A School Fundraising Idea That Generates 100% Profit

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Over the weekend I got a hand addressed letter from my 7th grade niece. Within it was a request for me to support her middle school by buying a magazine from the enclosed catalog. The letter disclosed that the school would receive 40% of the sales generated through its campaign. I want to support her educational institution, but knew immediately that I would not be buying a magazine.

Days before her letter arrived I’d read Frustration with School Fundraisers on Northern Cheapskate. With Christina’s permission I am reprinting her article below and then will tell you what I decided to do for my niece’s school.

My kindergartener has been in school about 6 weeks.

In that time, we have gotten repeated solicitations for 3 different school fundraising campaigns and one for a community group.

But the one that really frustrated me was the request for my 5-year old to sell things for the annual school fundraiser. He was sent home with two glossy catalogs full of overpriced wrapping paper, cookie dough, and knickknacks and a sheet of instructions on how and when to collect the money from family and friends.

Now, before I get lots of angry comments from parent groups, let me say this:  I know that our schools are grossly underfunded.  I know that these fundraisers provide the means for the schools to pay for everything from cultural activities to technology to books.

And I know that there are lessons to be learned in showing a child how to sell things, collect money, and distribute the items.

But these kids are five. Let’s be real.  How much of this work will the parents end up doing for this fundraiser?  I’m willing to bet most of it.

And I’m not making my 5-year-old guilt my friends and family (many of whom are unemployed or underemployed) into buying overpriced stuff they don’t need (and can’t afford) so that some company can take 60 percent of the sales.

It’s not worth it.

Instead, I will be writing a check to my school – a check that they will be able to use 100 percent on anything they want.  And I will continue to volunteer my time and donate other items the school needs as often as I can.

While I won’t be teaching my son sales skills (at least not yet), I will be teaching him to question where the money goes in these fundraisers, to determine what is the best way to help.

Please join me in this quest to end ridiculous school fundraisers in which we sell things no one really wants to buy for ridiculous prices and lackluster results.

Encourage your school’s parent-teacher associations to think of new ways to fundraise that don’t involve selling something.

Christina’s wise suggestion to write a check to the school where 100% of the contribution will be used to fund the school’s needs resonated with me. That is how I will respond to my niece’s request. But, I suspect she is part of a contest or will earn prizes if she sells a certain level of magazine. To that end, I plan to call the school, ask about the rewards she would earn if she generated $25 worth of profit and be sure that she will receive credit for the check I send directly to the principal.

Prior to reading Christina’s article I would not have thought to invest directly into the school, but would have purchased a magazine I didn’t want or need. Now I feel like I am making a more valuable contribution to the school fundraiser and being a better steward of my money. Thanks Christina for opening my eyes to this better idea.

Your turn: How do you handle and participate in school fundraisers?

Comments

  1. Katie says

    I am proud to say that our school does not sell anything! The PTA only asks for families to donate what they can each year. I am so happy that I and my children do not have that pressure. We already sell have enough with sports and Girl Scouts:-)

  2. Jennifer H says

    My husband and I have been doing this for years. Works even better if you have an employer that will match your contributions. A $20 dononation now becomes a $40 donation.

  3. says

    Look around where you live. We have a restaurant near us called Texas Roadhouse (http://www.texasroadhouse.com/) which serves peanuts in the waiting area and at the tables. They will give local schools free boxes of peanuts and paper bags with their logo. Students fill the bags with peanuts and then sell them at the football games. Texas Roadhouse gets advertising, and you keep 100% of the money made. It's a win win. Plus, they make a great steak.

  4. Anita says

    I haven't done most school fundraisers in about 4 yrs. That was the first year my now 7yr old got her first fundraiser. That year between 3 kids in school and various activities I had over 30 fundraisers. I finally said no. I included a letter stating I would not be participating and enclosed a check for $10 made out to the PTA. I do not do this for every fundraiser because I still have 3 kids with an insane amount of fundrasiers per year.

    This year our elementary school is having a WILD ABOUT READING fundraiser. The school gets 100% off the money and if they reach 300,000 min of reading the principal is going to dye her hair pink a put a snake around her neck. As of the first week they had read around 100,000 min. The PTA also sent a letter saying that if each student raised $30/each we would reach the $$ goal.

