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Of School Fundraisers

Och! School fundraiser season is upon us, and if you want to get my blood boiling, ask my five-years-ago self to have my kid sell frozen cookie dough and cinnamon rolls in order to earn cheap prizes probably made in China. Go ahead, make my day!

But when Truman brought home the fundraising forms last week -- Delicious Delights! like the Thaw-and-Bake Blueberry Muffins ($16) or the Pizza Pail ($16, too), full, I was sure, of all kinds of ingredients I try to avoid, not to mention expensive (win a Sling Shot Plush animal! a plastic crawling bug! A Tornado Mug!) -- there was a bit of a surprise. The PTA letter that accompanied it judiciously mentioned that the school would get 40% of the proceeds from the sale of these caloric firebombs; or you could write a check and the school would get 100%.

So, I was getting ready to write a check for $20 (with "donation in lieu of fundraiser" in the memo line) when I saw a comment thread from another Portland Public Schools mom. She was lamenting the state of her PTA's fundraiser, which hadn't been accompanied by a letter like mine. Another mom on her thread said her school (in the area, I assume) had given parents a donation goal for the year -- $500, plus fundraisers.

Meanwhile, I'm helping the cross country team raise money to go to invitational meets and buy uniforms. Nearly all the money for sports is now provided by parents -- the coaches' salaries and the cost of buses come from the sports fees, and fundraisers pay for uniforms, and the Booster Club pays for end-of-season "banquets" (which are usually potlucks) and awards. Volunteers often end up paying for the privilege through t-shirts and Chinook Books and (in my case) babysitting. When I do the math, I realize that high school students who are involved in a few activities do pay $500, plus, a year for the privilege of going to public school.

What is there to say about this? Sometimes I feel like the school year is one big revolving hit-up. I'm hitting other parents up for Chinook Books for cross country while they're hitting me up for Run for the Arts laps while the schools are hitting us up for snacks and boxes of tissues while my friends' school are hitting me up for Burgerville and Pizzicato fundraising nights. I remember writing at least five or six checks for field trips last year. One of the cross country runners rolled his eyes and said, while we talked about the lap-a-thon we are planning for Friday, and the book sales, and the other money-raising ideas, "why don't we just ask people for one check?" Indeed.

Why don't we? Wouldn't it be easier and simpler? At the beginning of the school year, principals could come out to us and say, "we need $12,000 per kid for what we want to do. The state gives us $10,800. Pay up (if you can)." Obviously, we all couldn't afford to make up the difference. But at least we wouldn't have our kids pushing sweets and pizza and those endless forms at us -- the kids could focus on doing arts and PE and (I don't know) reading and math and not on raising money for it.

If you ran the world (or even just your own PTA), how would you fix it?


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What you describe is how it works at our school. There's a big ask at the beginning of the year. We get a letter outlining what it costs the school to run the programs we value and people can write a check if they want. None of our kids individually sell subscriptions or cookie dough or pizza or any of that stuff. (Smaller fundraisers go on throughout the year - poinsietta and wreath sales, run for the arts, that sort of thing.)

so... do you like it that way, zinemama? I kind of think I would like it, but probably if I got the ask, I would get sticker shock :)

Hmmm...I'm gonna draw some serious ire, but here goes:

1) While Atkinson eliminated the traditional fundraisers you speak of last year, we never had an issue with them---because my husband always took the catalog to his lab and (as we liked to put it) shook his money maker for her. She also hit up the very close by neighbors with success, as well as both her grandmas. So actually, my daughter was typically the biggest fundraiser during that cycle.

2) Likewise, we did other stuff that involved directly writing checks or (back when I held a certain job) doonating stuff for auctions. Atkinson has a carnival for fundraising at year's end--and it was always THE perfect time for getting rid of toys, as well.

