School Fundraising

by Katy on October 1, 2009 · 37 comments

Chinook Book

The 2009-2010 school year is in full swing, which unfortunately means it’s also full throttle time for school fundraising.

As any parent of a school-age child knows, school fundraising is a huge part of modern day funding of our school systems. There’s auctions, magazines, scrip, cookie dough, wrapping paper, Scholastic book sales and just about anything else you can think of. Sometimes it’s simply out-and-out begging for cash in order to save teacher positions.

As my friend Martha Stewart would say, it’s not a good thing.

I spent one horrible year of my life as a PTA President. And let me tell you, that PTA inbox was fit to burst on a daily basis with fabulous fundraising opportunities. 99% of it was based on selling ridiculously overpriced plasticky junk to our families in the name of supporting our schools. I was appalled that anyone would choose to sell this stuff, but somebody was, otherwise the companies would not be doing such a booming business.

I came to the conclusion that somebody was making a lot of money off the underfunding of our schools and it was not the schools.

We made some changes in how we fundraised that year, selling apples from a local orchard instead of cookie dough, and approaching local businesses for special projects like building a new playground instead of hitting up the already burnt out parents.

My eighth grader will be going on a class trip to Japan this coming spring, (he’s in a Japanese language immersion program) which has been fundraised for since kindergarten. There was a fifth grade trip as well, and there is supposedly a fair amount of money leftover.

However . . . the fundraising has started up anew.

My son brought home two $20Β Chinook Books last week, which are:

A one-of-a-kind resource β€” a coupon book, a directory, a source of ideas and inspiration. It’s your guide to living well and having fun in the Portland metro region. Save hundreds of dollars while exploring the community and supporting local, sustainable businesses. Over 300 valuable coupons make this our largest book yet. Businesses with coupons include grocery, dining, entertainment, travel, garden and home adding up to savings of over $5,000.

I have sold Chinook books before as a preschooler fundraiser, (which coincidently is the brainchild of a childhood friend’s husband) and I feel pretty good about them. People can actually save money after shelling out the initial $20, half of which goes back to the school.

The schools also rely heavily on scrip, which are face value gift cards, (usually national chains) bought at a discount. The idea is that parents are only buying what they normally would. This in theory is a great idea, but until they offer Goodwill scrip, I won’t be buying any.

As a complete aside, our son’s preschool sold scrip as a fundraiser, and the parent in charge took her job very seriously. She would stand up at meetings and wail in a thick Irish accent about “The onus of the scrip!” I still can’t talk to my husband about scrip without one of us breaking into a thick Irish accent. Tee-hee.

I have gotten to the point where I refuse to sell most of the stuff that that is asked of me. Although, my son is actually the one hawking his wares this time, which is a nice respite.

What does your school do for fundraising? Are you happy being asked to sell stuff to your friends, family and co-workers? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen@The Frugal Girl October 2, 2009 at 4:09 am

One of the delightful things about homeschooling is that there is no fundraising necessary (hallelujah!!). The only thing I have to do is politely say no when people knock on my door trying to sell me stuff I don’t want or need. I figure that I pay school taxes without utilizing any of the school resources, so I should be good. lol


shymom October 2, 2009 at 5:25 am

Years ago we would have a yearly, massive yard sale to help pay for the 5th grade class trip. It was a lot of work for about 2 days but we made about 5K. This was a fund raiser I was happy with, since we were not creating a lot of waste. (We even sold some items I had managed to trash pick for the occasion.)

Fast forward to the second child — her class sold landfill fodder, otherwise known as wrapping paper. Unfortunately, it was also a good money maker and deemed to be easier and has happened every year since.



nancy from mass October 2, 2009 at 6:13 am

Thankfully my son goes to a charter schol and they frown on any kind of ‘fundraiser’ like candy, gift wrap, etc. every few months, they do send home the scholastic magazine to see if any child wants to buy books, but that is about it. The pta (or pie as we call it) runs various things throughout the year to raise money for the school; a golf tourney, dances, prom dresses for cheap or free (I helped re-make and stitch up quite a few last year) for the girls in the area that do and don’t go to our school, etc. The schools that have fundraisers only get a small percentage of the sales anyway (like .20 on the dollar). I’d rather donate directly to the school than force children to be door-to-door salesmen.