    • Leann says

      My kids school has done the Wild About Reading program for the past 6 years. Do yours also get the prizes from the MN Wild?

      • anita says

        nope, they have a weekly prize if you turn in your weekly reading record and then a grand prize for those kids that turn in their monthy tally sheet and every child that participates gets a free meal from pizza hut.

        do you have any info regarding the MN Wild prizes? I would love to share it with the committee.

  5. Penny says

    Thank You Carrie!!! My son started Kindergarten in September, so when I read Christina's story it was exactly the same as mine. The worst for me was when my 5 year old son came home very excited to show me the "Culvers" sticker on his shirt. "It's Culver's night mom!" Yes, he was expecting that we would be eating at Culver's. I am unemployed and a single mom, there is NO money for Culver's. So there I was with a child totally excited adn having to tell him we would not be joining "everyone" at Culver's.

    10% of each purchase would be earned. What a great deal for Culver's and my son was wearing their "Culver's Sticker." I'm not sure when my son became an advertising tool. I am struggling to pay the addition cost of all day Kindergarten, because my son was ready for full days and he loves school. I volunteer in my son's classroom and donate supplies needed in the classroom (that I can get for free or close to it following PYD).

    There just has to be a better way….my son is in kindergarten and I don't want him to think he is a billboard.

  6. Leann says

    We made a promise to our neighbors when our kids started school that we would only come around with fundraiser requests once per year. As it turned out, we choose to have that be our son's Cub Scout wreath and popcorn sales. Our son earns 1/3 of his sales, 1/3 goes to his pack, and a 1/3 to the manufacturer. Our neighbors are mostly elderly and love that he can deliver their holiday wreath to them (and help hang it!). That said, we find this fundraiser more worthwhile both for our son and for our neighbors than items that they wouldn't normally buy.

    As for their school. I volunteer in all their classrooms, work at the parties, fieldtrips, work on a few committees, and send in items that they request a need for when I can. I believe that covers the amount my kids might have made selling cookie dough or other items. I wish the school would not have these selling events, but sadly I seem to be in the minority. Are there any parents out there that DO LIKE these type of fundraisers?

  7. Claire says

    As a teacher, let me say just how much WE hate the fundraisers, as well. The companies come in and give a "kick-off" speech for 25 minutes, and only 4 minutes of it (if we're lucky) is about the actual product sold. The rest is all about the prizes kids can "earn" by selling overpriced cra* (pardon my French). My parents have 9 grandchildren, and long ago decided that they don't need anymore candy, magazines, wrapping paper, or knick-knacks. They have been writing checks for 100% donations for years. Pass the word. Teachers, parents, and PTOs prefer direct donations. Buy the child a pack of silly bands for $1 at Target for their prize and give the rest to the school!

  8. kristin says

    i too write a check to the school instead of selling wrapping paper, pizzas, cookie dough and other over priced garbage. i am amazed at the sales pitch the teachers are telling the kids. i know of some schools that set thier yearly fundraising goal and as soon as it is met, the fundraisers stop. it usually only takes one a year.

  9. Kathy says

    I am in total agreement about fund raising. I absolutely HATE it, though I know it is necessary to keep things going. We recently moved to a new school district where they tried (for the first time) a "Read- A- Thon". Basically, the kids were asked to get sponsors for them to read 120 minutes on a designated day. The whole school, staff and students, were involved along with many volunteers. The result? The school profited more than $32,000 (more than double any other fund raising profit they have ever received in the past). No need to wait for the ugly wrapping paper or over priced candle or cookie dough and then spend a week distributing… 32 THOUSAND… done. Oh by the way, did I mention the excitement about READING this event instilled in the kids at the school? Every child received a root beer float at the end of the day and no one's dreams of receiving the unreachable "top prize" were dashed. (This is a whole other subject I'd love to touch on…) Overall, I think this was the best outcome of the whole event. I wasn't sure how this would go when it was first mentioned, but I am a believer!

    • Maria says

      Usborne Books has a read-a-thon program where the school can earn books with a percentage of cash as an option. Either 100 or 110% of the profits come back to the school with books (and some cash if they want that too).

  10. Kathy says

    One more thing… Kristin… I am sure every teacher is different, but I am one and I almost NEVER talked to my students about the fundraiser going on. There was way too much curriculum to cover. The "Pitch" is not usually coming from the teachers but the presenter that the company sends in. It is pretty pathetic though, I definitely agree with that point.

