a donation that they received 100% of.

    We had special circumstances in our schools that made donating supplies to the classrooms somewhat less effective than general fundraising. With a large student population below the poverty line, 90+% of the funds raised came from the small magnet population that was bussed in. Those funds were spread equitably throughout the school, rather than only in those classrooms that were able to raise funds. Donated supplies might not find their way into classrooms where they were most needed.

    Which brings me to a gripe about the ever increasing expense of required supplies. Knowing that 75% of the students couldn’t or wouldn’t bring anything, and the underpaid teachers could not be expected to supply most of their overcrowded classrooms, the concept of ‘joint supplies’ was created. Parents were ‘required’ to send in enough supplies for four students, with everything going into a pile for everyone to use. Now, I can afford to equip my children, and maybe one additional child, but even buying on on sale my back to school supplies ended up topping $100 per child in elementary school — seven years ago!

    Now don’t get me started on the mind-blowing costs for college books…

  13. We always buy extra supplies and send them along at the beginning of the year. Then in Mid to late September (when all the stores are clearancing all the leftover supplies) we stock up for next year, and again buy extra to give to their teachers. Especially the stuff the teachers need…posterboard, tape, dry erase and permanent markers, folders, etc. Two years ago my Daughter’s school needed to raise money for new playground equipment. They decided to do a spare change drive (we are lucky to have a Principal who doesn’t believe in sending kids door to door). Throughout the year the kids brought in their families spare change. It was a great success. I would much rather do that throughout the year than spend excess $$$ on stuff I don’t want.

  14. thankfully our district does not send elementary and middle school kids out to sell, and only the highschool sports teams sell door to door…and its only those discount cards (so it’s a $15 donation, and if i ever remember i bought the card, i can get some decent discounts hee)

  15. I get so angry with the motivational speeches they give the kids. My son comes home all excited about the “great prizes!!” I HATE IT. HATE IT. ARRRGGGGG, I hate it! I have to explain again and again that we neither buy nor sell overpriced crap, and then I’m the bad guy.

    What I do if the school pushes is I ask how much money they would get out of the sale of, say, a roll of wrapping paper. Then I donate that amount of money directly to the school in cash. I don’t see why I have to spend 3x to give x to the school. Thus the hate.

  16. I donate my time — upwards of 500 hours per year — and we make a donation to the school’s Annual Fund. As a freelance illustrator, I’m tapped for every artistic thing imaginable at every grade level, plus I sign up to work at the school when and where needed, so I feel no qualms whatsoever when I toss out those glossy brochures.

  17. My kids go to a parochial school, and we pay tuition. Still, over $22,000 of our school’s annual operating budget comes from these fundraisers. A few years ago, the school started offering a buyout option, letting families write one check for $150 instead of participating in three different fundraisers. It has been a popular option, and the bonus is that if I write a check but the family down the street does not, they have more potential customers in the neighborhood to hit up– er… I mean SELL TO.

    Many families choose the buyout, but many like the option of not having to pay more out of pocket, and some families even go way above and beyond the $150 expected profit, which just puts more money into the school budget. Win-win for everyone.

  18. Count me in on those who hate, detest, loathe these sales. I have SIX in school. They all come home because they want the cool prize (that I then show them in the DOLLAR STORE) This is my biggest gripe, more than overpriced crap, is whipping the kids up into a frenzy that results in tears when we don’t sell $3000 worth of junk so they can get a $10 radio.

    I would much rather give the individual teachers a card to a supply store, Wal-Mart..where ever than to pay $16 for a roll of paper.

    Lets look at that $16…how much actually goes into your child’s class? Not much. Give the $16 to the individual teacher, then I know it is used in my child’s classroom.

  19. Mine went to parochial school for elementary, and are now in a public middle and high school. There are fundraisers at both types of schools. I used to actively participate in the fundraisers, but now I do what many of your readers suggest – donate $$ or gift cards. It’s easier on me and the kids.

  20. I don’t have school-aged kids yet, but when they come to my door:

    If it’s girl scout cookies or boy scout popcorn, or the candy bars, I buy one thing, because dang those really are tasty high-quality products.