3) So far at Da Vinci, the only $$$ we've been asked for was the $20 for our PTA membership, but Da Vinci DOES make money by selling scrip (we'd totally buy it, but we don't really trust our 11 year old with that much $$$ or that valuable a gift card coming home on the bus). They also typically offset their productions with concessions sales (which we'll be happy to volunteer at).

4) We've always (even during my lengthy unemployment) made contributions for other kids to go to OMSI Camp, etc--just because. But this year we didn't pay our $80 for outdoor school because our daughter flatly refused to go.

5) I have no issue, whatsoever, with athletics having to raise $$$ for uniforms, etc. I personally have long (we're talking going back to MY school days) opposed the jocktocracy attitude of traditional high schools, so I think athletes having to raise some bucks is fine. Theater and arts always did, why should athletics enjoy an even more elite status?

Along those lines, probably the most effective fundraiser I ever witnessed/partook in was when a cheer coach held a cheer camp for younger girls. Twice my daughter did them, both times she loved it. All the little girls were thrilled beyond belief when glamorous high school girls played with them all day.

I think schools do fundraisers throughout the year because, really, $1200 is a large check to write in one swoop---more so if you have more than one kid. Also, plenty of people AREN'T going to be willing or able to pony up even an extra $10 for the year.

Fundraising events create a sense of community and outside sales pass the cost to others. Plus, contrary to popular belief, it isn't new. I attended a very wealthy and well funded school district from 4th through 10th grades, we had lots of fundraisers, requests for additional $$$, extra supplies to pay for, etc, starting in junior high.

Plus, it could be worse, private schools pretty much always have their hands out---and you're already paying through the nose to go there!

I dread fundraiser time. I do not like to make others buy my kids' stuff, and I never buy from anyone else either. If you do from one, you are stuck buying from everyone and I just don't have that type of money!

My kids don't sell junk. We opt out of personally selling most stuff make a one time donation to the school each January.

Goodness, this raises a big issue for me: we have 4 kids ( 3 in school) and we have found ourselves overwhelmed by the fundraisers.I get that they're important; music, PE, and foreign language at our public school are precious! Our solution has been that each kid gets to hit up the family for one fundraiser: Run for the Arts, Jump for the Heart, wrapping paper...you get the picture. Each family member usually contributes $25 per kid (at 6 people x 3 kids that comes to about $450). I think that's a sufficient contribution, no? A donation goal of 500 bucks plus fundraisers? are you kidding me? hell no.

And, rather than donate ourselves, we donate our time to manning some fundraisers: book fair, "carnival," etc., and we work hard to solicit donations for the auction, usually in the range of $500. As for selling the junk food and made-in-china-crapola? nope.

As for team sports, we generally play in rec league which run about $60 per season, and our oldest (after years of substantial commitment to rec league) plays in a Classics league year- round which is a pretty penny (~$1500), but that we consider well worth the cost.

And a timely post as well...got our tax bill in the mail today... I think we all do what we can with our resources. ... and I'm a teacher, so thank you all for your contributions.

oh hell, what would we do to fix it? OCCUPY and refund and redefine education :)

At Winterhaven, we ask parents at the beginning of the year for a couple hundred dollars, and then again to participate in our run for the arts in the spring. That's it. Everything else, like scrip and restaurant fundraisers, are nice but not key to our budget. I've always loved this approach...and kids don't have to do any of the fundraising themselves.

i think you're making a mountain out of a mole hill (or maybe just want to get people talking). if a parent doesn't want to be bothered by fundraisers, write a check for what you can at the beginning of the year, and ignore the fundraisers. problem solved.

Once you get parents past the notion that public education is "free", it seems the biggest challenge is that there is little control over budgeting. If you don't have control over expenses, how can you set the fundraising goals at a level that is reasonable for the school's community? In some areas of Portland, a $1000 yearly expectation might fit. In others, $50 might be more realistic.

Regarding specific fundraisers...though there are barriers to running a successful Scrip program, the potential is huge. It's a wonderful way for parents to "contribute" just by funneling their purchasing through the program.