  11. Becky says

    My kids' school has a Jog-a-thon for elementary kids and for the high school a Bicycle Great Trip. People can pledge per lap or make a flat donation. All of the money goes to the school and the kids get to do something to be a part of the fundraising.

  12. Lori says

    I remember my son coming home being so hyped on the prizes he could win as one of the top sellers for a school fundraiser. I had to bring him down to earth and explain that he would not be selling to family and friends who had their own kids selling stuff. He was so sad!

    I have just written a check to the school for years also.

  13. Vanessa says

    My son's school is starting a foundation for the school for large donations and has joined givemn.org so people and companies can give directly to the school.

  14. Winnie Williams says

    I chair our PTO, and we have 2 fundraisers each year. We choose to sell frozen food from a MN company (soups, breads, etc) and magazines. We chose frozen food in this economy, and it has been a good choice for us. We encourage people to renew magazines they already get rather than pushing new sales hard, and frankly their prices are VERY good on the magazines. We also offer parents a "buyout option," a suggested donation if they prefer not to have their children participate. We make about $1500 on our buyout option, and about $14,000 on our frozen food. Magazine hasn't happened yet this year. The buyout is 100% profit, but many families won't just donate, but some of the middle schoolers do like to sell for the prizes. One note, we would not be able to make a kid that provided a valuable donation eligible for the prizes. The prizes are completely controlled by our fundraiser, and we're fortunate that ours is willing to print our buyout option right on his envelopes. But I don't know any way I could make the kids eligible for the prizes because they are out of our control.

    • Martha says

      I have been writhing checks for the past few years and my response to the prize is a trip to the Dollar Store $5 limit or aTarget $5 gift coin they can save (and they do!) Because most of the prizes aren't worth much.

      By the way that gift coin is a great thing to have around

      • Anna says

        Perfect! We do the same with fundraisers. AND I do it when we go to Chuck E. Cheese too. I have no patience for the ticket fiasco there. My kids are happy to choose something at Target instead.

  15. Julie N says

    I agree that the fundraisers are out of control at many schools. Instead my children's school charged a $25 fee per student per year(yes this is a public school) which they called a registration fee. But basically it was a "no fundraiser fee" . I also support just making donations of cash,supplies or volunteering ones time for the schools.

  16. Karen says

    Speaking as someone who does not have kids… I LOVE the Girl Scout cookies and am disappointed if someone doesn't offer me the option. :-) I have bought magazines and frozen food as well as chocolate in the past. I typically give them as gifts.

    I feel for the schools who yes, are grossly underfunded. I am definitely going to think about cutting a check in the future.

    Karen

  17. Kae says

    Fundraisers are tough. I personally like to write a check to the school and be done with it. I know many PTO's feel that they will receive more money if they sell something than if they just ask for $$$. To some extent this is shown true by the fact that our sales profits from our school have been higher than a fun-run/read-a-thon. Sometimes it takes time to change the thinking of the masses. I think this is a good discussion. I would also venture that the thinking of those following sites such as PYD is a little different than the average consumer. I balk at paying $3.50 for cookie dough at the grocery store – I know that I can get it for less (perhaps around a $1). To someone else, paying $5.00 is just a little more than they would have paid at the store. Our PTO has done a good job educating parents how the money raised will be used. I think that helps when asking for direct cash donations.

  18. says

    I do this with the Girl Scouts. Don't need the overpriced cookies. It's difficult to do in their "system" but I believe some troops will accept "cash"!

  19. Lisa says

    I read this and felt like I was reading about my life! I completely agree and would like to add that many of the larger companies in the area offer a gift-matching program to educational institutions.

    I plan to write my school a check and send it with the gift matching form so they get 200% of the profit!

    I encourage everyone to ask your company if they have a similar program.

  20. Kari Hovorka says

    With 4 kids in school now and ALL of our relatives and most of our good friends living in Canada the fundraising season is downright torturous, there are only so mnay times I want to "bother" my neighbours. I have also elected to mainly do the check to the PTO as well. I had to explain to my 11 year old how much money actually gets to the school when they do these fundraisers, how much goes to the silly prizes and how very much goes in the pocket of the companies.