Jaimelee October 2, 2009 at 6:20 am

My son’s preschool does a fund raiser that involves buying a $5 rechargeable gift card to a grocery store and 10% of everything you put on that card goes to the school. Most of the local schools do it you just specify which school when purchasing your first card and you can reload it as often as possible. I like it because everyone buys groceries…now if they would just find a way to do this at our farmer’s market…


Cheryl October 2, 2009 at 7:01 am

This subject and school supplies that never get used/come home are my two biggest school pet peeves.

My son’s middle school makes almost $40K from the dreaded wrapping paper fundraiser so it is never going to go away. Each year I have written a note saying “we do not support the gift wrap fundraiser however we do support the school” and include a check.

The school gets 100% of my check amount versus 50% from the fundraiser (hence the *ridiculous* prices)…


Katharine October 2, 2009 at 7:02 am

When I was a kid, my mother HATED the fundraising.

So instead, she would contact the organizer, ask how much each child was supposed to bring in (profit, not gross). We’d then discuss the “cause” and my mom would typically write a cheque for the amount.

I plan to do the same thing for my kids, when it comes time to it. It just seems to me that fundraising is wasteful, annoying to friends and family (who get called on again and again), and a poor use of a child’s time. If the cause is important enough then we should choose to pay for it directly. If it’s not then I doubly don’t want my kid fundraising.


SanQ October 2, 2009 at 7:19 am

I actually love the school’s plant sale. I got all of my organic veggie starts (and a few flowers) last year through it, supported the school and a local nursery. School fundraising can be obnoxious, but can be a good thing too!


shewhosees October 2, 2009 at 7:43 am

Having no children of my own, I’ve only ever been on the customer end of school fundraising. Usually I was asked by co-workers to purchase something for their child’s school’s benefit.

My answer was always the same, “I’ll consider making a purchase when your child asks me to.” In other words, I’m NOT buying stuff from the parents. I give money to adults for schools under exactly one set of circumstances: when my property tax bill (sent by the very adult County Auditor) arrives!

Only once in many years did a co-worker’s child ask me directly to support their fundraiser. I think it was on “Take Your Child to Work Day,” and I bought several candybars.


Emily October 2, 2009 at 7:57 am

My daughter’s public elementary school has one fundraiser – a yearly walkathon. The children ask for donations (which are tax deductible) and if they reach certain milestones they receive modest prizes donated by businesses and parents (like a smoothie from a local business.) All of the money raised goes to the PTA and the kids get to have fun and exercise for an afternoon. I’m SO glad we’re not asked to sell anything!


Jodi October 2, 2009 at 8:19 am

Ah, what a thorny thing this is. When kids come to the door selling overpriced junk, I just give them a $10 donation.

My son’s school (a private K-8 that has to raise a lot of $ to supplement tuition and provide scholarships) does an annual Ecothon. Every kid gets pledges to pick up litter around the community at an hourly rate. They’re expected to work 2 hours starting in kindergarten and the hours go up from there. The middle schoolers do community service projects for pledges. I love this fundraiser and would love to see more like it.

I’m a veteran of fundraisers because I was an orchestra kid, not a sports kid. So we had to raise $20,000 a year for trips, uniforms, etc. (the school district provided a whopping $2K a year). We did two fundraisers that were just great: spook insurance and pizza.

Spook insurance was a $3 policy that we sold each year just before Halloween. If you had purchased a policy and someone egged or papered your house near Halloween, we cleaned it up for you. We actually divided the town of Kennewick, WA, between the two high school and covered most of it. Great way to get a donation, and we usually had 1-2 cleanups to do a year.

We also made and sold pizza. These were simple pizzas; a 14″ ranged from $3 for plain cheese to $6.15 for more deluxe. We made (assembled) them once a month with Costco ingredients in the school cafeteria and delivered them to customers that pre-ordered. Yes, those are prices of 20 years ago, but the families I sold to found them an excellent deal for a quick meal.

Our last, but unsuccessful, fundraiser was to detassel corn for a local Pioneer seed grower. Has we been able to marshall enough people, he would have written the music department a check for $20K since that’s what it cost him anyway. Unfortunately, this was just after _Children of the Corn_ came out, so it was just myself and a handful of others (mostly Mormon farm kids who hadn’t seen the movie and knew how to work). Turned out to be the first summer job for most of us; the farmer just paid us as regular crews. Itchy, but great experience.

