Opt-Out of School FundraisingHaving worked at non-profit organizations for years, I know from experience that product fundraisers can be very effective. There is a built-in sense of obligation for parents to at least “try” to sell to family, friends, and co-workers. If you hook up with the right company, you will get a quality product coupled with a respectable (50% or more) cut of the profits. Overall, product sales are safe, predictable, and reliable.

However, in recent years, there has been an increasingly vocal opposition to these product sales. Back in the old days, we simply sold the cookie dough and didn’t complain. We took it like men. We saw it as our civic duty to trudge from door to door, set up tables in front of the five and dime, and harass our aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas into dropping at least $20, so we could win a model car or some such grand prize.

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Now, things are changing. A growing segment of our population has risen up and claimed that they don’t need the cookie dough. They don’t want the wrapping paper. They aren’t going to fork over hard-earned cash for gourmet popcorn. They have even started to express their grievances to school administrators and PTO leaders.

So, what is a school fundraiser to do? Although we don’t want to alienate a segment of our community, we just can’t give up raising money to cover those items the school budget misses. And, it’s not fair to give the nay-sayers a free pass and thus hang the entire financial burden on the families willing to play along.

Fortunately, there is a trend that is gaining in popularity to solve this very problem. It’s called the “Opt-Out”. Basically, the school gives parents the option of making a flat payment instead of purchasing whatever item is being sold. This can be done on a sale-by-sale basis or the payment can cover the entire year of fundraising. In fact, some schools have gotten very creative about it. The following quote is from “Momala” on the MomMakin’Cents blog on February 19, 2008.

One of the things that my son’s elementary school has done is give parents the choice to opt out of fundraisers by paying a one-time fee at the beginning of each school year. This fee (I think it was $35 this year) gets you a Team “school name” card. When you have a card you not only don’t have to do any fundraisers, you also get discounts on any school activities like movie nights etc. It also pays for any field trip fees your child may have during the year. I have found this to be worth the $35 for us, not only because I don’t have to buy any junk, but I also don’t have the “mom I need $5 for a field trip and it’s due today” conversation at 6:00am. The card more than paid for itself.

East Fayette Elementary in Fayette, Georgia, has an opt-out program that they have tied to a popular incentive for students. This is posted on their website.

Don’t like fundraising, don’t have time, or you simply want to donate because 100% of your money goes directly to the school? Hey, whatever your reason, the Opt-Out program is just for you. While any donation amount is taken and used for the benefit of our students, there is an incentive amount that allows for your children to attend the BMX Bike Show (with a great educational message against drugs).
 

The following amounts gets your child(ren) into the Bike show:

1 child – $75 or more.
2 children – $125 or more.
3 or more children – $150 or more.

Yet other schools have taken this to the ultimate conclusion and have eliminated product sales all together. Polly Schlafhauser of Families With Purpose recently commented on the Motor City Moms blog that:

Our school did away with the individual fund raisers a couple of years ago and went to a cash donation system. They ask every family to donate $75 at the start of the school year. Only about 50% of the families participate. I am one of those families and even though I know I am carrying the load for the other families, I still prefer it to the individual fund raisers.

I think that every school should seriously consider adopting some sort of consistent opt-out policy for parents. I say this for three reasons:

Increased Profit Margin
A good product sale will split the over all take in half with you. Poor ones are down around 10%. That’s a lot of work for not a lot of return. If some one makes a flat-out cash donation to the school, however, not only do you get to keep 100% of the gift, but the family gets to make a tax deduction! This is a great example of a win-win in fundraising.

Increased Parent Participation
If you don’t offer an opt-out option, many parents who object to the product sales will simply refuse to participate. They will throw the order form in the trash, just on principle. If you give them an option to make that cash donation however, you have a greater chance of them helping out. I don’t think that the majority of the “anti product sales” people are against schools. I just think they are against being “forced” (in their opinion) into buying a product they see as unhealthy, un-necessary, or un-wanted.

Increased Good Will
By offering an opt-out option in school fundraising, you are showing parents that you care about them and are listening to their calls for change. Whenever you can simply and effectively solve a problem for someone, you gain an ally. In a school situation, you should gather all the allies you can, whenever you can!

Conclusion
The need to raise extra money for school is greater than ever. This may be an uncomfortable situation for some parents. Instead of “fighting” with them over the various means of fundraising, give them the options they want, so that you can still reach the goals your school so desperately needs.