I liked the approach we took in high school (Kennewick, WA, 1980s) and that my son's school takes for one of their fundraisers: do something that needs to be done and get pledges for it. In the case of my high school, we sold Spook Insurance around Halloween: for a $3 donation, we would clean up your house if it got egged, TPd, etc. At my son's school, the kids pick up trash around town and collect pledges to do that. This is very easy to get a $5-an-hour pledge for.

This accomplishes a couple of things: it makes kids do real work instead of being salesmen, and it frees up parents from being endless check-writing machines. Kids are capable of doing a lot of useful work if we let them. And after all, we're talking about THEIR activities!

We skip the little fundraisers where the kids sell things in favor of our auction. I cannot even imagine trying to get my kid to sell stuff with our schedules.

We did try to raise funds this year by asking folks to just give if they had voted in favor of the measures to increase property taxes that did not pass. It was not a wild success but we did raise a little money. Our school is 56% free and reduced lunch folks so many parents do not have the funds to give.

Sarah, I do like the system my school has. This year they asked for $200 per kid, as I recall. Not everyone can do that, or does any of it, but they've raised a bunch already, just a few months into the year. I forgot to say that we also do scrip, Chinook books, and cough up for field trip money, too. But again, I'd rather write a check for the field trip than send my kids out to sell cookie dough.

Interesting. I spent our first 2 years of school at a N PDX school with a very high free-reduced lunch rate (75%ish?). We didn't really have a fundraising plan in the school until the last couple of years, with last year being the largest, most coordinated year. We did the math for just the simple things we as a parent group wanted to raise money for and figured $6000 would cover us, about 30 per family. (Nothing fancy, just a few field trips, some classroom supplies, etc. Not even close to raising the kinds of funds some of you are talking about.) We approached administration about sending out a direct appeal letter to families asking for a donation and got a thumbs down, with the idea that it was going to alienate families that couldn't/wouldn't be able to contribute that. And yet, it was okay for us to do a fundraiser where we sold stuff. I don't know the numbers in terms of participation rate for the catalog fundraiser, but I would much rather have had the chance to just ask families to donate than to do the whole sales thing. And, I think given the numbers we were working with, I think we would have raised more than we did in catalog sales. But an interesting perspective to think that a direct appeal would be inappropriate. I don't agree with admin on it, but I can understand where the decision came from.

This year though, I'm at a parochial school so have some requirements around the participation in fundraisers. Each family has a minimum amount to either raise or "buy-out." I suppose the benefit to the sales for this is that I can spread it out among family/friends and not be solely responsible for the minimum amount. It isn't a huge amount, but it's more than the $30 from last year! But then, I feel a little conflicted about that because it's not really their responsibility to pay for my child's school. In any case, by participating in the sales piece, we did actually raise more than our boy-out would have been.

Maybe it comes down to the idea that when we buy something in the fundraiser, we feel like we're "getting something for the money" as opposed to just making a donation and having what we get in return be more grey? If your socioeconomic perspective is that of being on the receiving end and not the donating end, it isn't something you're used to? I don't know.

I say, do the math for your own personal situation, or listen to your values, and just do what makes sense. And, keep in mind, a direct donation is fully tax deductible, whereas when you buy something it is not.

My daughter's school has three different entities (one that organized the immersion component, the pta, and one that raises funds exclusively for staffing) and each has multiple fundraising events throughout the year. It also seems that each has it's own approach; one of them asks for a flat donation amount from families twice a year, while the another relies a lot on selling items and restaurant nights etc, and the third gets the vast majority of it's funding through the annual auction. What it comes down to is that if we want the school to be able to fill the gaps left by underfunding and still provide a quality education, this is how it's going to happen. What I like about the multiple approaches is that it does allow each family to pick and choose what's most comfortable for them. For people with big families or big work places, I imagine that selling small items to lots of people is not so hard and is less of a burden that coughing up a lump sum. When I was a kid, we would go door to door in my large apartment building with friends and it was kind of fun. Sort of like trick or treating with an added dose of learning how to present your ideas clearly and we generally went in pairs, so it wasn't so intimidating (we took turns presenting our order forms).