School fundraisers can be different. But boy, does it require pushback from families–and usually more time than it takes to shepherd a sale of overpriced junk. It’s worth it!


Jeanne October 2, 2009 at 10:29 am

Our school PTO does no fundraiser sales. If you want to support the PTO, that gets you a yearbook and a t-shirt. The rest of the money goes directly to the school. I’m so glad we don’t need to sell things! I’d rather just write them a check.

They have some fundraisers, like a silent auction, carnival, etc.

They do have an active Boxtops for Education drive, which nets them thousands of dollars, but I refuse to buy something I wouldn’t already buy.


Meredith October 2, 2009 at 10:29 am

This is hilarious. I was just about to post a question on your FB group about….school fundraising. Thanks for addresssing it. Our son is in his first year of Junior Kindergarten and it’s already overwhelming.

He just brought home a fundraiser that involves selling magazine subscriptions. We are in the process of paring down our newspapers and magazines big time (we get the Sat. edition of a national paper and are not renewing any magazines), and part of that has been asking our families not to give us any gift subscriptions. So I’m hardly going to start pushing them on everyone now.

I think my solution is going to be to return the fundraising package with a letter explaining why we won’t be participating. I will, however, be donating a box of toys to the kindergarten classroom, along with art supplies, and I am offering to volunteer from time to time. Working part-time allows me time to do these things, just not cash to burn for useless products!

It is interesting to note how different people react. My husband is convinced that we are required to participate and is terrified about the repercussions of my fundraising boycott.

Thanks for another great post.


Angela October 2, 2009 at 11:18 am

We don’t have kids, but have plenty of friends that do.

I have to say the whole fundraising thing is depressing to me. First, because it is so sad that our schools aren’t properly funded. And second, because as you say, so much of the stuff they sell for fundraising is cheaply manufactured crap that adds to the whole problem we nonconsumers are trying to get away from.

On top of that, I usually feel obligated to buy, since I’m being asked by a close friend or relative.

Every time I think about it, I can’t believe it’s come to this.

On a positive note, I once bought a roll of wrapping paper that I loved and it lasted literally years. So maybe that is the key, if it has to be that way, at least they could be selling useful, sustainable stuff.


Queen Lucia October 2, 2009 at 12:23 pm

This is a great topic! I struggle with this every year. I certainly understand the need for additional funds but my particular problem is with using the kids as sales people – if the PTA needs to raise money, they should do it themselves. Instead the kids are roped in to do it and also spend school time having assemblies to get them excited about selling lots of junk and winning “prizes” that amount to more junk. As a former girl scount who spent HOURS selling cookies door to door and in stores, I can tell you that experience did not build character.

Along with selling things, our PTA sponsors several fundraisers during the year, one of which is an auction. All the kids have to bring in $8 so the class can put together a basket to be auctioned. I have a hard time believing that the $200 or so collected is recouped by the winning auction bid for the basket.

I have no problem writing out a check – our PTA does sponsor significant programs for the kids that I know the school can’t afford – but fundraising is truly irritating. And don’t get me started on all the advertising that comes home…. (oh dear, sounds like I should join the PTA!)


Melody October 2, 2009 at 12:35 pm

I’m actually the scrip coordinator at our school, and I like it WAY better than other fundraisers because at least you’re getting what you pay for (rather then feeling forced to buy crap at horrific mark-ups). It doesn’t work well for families who never eat out/shop at non-thrift stores, but there is scrip for grocery stores, gas stations, and hotels.

I’d love to hear more about how you worked out the apple fundraiser. What was the fundraising split with the grower? Sounds like a fabulous idea (supporting a local farmer, selling something healthy, etc.).


Cate October 2, 2009 at 1:36 pm

I absolutely hated school fundraisers as a kid, and so did my mom. I remember she once felt bad that I didn’t usually participate, so we trekked up and down the street trying to sell stuff to my poor neighbors…it was awful! After that she usually just sent the school a check. I’m hoping to homeschool my children, but if they end up in public school I’ll just be sending in a check rather than having them sell that overpriced junk. It’s too bad education isn’t more valued in the U.S.


karen October 2, 2009 at 1:42 pm

besides the obvious irritation of the solicitation of orders for ‘junk’ is the fact that too often it’s the parents that are bringing the catalogs, requests, etc to the workplace. Where are the kids? Why are the parents doing the selling? I prefer Jodi’s idea of an eco-thon on so many levels. Surely with enough brainstorming there are more win/win ideas for fundraising that get kids involved with the community. Although I dont have kids of my own, I contacted our neighborhood middle school about a wish list from the teachers or things the school needed that could be donated. “Some one will get back to you” . Perhaps because I didnt have a checkbook in hand, I never got an answer to my inquiry regardless of having left them my information πŸ™


Grace October 2, 2009 at 5:37 pm

My daughter’s PTA simply asked $10 per parent for the PTA membership fee and another $100 per child for supporting the school. No fundraiser. However, $120 per child is quite expensive!


