Stop School Fundraising Now!

If the title of this entry wasn’t a big enough clue, I’m not a big fan of the traditional school fundraiser.  I am uncomfortable with my children going door-to-door selling items.  It is a different world than from when I was a child and I don’t want to expose them to unnecessary risk.  So what happens when our child comes home with the latest magazine, cookie, trash bag or saver card to sell?  It means that we are constantly hitting up our friends and family to buy items that they may or may not need.  I’ll give the fundraising companies out there credit, they know how to get kids excited.  When you sell ‘x’ number of items you get to choose one of these prizes that look much cooler (and bigger) in the picture.  Then when they actually bring the item home, it breaks the first time it’s played with.  School fundraising for us is further complicated by the fact we now have two of our kids in elementary school which means they are both ‘competing’ for the same sales and prizes.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree that we need to continue to raise funds to supplement the learning and activities that are being cut by State Legislatures across the country.  I just wish we’d look at some alternative options to turning our children into tiny salesmen and walking billboards.  The fundraising companies out there are in business to make money, which means the people who actually NEED the donation (students and teachers) aren’t receiving the true benefit.

There are several things I propose to do differently but it requires a comprehensive plan be in place.  Too many times PTOs view each event they do as an individual event instead of a small piece of the larger plan.

1.  Solicit donations through an annual campaign.  Rather than sell an overpriced item through a fundraising company, ask for a straight-forward donation with a specific goal for the money.  I know what you’re thinking, “people expect to receive something and won’t donate if they aren’t buying some product.”  According to the American Association of Fundraising Counsel, overall charitable donations by U.S. citizens (individuals and household donors) in 2008 totaled $229.28 billion. Education accounted for 13 percent of that, or $40.9 billion.  Most of the money was freely given, as opposed to being revenue generated from sales of fundraising items.  The key is to have a specific goal in mind for the donation, not just ask for a blank check.  If we need a new piece of playground equipment, promote what it will cost, the benefits for the school and ask for donations.  Better yet, as part of your comprehensive plan, outline what the PTO will be paying for at the school that otherwise wouldn’t be offered (bus rental for field trips, art supplies, etc.) and work to reach that goal.  At the school music concert, promote that this wouldn’t be possible without additional support and make it possible for parents to donate via text message from their cell phones.

2.  Start an alumni group. Do you know what your students have become?  Sell membership into an alumni group with the membership dues going back to the current students.  Use the alumni’s stories as motivation for students to dream about what they can accomplish.

3.  Offer an IPO (Immediate Public Opportunity). Yes it’s a gimmick, but it puts education in the proper framework.  It’s an investment in our children’s future rather than a donation.  There is no financial return to investors, but there is a return.  Have fun with it, give donors a share certificate and a prospectus.  As an added bonus, it makes a nice lesson plan for students to help understand the stock market.

4.  Look into establishing corporate partners with businesses in the community.  This is different from sponsoring a “Papa John’s Pizza Night” where 10% of the purchases go to the school.  The only group that benefits from these types of arrangements are the restaurants.  They are able to create hundreds of brand impressions when the students go home that day with stickers with the company logo while the school is lucky to walk away with $50.  Are we really willing to sell our kids for $50?  Where are those companies when the school is looking for donations for an auction?  Oh that’s right, they already gave their “donation.”

Instead of taking a nickel-and-dime approach with companies, create annual sponsorship levels.  For an ‘x’ dollar amount, the company will receive advertising at all PTO events, newsletters, website, etc.  Have different levels of commitment i.e. Gold, Silver and Bronze sponsorship packages with different benefits at each level.  The key is in the benefits you create because the business will have to be able to see that it makes financial sense for them to participate.  Associate a value for each benefit and show that the value they receive is greater than the expense.

5.  Show where the money goes. There’s nothing worse than donating money and not be able to see any benefit.  If you want to continue to raise money, be willing to show that you are responsible stewards of the money and the direct benefit that the students receive.  To be truly successful, create your master plan for what you want to achieve each year then show how the donations made it possible to achieve your plan.  If you didn’t reach your financial goals and weren’t able to complete everything on your master plan, call attention to it.  Show what is sacrificed when goals aren’t met.  Set the groundwork for the next year.  Education is an ongoing process, your fundraising for education should be, too.

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