My workplace prohibits people from selling anything at the office for themselves, for their kids, for anyone. I'm fine with that because it's a huge office and everyone would be asking everyone else to buy things their kids were selling all the time. In addition, sometimes it can be hard to tell your boss no you don't want to buy her kids school fundraising stuff.

Also, most people in my neighborhood have kids already going to the same school my son goes to and, therefore, are trying to sell the same stuff.

As a result we decided not to have my kids sell anything. We donate to the school through the matching program through my husband's work and participate in the fundraising events like the carnival and pizza night. My only remaining beef with the sales thing is that the school holds an assembly and awards high selling kids with prizes while the other kids sit around. Total crap in my opinion. Luckily my kids don't seem remotely interested in selling and so don't feel weird or guilty during the assembly, but it irks the crap out of me every year.

Our school (Title I, with about 75% on free or reduced lunches) does multiple fundraisers throughout the year. PTA is only $10/family (I noticed in the comments another school charges $20 to join). We never do the selling stuff to family members thing (although this year the first fundraiser eschewed the cookie dough in favor of first-aid kits, which I thought was a better idea), but when we can we give money to the school.

My favorite new fundraiser the school does, though, is popcorn Fridays. For 50 cents each kid can buy a small bag of popcorn, which is delivered to them at the end of the school day. It is a small enough purchase price that it doesn't hurt the wallet each week and I'm not stuck with dumb toys when it's done.

I also think the PTA should buy all of the school supplies (at a discount, because they'd be buying in bulk) and then re-sell them (at a smaller discount?) to the parents. It would raise money for the school and save parents the hassle of running around for school supplies.

I live in Arizona now and the state offers a fantastic tax credit program that benefits schools and non-profits. We write a check, fill out a specific form and send it in. 100% of the money goes to the school, and we get a credit for the amount on our state taxes come tax time. As a married couple filing jointly, we can donate $1000 to a private school, $500 to a public school and I think $250 to a charity of choice. Not only do we get the credit for our state taxes, we get the deduction on our federal taxes, and the schools win, it's awesome. Last year, my parents and my sister donated to our private Kindergarten in my son's name and our tuition bill for private Kindergarten was a whopping $36/month! Unfortunately, I think a lot of people don't understand how it works, and the fact that it is actually a tax credit (not a deduction) so not everyone participates... I can't stand the politics around here, but this program is one that I think the state has gotten right.

Our public elementary school does a Direct Giving Campaign every October. Every family is given an envelope and asked to contribute what they can. No specific amount is asked for or even suggested. I find it incredibly refreshing--the school gets 100% of my donation and I don't have to buy or sell wrapping paper or cookie dough.

I live in inner NE PDX and our school also has some fundraisers. I raised my eyebrows at the cookie dough fundraiser but found out it's actually quite popular. I have also wondered why schools don't do a direct appeal and heard something similar: the school doesn't want to alienate the families who can't afford to donate. And I get this. With the gentrification in our neighborhood, there's some resentment of new, wealthier neighbors.

I don't make my kids do fundraisers, though, but my older son wanted to this year because of the prizes. So he knocked on a couple of doors in the neighborhood and felt pretty good about that.

The PTA at our SE Portland school does a direct appeal called, "The No Stuff Fund Rasier." No selling stuff. Love it!!! We can also write off the money given as a charitable donation on our taxes. I think last year it raised about $6,000? Not a ton, but a decent amount. They also do Run for the Arts, dine-outs at Burgerville, Pizzicato, Laughing Planet, and Scrip, etc.

There is a separate organization that raises money for the immersion program: auction, annual gala, chinook books, membership drive, raffles, direct appeals, etc. Again, no selling/buying cheap stuff we don't need.

But, this money raising is very time consuming for all the volunteers and organizers. If it weren't for the community building aspects of some of these events, I would much rather write a big check each year.