Magdalena October 2, 2009 at 5:45 pm

In my last parish, I got hit up for every fundraiser because, of course, Pastor would surely want to donate, and every kid knew me! The problem was that they sold raffle tickets, and my church has a “no raffles”, no gambling policy. I couldn’t get the kids to understand that I didn’t want the tickets if I gave them a donation. My solution was that if I did win the raffle, I would donate the prize back to be drawn for again.


Cherry-Lee October 2, 2009 at 5:58 pm

My kids went to a preschool that used to organize each fundraiser with a goal per family. They would send a letter home saying our goal is to make this much for our school! The goal for each family is to either sell _______ or donate _______. So you had a choice. I loved that!

Now that my kids are in public schools -I make my own estimate and send in a check. Works for me. They do good things with the money!


WilliamB October 2, 2009 at 6:10 pm

I don’t remembe fundraisers when I was a child but they’re everywhere now. Ugh. I do not want to pay twice market rate for junk I don’t need.

I’m even less happy that the children are roped into it. I don’t think it’s appropriate for a 7 year old to be going door-to-door selling something. Better it be the parents.

My neighbors’ kids knock on my door every year. I decide how much to give a school (it’s not much, I pay for but do not use public schools via taxes) and divide by #kids at each school. If it’s a lottery tix I’ll buy a few. Anything else I just write a check for the dollar amount.


Amanda October 2, 2009 at 6:16 pm

My family fell into homeschooling the same year a friend of mine has her son in the kindergarden class my daughter would have been in. I was appalled at the number of fundraisers and hand outs she had to sink money into for her son’s kindergarden education. Where are the tax dollars going?! At the end of the year we compared notes and she had spent or been made to fundraise over $200! I had joined a charter and done my schooling at home without having to buy much of anything except one workbook which we recycled at the end of the year. It was economical and eco-friendly! I have chosen to homeschool since then for all the benefits I found that first year including the stronger relationships I have with my kids! Homeschool is not for everyone but it’s actually cheaper than public school and loads of fun!


Emily October 2, 2009 at 6:20 pm

My son’s school does lots and lots of fundraisers, including Scrip, selling gift wrap and other *stuff*, and direct appeals for cash. My favorite is our Amazon affiliate program. Parents, friends and family purchase whatever they would already purchase on Amazon and a portion of the money goes toward paying for staff, including our full-time librarian, undeniably a worthy cause! If your school doesn’t do this and you’re shopping on Amazon, why not help our school? (Shameless plug:) Just use the link on Last year we earned over $1000. It’s a drop in the bucket, but every drop helps!


Karen October 2, 2009 at 6:36 pm

Oh my, this is a great topic! My kids are now in their twenties, so we are done with this nonsense, but I hated all aspects of fundraising for the schools, and often felt like the lone voice. Metallic wrapping paper I’d never in my life buy?! Magazines I didn’t have time to read?! But maybe those other objectors were also quietly desperate.

Parents end up doing most of the work exactly because most kids are not mature enough to deal with the entire transaction, plus they don’t have cars to drive the crap around with, nor is it always safe to send your kids out going door to door. So it really IS the parents doing the selling, and most of us get so fed up with being handed that task as well as paying high property taxes.

I also have worked for the public schools, though, so I know the reality of no money. The idea of scrip is at least the lesser of two evils, especially online scrip. My Safeway card is tied into our local wildlife rescue, and that’s scrip I feel very good about. Keep the awful wrapping paper and unwanted magazines but give me some cause I want to support, please!

The bottom line is–America does not value education or our schools would be funded as well as, say, the department of defense. And since we have a capitalist economy, those folks at PTA are just doing what they think is apropos, i.e. selling stuff to raise money. But what a sad lesson all this teaches the kids–somehow, in order to have band, the arts or even the basics, we must all take part in selling and buying stuff we don’t like, stuff that is both ecologically unsound AND overpriced.