    If it’s wrapping paper and tins of chocolate turtle candy and such, I turn them down but offer to donate $5 to their school. Most kids get confused and don’t accept the offer– they’ve been trained to sell the crap, not to accept donations. Occasionally a mom or dad will help them accept it. I guess occasionally the $5 may end up in a kid’s pocket instead of at the school, but I’m willing to take the chance over giving them money for junk I don’t want.

  21. I’ve sat in on many pitch meetings for those awful fund-raisers. I’m happy to say that my voice of reason has killed a few very mis-guided fund-raising ideas.

    The math on the profit is usually 50% — the school gets half of the sales price (at least where I come from). Knowing that figure has helped me make decisions in the past. For example, the elementary school does pictures in the fall and then again in the spring, and the school gets nearly half of the spring picture price, so that convinces me to buy the extra pictures. If my kids are selling something I am generally not interested in, I’ll mail in a check for an amount that makes me comfortable.

    You can also ask what the money is FOR: the fundraiser could be for the general school fund or a specific project, for the PTA or PTO, or (in a high school) for a team or a club. In our area, each school is limited to one of each. Knowing that helps me decide what to do, too.

  22. Luckily our school’s PTA only does one fundraiser (but it’s the gift wrap one *sigh*) and has an opt out for $50. The bad part is that it goes on at the exact same time as the Girl Scouts sell cookies and the Boy Scouts popcorn. Then again I guess it’s all over and I’m fundraiser free for the rest of the year.

  23. I remember walking around the neighborhood selling things. I am not into sales, and I hated it, even as a young child. Nowadays, from what my niece brings home, I notice that they specifically tell the kids to NOT walk around town to sell things, as that might *gasp* be dangerous! (Although my parents always walked with me…of course, I express my dismay on yesterday’s post on the absent parents of some kids today, so…not for now.)

    I just don’t buy. The problem with not selling, which I started not doing when I was older and more assertive, was that at my school, if you didn’t make so much in sales for the school, they kept track of what you were “lacking.” In high school, when prom came around, if you were missing some money (K-12, mind you), you had to pony up the extra missing in cash to the school in order to be able to then BUY your prom ticket.

    Nice, eh? That’s pressure on the kids and I thought it was ridiculous and a bit discriminatory to the kids who weren’t allow or couldn’t sell (we lived in a rural area and you can only hit up family so many times…or none at all, if you’re me and hate to bother people with junk.)

  24. Fundraising just makes the inequity between the haves and the have-nots even worse. I work in a school with a large number of low-income families, and they struggle to keep shoes on their kids, much less buy overpriced junk. We manage to raise money through applying for grants and because several of our middle-class families work for companies that will match contributions and more at times. Meanwhile, I’ll stock up (on my own dime) on pencils and crayons for any kid who needs them.

  25. Oh lord, I just say “Thanks, but no.” I still feel guilty, but I am working on that. The whole peddling-crap-to-support-the-school thing hits me in the same place as the candles/kitchen/scrapbook/lingerie pressure-sales-disguised-as-a-fun!-cocktail-party horrors do. They creep me out.

    Just say no. Institutionalized begging is still begging. If I want to donate money, I just donate directly.

    I keep hoping that if we all stop buying this stuff, the schools will find another way to raise money, and the big-eyed-kids-holding-glossy-brochures will stop coming to my door. I can dream, can’t I?


  26. I hate these too. The school that my son goes to started something different last year. Instead of doing 3 or 4 fundraisers a year, they now have one big carnival day and they raise enough to fund for the year. They sell tickets to parents so the kids can participate in carnival activities (fun for the kids, worth it), they sell tickets for a chance to win certificates and prizes that have donated by community businesses, have a silent auction basket with items donated by parents, do a huge yard sale, sell lunch, etc. It’s a lot of work and the parents do volunteering and donate items, plus spend money on the lunches and games. But it’s a lot more fun than hitting up the neighbors!

  27. I don’t have kids so don’t have a leg too stand on here, but I hope frustrated parents are emailing their school leaders. I get “hit up” by my friends for their kids and being a sucker and a good “uncle” I always cave, but I hate the idea of 50% of the money going to some corporation

  28. Our school doesn’t sell any of that stuff. None of it. We won’t do any fund-raisers that include the children selling any products. It’s in our PTA by-laws. There *are* other ways to raise money!!!!