You are absolutely right I should say that this not fair neither for the kids nor for their parents and for sure it will be much appreciated if principals quoted the required amount in the begging of every school year.

The big check is sticker shock, though... I don't mind fundraisers like Chinook Book, but then I am only going to buy what I am going to use anyway- not a dozen of them. We just got asked to either sell or buy on our own 30 $10 raffle tickets!

One year our principal, at Buckman, noted how much was needed per child to cover everything. I think it was something like $300.
You don't have to pay it all at once - you can set up a monthly contribution through the Portland Schools Foundation http://www.thinkschools.org/index.php. We give $10/month and it automatically comes out of our checking account each month. This isn't enough, but it's what we can afford and once you set it up you really don't even notice it. You choose which school you want it to go to, and automatically a certain % of whatever funds a school raises (through whatever means, as I understand it) goes to the general fund to help all schools.
I've never seen our school selling buckets of anything, but we do have an annual art auction and the usual Chinook Book, dine-out, etc. fundraisers which I have no problem with.
I don't think that I would ever have my kid selling stuff. It's just junk that nobody wants and puts pressure on the families.
Please consider setting up a monthly donation through the Portland Schools Foundation website. It's tax-deductible.

Wondering what folks think about the whole Scholastic book sale thing. My opinion--I hate it. My daughter came home today with the one book I let her buy with her own money--a horrible Barbie paperback that had a ridiculous storyline. Seems to me like we should be encouraging our kids to go to the library (or better yet, donate to the library so they can buy decent books for everyone) and not use our hard earned money (or theirs) to buy junk. And the teachers are shamelessly pushing Scholastic--catalogs coming home with the kids all the time. How much money does the school really get for letting Scholastic indocrinate our children with junky tie-ins for a week with lots of peer pressure for the kids to buy, buy, buy (of course, there are a few great books--a few, count on one hand--they sell too but you could buy those from your local bookstore instead). Anyone else with me on this?? I try to keep the promotional tie-ins like Barbie, cartoon characters, etc. out of our home and I don't like them coming our way via the schools pushing or even offering it.

Scholastic... theoretically the school gets free books. I used to find about one thing in every flyer worth getting- at a good price... but then we were forced into online ordering which was never the same selection as the flyers. And the website wanted to classify by boy/girl and by age... well my kid reads about age, so it was worthless (you had to put in a birthday at first, it's not like you could just browse all ranges). I don't like online shopping in general, and this was about as bad as it could get. I didn't notice quite so much 'junk', but then my kid also wasn't part of the picking yet. If it was all just junk that he was pestering me for, then yes it would be an annoyance.

@the3rd: I adore your school supply idea! It is *such* a PITA to have to scramble around for that stuff every year.

Just adding (late in the day) that I last night attended my first da Vinci auction. I had noticed that, like many schools, there seemed to be a core clique of active parents, who went to all these things, while the rest of us did one or two things and called it good.

What I didn't realize was the income level some of the parents are apparently at. In the middle, our principal made a plea for direcrt donations--there were parents who made individual cash donations of several THOUSAND dollars.

My husband and I make a decent living, but even a couple of hundred dollars would probably pinch us. It's nice that so many parents there can afford to do that, but honestly, I can't. And it all made me feel very uncomfortable.

Not to mention, this is a public school--at which there are still kids who receive free and reduced lunch. Needless to say, I won't be attending next year--and I felt I had contributed enough by volunteering.

I'm also not sure that I liked all the class time that was spent on creating baskets, either. But I might still contribute next year by writing the auction catalog. It needed some serious editing!

'Jocktocracy' is my new favorite word.

I currently run a fundraising option at a Denver based non-profit. We can make it as simple as you would like. The easiest way is an online code is created, people can buy on the website and then we cut you a check for 35% of the sales. The product gets shipped directly to the person who ordered it. There is more information on our website if anyone is interested in learning more.

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