Surviving Back-to-School Fundraising Season

US News

Now that kids are back to school, it's only a matter of time before many of them hit the pavement to sell magazine subscriptions, candy bars or coupon books to support their school or extracurricular activities. Budget cuts in many school districts throughout the past few years have made fundraising even more essential, but some parents are experiencing fundraiser fatigue.

Bob Gavlak, a financial advisor with Strategic Wealth Partners in Seven Hills, Ohio, is sending his daughter to kindergarten at a private school this fall. When the magazine drive came up during a recent parents' meeting, he says the father sitting next to him groaned. "We're already paying to send them to school here, and now we have to go drum up business to give them even more money," he explains.

Gavlak does buy popcorn from neighborhood kids to support their school or Boy Scout troop, but he makes them work a little to earn his business. "I have them give a little bit of a sales pitch, and tell me why it's important and what it's going to do for them," he says. "Part of the lesson we want to teach them is selling your services."

[See: 6 Fun Ways to Teach Kids About Money.]

However, he draws the line at parents bringing their kids' fundraising order forms to work. "The point of the drives is for the kids to sell as much as they can," he says. "When parents try to peddle it, I don't really get on board with that."

Jodi Furman, a mother of three in South Florida and the blogger behind LiveFabuless.com, has mostly opted out of fundraising due to concerns that traditional fundraisers only funnel a percentage of sales to schools. "I've likely bought my very last overpriced roll of wrapping paper and half melted candy bar," she says, admitting that she still can't resist buying Girl Scout cookies.

Instead of buying from school fundraisers, she asks her kids' teachers for their wish list at the beginning of the school year and buys something for the classroom so it directly benefits the students. As a hockey mom, Furman writes a check for the family's share instead of fundraising. "If we're expected to sell $1,000 [worth of products] with 30 percent of the proceeds to be donated, I write a check for $300," she explains. And when neighborhood kids knock on her door, she gives them a small cash donation to put toward their fundraising goal. "Kids seem to appreciate a straight donation, even when I donate a mere dollar, far more than a large order," she adds.

Some school parent-teacher associations have chosen a "fair share" approach in lieu of door-to-door fundraising. At Sandburg Middle School in Elmhurst, Ill., parents are asked to donate a suggested amount of $15 to $20 per child, according to the school's PTA president Shari Haug. Haug likes this approach from a safety standpoint and because it doesn't pressure parents or kids to become aggressive sales machines. "As a parent, it's such a relief not to have to sell candy, wrapping paper, pizzas and so on," she says. "I'd rather just write the check for $25 and be done."

[Read: How to Find the Best Back-to-School Deals.]

Sarah Barrett, a mother of two in Los Angeles and author of "A Mom's Guide to School Fundraising," says this "one and done" approach is often the simplest and most effective way for schools to raise money. Barrett also recommends events like walkathons where a larger portion of money goes to support the school, and they get kids moving. "It's so odd to me that we have these mixed messages for our kids that there's so much unhealthy food, and yet we're letting our kids sell cookie dough," she says.

In addition to soliciting donations or hosting a walkathon, Barrett says schools also successfully raise money through a fundraiser called the Party Book, in which parents host themed parties in their homes such as a Scrabble Battle or a sushi-making class. "One hundred percent of the money raised for the parties goes directly to the school, and the host gets a tax write-off for hosting the party," she says. "It's a great way to be inclusive and help the school at the same time."

Even with these alternate approaches to raising money, some schools still opt for traditional fundraisers. For adults who are approached by neighborhood kids or co-workers selling on behalf of their children, Gavlak says it's OK to say "no," perhaps explaining that "I get my Girl Scout cookies from my niece or my neighbor."

[Read: 5 Ways to Get Out of Buying Girl Scout Cookies at Work.]

Furman draws a slightly harder line. "I've found that as I've gotten older and busier, I've mastered saying, 'As much as I'd love to help, I simply can't. Thanks for understanding,'" she explains. "That's it. No grand excuses, no guilt. Just say no with a smile."



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