    There are plenty of "painless giving" options that we do whole heartedly. My Target card is linked to my sons Middle School so they donate 5% of what we spend (which is A LOT:) to his school, my kindergartener loyaly cuts out all of our boxtops, my preschoolers get all of the Campbells and Kemps Labels. I am actually logging down and tallying all of this so I can tell others how much collecting just these little labels can really add up. Its the middle of October and our Boxtops have already amounted to $5! Mycokerewards.com even has a option to donate the coke points to your school.

    I understand fully the great things our PTO's are pretty much forced to fund. I am thankful to the countless hours our PTO members dedicate to fundraising then implementing the funds in a positive way for our schools. I am just saying there are options that could do just as much good without all of the headache of fancy fundraisers with overpriced goods.

    Kari

  21. Beth says

    I'm the Fundraising coordinator for our PTO (public school). Myself and the rest of the PTO hate the wrapping paper/knick knack fundraiser as much as everyone else. So why do we still offer it? Because it brings in $8,000-$10,000 a year, plus we get free jumpies for the spring Carnival which we wouldn't be able to afford. Its hard to stop offering a fundraiser when its the biggest one each year. Every fall atleast 2-3 parents say "I'd rather just write the PTO a check" I always say please do. Knowone has ever done so!

    Its easy to say you would rather write the check, but I challenge every parent to actually do it, it would change the way schools fundraise!

  22. Naomi K says

    I have four children, who are now all middle shool aged and above. For my first I participated in the fundraisers, but then when you have two, then three, then four, you can't ask family to purchase something from everyone! My kids don't like it, because they want the goodies from selling the products, but I have just refused to participate, and I have always sent a cash donation.

  23. Karen says

    Our elementary school does just this – a "No Sale Sale". No buying anything, no selling. Just donations. They raise about $6500 a year with the No Sale Sale and this funds all of the school events for the year. Donations are handed in the month of October and used for the rest of the school year. We are a small school district but it seems to be working and covering the costs of everything. Works out to be about $20 per family and I'd so much rather do this than any fundraising.

  24. amanda says

    When my kids were in public school, I volunteered to help with fundraising and school projects. There were many fundraisers throughout the year- sell books, jog around the school to raise money for associations and get a prize, spring auction, sell candy-grams, the list goes on….. The school finally decided that instead of fundraising, they wanted each parent to write a check for $30 per child They posted a graph as to how close they were getting to the $18,000 goal. Then, the phone calls came in. The school wanted their money. Letters in backpacks were sent home that the school wanted their money. I finally told the school to stop harassing me. Parents took a survey and said they wanted to just write a check instead of doing fundraisers, but I don't think they realized that the school would dictate how much money it would demand from parents. Needless to say, the school never received the $18,000 they expected that year.

  25. Jenni says

    Our school also does a Read-A-Thon- the kids read for a total of 120 minutes during the school day, and awards prizes to the largest amount brought in for each classroom, pizza parties for class participation. I LOVE it that our kids are reading and learning, and that our school keeps 100% of the read-a-thon money.

  26. Jennifer M. says

    I no longer have kids in elementary school but I continue to save the box tops, Campbell's labels and Kemps lids and also donate all of the toner cartridges from my work to the elementary school my kids attended. Years back when my kids were still in elementary school I had them contact our relatives, friends and neighbors who no longer have younger kids and ask them to continue to save their box tops, Campbell's and Kemps and whenever we visited them we would take them and make sure they got to the school. They all were more than willing to do the collecting, they just didn't want to have to get them to a school themselves. I would encourage everyone whose kids' schools collect these to try and get your older neighbors, relatives and friends to do the same thing. I know that these types of fundraisers make good money for the schools and this will bring in many of the labels and box tops that would otherwise go into someone's garbage.

    • Kae says

      Excellent reminder for everyone. We also have all the family members keep labels, box tops for us. It really can add up quickly for the school.

  27. Jill says

    My son's school does a one day read a thon. All the elementary schools in the district do it. Like the comment below, 100% of the donation goes to the school. Each class reads for 120 minutes one very special day during school. Different classrooms are themed with different books, and the kids pick which rooms to go to during the day. Our principal, too, dresses up crazily if they reach their goal. It gets kids excited about reading, and who can argue with that! No knick nacks, or wrapping paper needs to be purchased. It's a very successful fundraiser that helps with learning.

