Where’s the Fun in School Fundraising?

Take my money, but don’t make me sell that stuff!

My child, who has been a bit glum due the newfound rigors of first grade, came home from school the other day unusually excited. When asked what made her day so special, she told me that the school had an assembly that day. Hoping for some fabulous science wizard-type demonstration, I was deflated to hear her spout off a long list of prizes she could win during upcoming school fundraiser. Ugh. She then pulled from her backpack catalogs and instructions and order forms, oh my.

This is my second year of dealing with the dreaded school fundraisers at our school and my list of grievances include:
1. The assembly time used to tempt our children with prizes could be used for learning in their classrooms. (I wasn't given an option for my child to not participate, which is also frustrating.)
2. The competition stirred up at school leaves children with expectation that they can realistically win a limo ride or new video gaming system, only for their parents (the ones actually selling the products) to disappoint them in the end.
3. The incentive prizes, erasers, plastic rubber ducks, etc., are junk, and much like the McDonald's meal toys, I cringe when they enter my house.
4. I don't want the stuff, and I don't want to push it on my friends and family!

I know the schools need additional funds to provide the quality education that we've come to expect, but there must be a way to fundraise without irritating their parents. I think that if school fundraising was less aggravating, I might participate more, and perhaps donate more. While the fundraising regulars such as candy, fruit, and wrapping paper are still around, there are more options available for organizations looking to raise funds, and some are quite a bit more palatable.

Label Hoarding

Many schools encourage their families to participate in collection fundraising programs, General Mills Box Tops for Education and Campbell's Labels for Education, for example. However, according to a report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the actual rewards earned by the school are minimal compared to the cost of products purchased by the families. "To earn a digital camcorder, a school would have to collect 27,850 Campbell's product labels. At $1.20 per can of soup, families would have to spend $33,420 on products for the school to earn a $300 camcorder." The report also states that 80 percent of the eligible products are of poor nutrition, and thus the program does not encourage healthy eating for their students.

Shop & Earn

Some successful fundraisers are the grocery store club cards. A simple sign-up process allows families to spend as usual at their grocery stores, earning money for their child's school. Some participating local stores are Giant Food, Harris Teeter, Safeway and Target.

Grant Writing

Teachers and school administrators already know this: there's grant money to be had if you have the time and energy to go after it. Writing proposals for educational grants takes research, planning, and time. By pooling the talents and power of school parents, the school could win equipment and funds for some fantastic educational programs.

Got Junk?

The company Funding Factory pays cash and rewards for recycled products such as ink and laser cartridges, cell phones, MP3 players, and laptop computers. Recycling Fundraiser offers $25- $300 for digital cameras, MP3 players, cell phones and laptops. Organizations earn money to support their programs and keep recyclable waste out of the landfills.

Clothing collections, such as Friendship Used Clothing Collection allow organizations to either host a clothing drive for a short-term fundraiser, or place a clothing collection shed on their property for items to be picked up as the shed is filled. The company does the clothes sorting and them provides your organization with money earned from the collection. These clothes go back into the community where they are needed, and the effort provides an important lesson to students about giving, helping others, and being thankful for what we have.


Some of the best fundraisers are the ones that do not ask you to buy anything. The "thons", such as Read-a-thons, Ride-a-thons, Jump-a-thons, Run-a-thons, ask for monetary donations based on how much the child can read or exercise during a given time period. One particular read-a-thon awarded prizes, such as a grade-level appropriate book to each participant and "reading dollars" to spend at their upcoming school book fair. That's something I can put my money behind!

Just Ask

It seems that sometimes schools overlook the obvious, and get caught up in these complicated fundraising efforts. If schools just asked for help, many parents would provide financial assistance. Some schools have tried to forgo traditional product selling fundraisers by trying to get every parent to join their PTO for a nominal membership fee. Often, parents will donate money to help others join that might not have the funds. Asking for donations feels like a much more honest way of earning much-needed funds.

As for this year’s fundraiser, I’m taking some advice from friends, trashing the catalogs, and just sending in a check to the PTO. Whew, I feel better.

Stephanie Dupal-Demartin September 28, 2011 at 07:13 PM
And I feel better knowing that someone else hates those fundraisers as much as I do! Thanks, Keri. You may want to consider sharing this article's main points at the next Advisory Council meeting, particularly with regards to assembly time. I would like to opt-out as well. It's incredibly hard to tell a child that we will not be participating when so much fuss has been made...
Karen Moore September 29, 2011 at 12:13 PM
Thanks for sharing! I wish you would bring your points up to the school board. After surviving 15 years in the FCPS system I would hope that some of these activities could be eliminated so other parents and children don't have to feel forced to contribute. My sister's school systemin Michigan went to a monetary donation at the beginning of each school year so that no one has to participate in fundraising. They are much happier!


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