  29. I hate those books. This year I’ll have 2 kids’ hearts to break instead of one (because they’ll always want the crap prize).
    I can’t afford to buy anything, or donate money, but what I can do, is clip those Box Tops for Education and the Labels for Education. My kids’ school probably raises over $700 a year from those things.

  30. I write a note saying that I don’t “do” fundraisers, but here’s a donation from me. (Usually $25 or so.)

    It’s just easier.

  31. I home school. The Board of Education got my $16,000.00 of tax dollars. My kids didn’t see a dime of it so I think I’ve done my part.

  32. As a third grade teacher… let me tell you that I’d highly prefer a ream of colored paper or a box of kleenex (neither are provided by my school, so I buy them myself) over more forms to collect and check and turn in to the office. I don’t think kids should have to sell things, and don’t support the fundraisers, but when I am told to send something home, I have to do it.

  33. I am SO glad that my son’s school doesn’t do any of this crap. They have a pledge drive every fall and parents donate money to avoid doing all of this stuff. In the spring, the kids also do a walk/run-a-thon and get sponsors to raise money for our arts programs, but that’s it!

  34. Our PTA is responsible for fundraising at the school. The board proposes a budget, which includes income sources and must then be approved by the general memberships. Proceeds go to so much more than classroom supplies (though we do reimburse teachers up to $150 for supplies). Our PTA pays for field trip transportation, all cultural arts assemblies, new technology for classrooms (smart boards, digital cameras, laptops) and much more. Given that, throwing a few extra boxes of Kleenex to the teachers doesn’t “make up” for not contributing to fundraising.

    Our school uses a pledge program. Parents are asked to donate $75 – 100 at the beginning of the year. It includes PTA membership, the school directory & free (or really cheap) events for everyone. It’s great that events no longer cost anyone an arm & a leg because our goal is never to do more than recoup costs and no one asks the kids to sell anything. It wouldn’t work at every school, but I love it!

  35. This year our PTO has decided to do away with the sales fundrasier because so many people detest them. Our school made $20,000 on the sales last year though, so that is an awful lot of cash to come up with through other venues. We are doing a fall festival and selling wristbands for unlimited carnival type games, as well as a hayride, dunk take ($1 per ball and lots of teachers volunteer to go in) and also food for sale.

    We are also doing a portrait fundraiser with I think Anitiquities, which ends up being a great deal for parents, a 10×13 portrait for $10, no pressure to buy more. Then there will be smaller things sprinkled throughout, skate night, chuck-e-cheese night and we are wanting to pull together a craft fair/silent aution and drop & shop day for christmas – so our hope is all of these things can help fill that huge gap that was provided by sales.

    We are trying to focus more on “events’ that bring the families together and provide something for them, rather just hawking crap. I hope it goes well and we can pull it off as successfully.

  36. Our school participates in the Manna program. I’m not sure if it’s solely a Chicago area thing or not or if it’s only for private schools, but it earns money for both the school AND the student’s account (my kids go to private school). It’s great, because you buy gift certificates for places that you’d shop normally and you get a percentage in your Manna account (and the school’s Manna account). I got a lot of money when I bought Home Depot gift cards to purchase new kitchen cabinets! 😉

  37. I would so much rather that a parent donate supplies or time to my classroom than buy those stupid overpriced rolls of wrapping paper and tubs of cookie dough! I am filled with glee if a parent donates something like play dough, water color paint, baby wipes or construction paper – things I NEED in a kindergarten classroom but usually wind up buying out of my own pocket. As for the parent who wants to volunteer to cut out game pieces, read books on tape for the children to listen to, or organize activities for one of our three annual class parties – that person is eligible for sainthood in my eyes.

    Hate the fundraisers – as mom, teacher, and neighbor of dozens of school age kids I get hit up countless times for each fundraiser and I hate breaking their little hearts but I also know I cannot afford to buy even 1 thing from each kid who asks!

  38. I’m with LBC. I’ll donate whatever they need–just don’t make me sell that overpriced junk. Hubby and I are self-employed. We don’t even have an unsuspecting office to finance our school!

  39. My son’s school has signed up with our phone company so that a portion of our long distance charges get donated to the school. Our phone company is part on AT&T. Also, Target has a program that a percentage of purchases you make using your Target Visa card or Target rewards card can be donated to your school. Both options are pretty much free money.

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