  28. Tammie says

    I am homeschooling my 7 yr. old this year, and one of the things I am enjoying most is no fundraising!!! They get the kids sooooo excited to win a prize that it's hard to say no. We too have many friends and relatives that don't have a lot, and it's too much to ask them. A direct check seems like such a great solution. If we were still doing public school that's exactly what I would do!!!

  29. tabby says

    My child's school does only one fundraiser a year. That is the marthon, they earn 6 figures every year, they also have an auction, and games. I am happy they only do one fundraiser a year. With this the children get 100% of this money it's only allowed to go to the students, not the teachers or anyone who works at the school. It's nice when you are telling people they seem to give more knowing it's only for the students.

  30. Jen says

    I am happy to say my Children's South Minneapolis School does not sell anything,we have the NO Sale Fundraiser where your donation is 100% to the school and tax deductible! :)

    • Angela says

      I have advocated for stopping fundraising in schools for years. When I was a single mom struggling to make ends meet, I had to fork out $40-$50 for unwanted gift wrapping so my son could get the cheap prizes like the other kids. Then you can only write off 40-50% for tax purposes. If the PTO would have been asked parents to make a donation directly to the school they would have gotten perhaps the same about from me ($20) but SAVED me a bundle and helped out our family finances.

  31. wwms says

    We also ask our church to save pop tops, campbells soup labels, box tops, and milk caps. We take the pop tops to Ronald McDonald house, we give the campbells soup labels to a mission project our church supports, and the box tops and milk caps get divided between any kids that want them for their school. Our school does a box tops and milk caps competition twice each year between the houses in the school. Anything kids bring in counts for the next competition. In the fall they winning house gets popcorn and a movie on a day chosen by their house teachers, and in spring they get to go outside for lunch (a novelty at the middle school) and get rootbeer floats. We made about $4000 last year on box tops and milk caps in a school of 900 kids, and we spent about $100 on each party for they winning house.

  32. AP says

    Our kids went to a catholic grade school so we were involved in a marathon for their K-6 years to raise money. It worked out well even though the kids did earn a prize. Then in the public jr. high the school prints out a "wish list." It is a list of items each department in the school needs in their class rooms. Each item has an approx cost of buying the item. You can buy one of the items and bring it in or check off an item and send in a check for that amount or just send in a check. I was very impress to see EXACTLY what they needed. The principal said about 90% of their "wish list" is granted by parents donations each year! Very cool!

  33. says

    Although having parents simply donate money looks good on paper, the problem is that not many parents end up actually doing it according to most schools. One reason why 'brochure fundraising sales' have historically been effective is because the energy and enthusiasm that drives their success comes from the students and their excitement about winning prizes. One complaint that is common about brochure fundraisers however is the cheap, junky prizes that students end up winning. An alternative idea would be to offer a prize program that offered more student interaction and value. For example, you can incorporate an exciting educationally-based magic show or a fun inflatable party in exchange for students reaching a predetermined and easily obtainable fundraising goal. In order for a school fundraiser to be successful, it is important that parents and students work together on the project.

  34. Sara says

    This is probably a one time thing: Our elementary school did a wrestling night with pro wrestlers to raise money. $10 at the door and local merchants donated door prizes for raffle. You could also purchase items outright from the local merchants and some of the money would go to the school (they openly stated the %). How did this happen you ask? One of the kids at the school has a relative on the wrestling team.

    Now, as much as the fund-raising really helped the school, I thought it was contradictory of the message the school is trying to send the kids as far as being nonviolent. This could be debated quite a bit.

    I too am so sick and tired of the fund-raising schemes kids are expected to participate in. I too would just rather give the money outright. I think the PTA is finally catching on. Our school recently did a SWIM-A-THON for anyone to pledge 100% of the money to go to a week-long field trip.

    I am going to suggest a community garage sale at the school. Bring good items to donate and the school gets ALL of the money the items bring in.

    Three cheers for poo-pooing traditional fund-raising.

  35. says

    Hi Jill, Last year you commented on an article about fundraising on how your son's school does a read a thon. Can you send me details? Our school is looking to do one last fundraiser and this sounds fantastic.

    For example how do they raise the money? Do the kids get pledges for the number of books or number of words they read or flat sponsors?

    Any info would be greatly appreciated

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