Amy October 2, 2009 at 7:44 pm

Amen, Karen.

I work in a very underfunded school and am constantly put into a situation where I must somehow find materials. Thankfully, my school has uniforms, and I have been doing a very successful used uniform sale for several years now. Parents and students donate lightly used school uniforms they no longer need, and we sell them at very low prices to parents who would prefer to buy used. It works great! We typically make a few hundred dollars, and the parents really appreciate it.


Clean Simple October 2, 2009 at 8:53 pm

My children’s school also uses Scrip as a major fundraiser and we buy cards for: gas stations, Trader Joe’s, Costco. Basics that we would pay for anyway, but this way, the school gets a cut. It’s a good system.


gerard October 3, 2009 at 4:49 am

The whole thing is just so wrong. I think that schools need a per pupil budget that is fair, statewide , and includes a prohibition on individual school fundraising.
The problem is that everyplace we have lived, schools are segregated. All the well-off families use one school, the ‘right’ school, and they fundraise their butts off and have lots of trips, equipment etc.
The less well off public school has parents just scraping by and the pta cannot accomplish as much either in time or treasure.
Children should not be screwed over by the accident of their birth circumstance.
while I am at it, how about a public health insurance program! all the goodwillin’ in the world does not equal a 12,ooo dollar health insurance premium.


Ecogrrl October 3, 2009 at 11:34 am

I LOVE the Chinook Book – an actual coupon book that I use that is not full of awful chain restaurants! One coupon for 2 for 1 Horizon low-VOC paint paid for the book in itself. And if your kids have these fundraisers (god how I wish we’d had these, as I remember the awfulness of selling magazines door to door in 6th grade), at least this way people actually benefit and they are for a truly good cause, not to mention not full of artificial flavors like that gross cookie dough some are selling! πŸ™‚


Martha October 3, 2009 at 7:50 pm

I would recommend Original Works as a school fundraiser for schools that insist on selling stuff–you can order tons of different items with your kid’s artwork on it–but you can order only one of a thing, like a mug or 1 set of notecards etc. While it is stuff, it honors the kid’s art and can be a good opportunity to buy gifts for grandparents etc
Although I have to admit that the school makes thousands more dollars on the ecothon than on Original Works (yes, Jodi and I are involved with the same school)…


Maniacal Mommy October 4, 2009 at 11:41 am

My only school age child attends a small Catholic school, so fundraising is inevitable considering our reasonable tuition. The past two years we have had to unload 50 candy bars. Sadly, my husband will tend to be his best customer. Although now that they added caramel filled, I too am guilty.

I do not mind donating desserts for the autumn card party. I am pretty ok with giving three hours in the summer to work at our annual festival. I use the scrip to buy my gas and our rare nights out for dinner. Occasionally the kids get to pick out books from Scholastic (though I am reluctant on this one when I know I can them for a quarter at the thrift store, eventually).

I would rather give my time than try to foist off goods people do not need or want onto them. I mean, cookie dough? Come on!


Mom December 30, 2010 at 7:12 am

I was cutting out a Box Top for Education this morning and a lightbulb went off: There are two things wrong with this picture. 1. That our schools are so underfunded that we have been conditioned to cut out BTFE and other label programs for our schools. 2. That the corporation behind BTFE makes a profit from parents buying their products over others. Why don’t they just make donations to schools out of the goodness of their hearts instead?


greenstrivings October 12, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Sorry for spamming your blog today, but I can’t help but comment here too. I also refuse to sell crap (overpriced wrapping paper, chemical-laden tubs of cookie dough, tacky jewelry). What’s truly aggravating is that that particular fundraiser comes with instructions: “For safety reasons, children should not go door-to-door. Parents should sell the items at their workplace.” What the heck? First, I don’t have a traditional workplace. Even if I did, I would feel incredibly uncomfortable asking coworkers to buy anything, let alone junk. Thankfully I’m in a position where I can just write the PTA a check, but if I weren’t, it would be a huge dilemma.

That said, my children’s school has a spell-a-thon that we don’t mind asking people to sponsor. The school also collects recyclables and turns them in for the deposit and my supermarket purchases are in the eScrip program.

The fundraising makes it possible for the school to offer art instruction (my kindergartner knew who Georges Seurat was!), music, and field trips, and I try to keep that in mind when I donate.


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