Putting the Fun Back Into Kids’ Fundraisers

A lot has been written and debated about kids and fundraisers (I once wrote a section cover story for the Dallas Morning News about the topic eight or nine years ago), but things don’t seem to change much over the years– basically, as kids add more activities to their schedules and a family’s life gets busier, not only do they/we have to think about practices, team photos, physicals, release forms, concerts/games/tournaments, private lessons, parent meetings, parent volunteering (Who wants to be the Snack Mom? Um, how about The Prop Pop?), “buttons”/car decals/yard signs, and possibly traveling to out of town events, a lot of activities come with fundraisers.  Either the school hardly funds the activity and the organization must raise funds in order to do what they want/need, or they’re independent and don’t get any school funding, or the group’s wants/needs are so lavish and/or numerous that a school couldn’t possibly help meet those needs– and the kids (and parents) must hit up friends, relatives, neighbors and anyone else under the sun to “pony up” and help them out. Don’t get me wrong– fundraisers can be great lessons for kids in salesmanship and economics, not to mention marketing. We’ve had some positive experiences with them in our household.  But often these opportunities can get lost due to the fact that a lot of the time, several fundraisers are happening at once. How can our kids possibly do well at any of them when that’s the case?

If they’re already burdened down with homework overload, lack of sleep, and too many extracurriculars, do we dare expect them to keep up with numerous order forms and sales goals? How can an organization itself do the best it can to meet its goals when it’s scheduling a fundraiser at the same time as every other club/group/team? Do these organizations not ever think that, with the power of the Internet, there might be a way to set up a local calendar where they could all check in and space their fundraisers? Schools constantly send the message to kids during orientations that “yes, you can be in more than one activity”– so why don’t they make it easier to do that? Is it right to ask grandmother to buy raffle tickets, popcorn, overpriced giftwrap, and candy bars all at the same time, following it up with a letter that asks her to “just write a check” for yet another organization?

No, of course not, and so in our house, some fundraisers we flat out refuse to encourage our kids to do, while others we support.  But sometimes, they feel like losers when they return a blank order form–  the teacher or coach (or overhyped fundraiser salesperson) goes spaz over awarding Joe Blow and Suzy Doe their trip to Six Flags, while your child doesn’t even qualify for the light-up yo-yo… and sometimes, if no sales are made, parents are required to write a check for a minimum amount or your child cannot participate on the team or is given some other type of “punishment” (no joke!).

I like the fundraisers that are “events”– car washes, carnivals, auctions, bazaars…a genious one I’d never heard of before is coming up soon for us: a shred-a-thon, where the area school band booster clubs are teaming with a document shredding company. Neighbors and friends are encouraged to bring their old files, etc. to a parking lot on a Saturday, and for around $5 a box (or something like that), they can have their documents shredded in front of them. What a win-win situation– everyone has old files they need to clean out and don’t want to just put in the trash, the kids need to raise money…and if people are allowed to then use their shreds as cushioning when shipping holiday packages (or dump them into the school’s recycling bin, where they earn money per pound recycled) , it will be even better… 

Another good idea is to have a bazaar or farmer’s market type event to bring together all the groups that are selling things by order form– how great would it be for a mall or shopping center to offer space, free of charge, for kids to do this sometime, maybe near the holidays? People would already be in a shopping mood, and they can stop by your table to see what you’ve got and help out kids at the same time. That chocolate would look so much better on display than in a box! And, they’d be bringing all those fundraising kids and their families to that place of business, families who would most likely do some shopping there themselves

Yes, fundraisers can be good experiences if the adults in charge look at the bigger picture, that our kids’ world is not the same world as the one in which we grew up, and come up with new, less-stressful ways of raising money.  But of course, you have to be prepared to volunteer, possibly even be the one in charge, if you decide you want to help your kids’ group make that change!