It's Time We Rethink School Fundraising

08/17/2017  |  Andrea Meade

Is your school stuck in a fundraising rut? Are you just going through the motions year after year, while the fundraising company walks away with a large percentage of your earnings? A majority of schools are stuck in this hamster wheel and are left feeling trapped. Why? The most likely reason is fear — fear of rocking the boat, fear of not being successful, fear of change.

Fortunately, a shift is beginning to occur. Schools are realizing that there’s a better way for parent associations to bring in funds — a more efficient way, a more meaningful way. With administrations beginning to weigh in, parent associations are being forced to ask themselves some tough questions as they look to join the responsible fundraising movement. The answers to these questions not only affect the parent association as a whole, but also have the potential to impact students, parents, and even the donors.

Take a further look as we break these questions down and dive in to why it’s so important to challenge the school fundraising status quo.

Is Our Fundraiser Consistent With Our Values?

Low quality, overpriced products, junk food and students as sales people are probably not elements that your school is keen on promoting: yet a large number of school fundraisers still are. If we push for clean eating and healthy lifestyles during school, then why are we still having our students sell products that do just the opposite?

Leading schools have discovered that friends and family give because they want to support the student and their school, not because of the products being sold. Frankly, they couldn’t care less about the latest wrapping paper print or the mass-produced tub of cookie dough. Schools no longer have to settle for kids running in circles trying to sell these low quality, overpriced products. Let’s start encouraging parent associations and school administrators to “walk the walk” instead of just “talking the talk.”

In addition, parent associations and administrators should work together and set a list of standards — standards that would make it easy for them to eliminate inferior fundraising options. These standards could include: the maximum amount the school is willing to give up to a fundraising company; if the goods are manufactured fairly; if the company is taking an environmentally friendly approach; if the company encourages leadership among students, etc. Leading schools are being extremely rigorous in their selection process and effortlessly dismissing companies that offer a substandard product or service.

Are We Taking a “Less
is More” Approach?

Fundraiser fatigue exists and it occurs more often than not when schools rely on too many fundraisers to bring in revenue. A couple of ways to combat this fundraiser fatigue is to first have an identifiable cause in mind and second to set a goal and communicate that goal heavily.

One of the biggest traps schools fall into is fundraising just to fundraise — again, simply going through the motions because that’s what they’ve always done. If the school doesn’t have a compelling cause in mind, they shouldn’t fundraise. Fundraiser fatigue cannot only occur from too many fundraisers, but also when the cause feels meaningless to students and parents. Leading schools are narrowing down their priorities and then raising funds to support the things that really matter.

Not setting a goal and, therefore, not earning enough money is the reason most schools tack on fundraiser after fundraiser. If the goal is communicated upfront, parents would know what was expected. Setting a goal and communicating that goal wholeheartedly gives students and parents a sense of security. Instead of being lackadaisical and waiting for the next one in the series, parents are able to jump on board and fully commit. Leading schools make every effort to be “one and done” — successfully executing one fundraiser, communicating the goal in advance, and letting parents know that if the goal is met, fundraising is done for the year. All it takes is clear communication up front.

Are We Being Good Stewards of Funds?

Leading schools ensure that the largest share of the donations go to the school, not fundraising companies. We’ve all heard it countless times, “Can’t I just write you a check?” Again, people give because they want to support the student, not because of the number of laps the student ran or the products they are selling.

With the traditional fun run and product companies keeping 50 to 60 percent of the proceeds, schools are demanding alternatives. Sadly, most parents and donors are left completely in the dark so these age-old tactics are rarely challenged. Imagine the uproar if donors knew that over half of the money donated to your adorable seven year old was used to fund a multi-billion dollar industry.

The rule of thumb used by charity watchdogs is that fundraising costs should be less than 25 percent of the total proceeds. For the best in class, it is 10 percent or less. Surprisingly, most schools would receive a C- or worse if their fundraising practices were evaluated.

Are We Creating a Positive Experience For Our Students?

The student’s experience during the fundraiser is often overlooked. Often times, the school is so concerned about bringing in a large profit that the students, the ones driving the fundraiser, are left feeling disrespected and overworked. In addition to creating a positive experience, schools should guarantee that the students participating in the fundraiser are treated fairly, regardless of their ability to earn money.

Unfortunately, manipulation is a key component of many of the fundraisers on the market. “Leadership” and “Character Building” are two themes often used to mask this form of manipulation, resulting in the opposite being accomplished. Passing out prizes in front of the entire group based on how many pledges per lap you achieved or how many cookie dough orders you took reinforces a culture of “haves versus have nots.”

Prizes can be real motivators among students and parents. However, schools should consider bringing in a fundraiser that thinks outside of the box, that has a program everyone can participate in, and that rewards students for criteria that doesn’t have a dollar sign attached to it. The ideal fundraiser builds everyone up, regardless of their ability to bring in the big funds. Leading schools recognize that what they leave behind after their fundraiser ends is just as important as what they are raising money for in the first place.

These questions are hard ones to ask, particularly when your parent association or school has been doing the same thing for years on end. Nonetheless, aren’t we are all here for the same reason? That is to inspire students, to build them up and to encourage them to make the world a better place? With fundraising being such an important element of the budget, it’s time to rethink the school fundraising status quo and have it reflect what we desire most for our children.

Schools and parent associations are fortunate that there are now alternatives on the market. There’s no longer the need to give up a large portion of the profits while the fundraising company calls the shots. There are more efficient, more exciting, and way more meaningful options out there. All schools need to do is simply look.

Andrea Meade is the President of Raise Craze: Fundraising Through Kindness. Learn more about how Raise Craze is breaking down the barriers of the traditional fundraiser at or email: [email protected].
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