Archive for the 'Bad Ideas' Category

A Conversation with a Frustrated Fundraising Mom

Today I would like to share parts of a conversation I had just a couple of days ago with the mother of two children in a local public school system. Her daughter is in high school, and she also has a son who is in third grade. So, she’s seen the whole gamut of school fundraising in her time as a parent.

She did not know that I write a blog on this topic of raising money for schools, and I wanted her to speak freely, so I did not mention it.

We got on to this topic while our kids were at swim practice, so we had plenty of time to talk in detail. She mentioned that her daughter’s high school was doing a “test drive a car” fundraiser, very much like what I wrote about yesterday. She said that she really liked this kind of a fundraising event, because it was a very low-level commitment, both time and money-wise.

I should say that this is a very involved mother, who does regularly participate in school events, including fundraisers. Therefore, I took what she had to say with a great deal of seriousness.

Here are some of her opinions on the state of modern fundraising in our schools. See if you share any of these beliefs. My guess is that you probably do.

  • She hates it when fundraisers are sprung on parents. No advance warning, no prior announcement. We get the fundraising packet in our kid’s backpack and are expected to work that into our lives. This is inconsiderate to parents who already have a very busy schedule. A little fair warning would be greatly appreciated. continue reading

Are You a Fundraising Bully?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I think and write about fundraising most every day, but I really am bothered when I personally encounter fundraising attempts that are just downright inconsiderate and poorly thought out.

I had two such incidents occur just this morning in my own home with my own kids.

First, one of my sons asked me for $5 on his way out the door to school. Ok, that’s not usually a big deal, but I asked him what he needed it for anyway. “I need it to pay for a pink t-shirt for my (sports) team.”  Then he leaned in toward me and whispered, “You know what pink t-shirts are for, right, dad?”

I stood up straight and replied in a big booming voice, “Why yes, son, a pick t-shirt for sports teams are to support BREAST cancer research.”

He gave me the obligatory “Dad!”

I asked him how long he had known about this, and he just shrugged. Not very long was his message. And I never saw a note or anything come home about how his sports team has chosen to financially support this cause.

Now, I know my son is in middle school (not usually the most reliable bunch), and maybe he was informed about this months ago, but I don’t really think so. The team has only been practicing for a couple of weeks, you see, so I probably would have heard something…

Anyway, I know $5 is not the end of the world, and I do support the cause of breast cancer research, but I think it’s pretty un-thoughtful to ask parents to just cough up some money every time a teacher or a coach gets a wild hair about something.

And if you’ve read any of my past blog posts, you know I feel pretty strongly about keeping money raised by the school (parents) in the school- not to be shipped off to some remote and massive non-profit operation.

The “bullying” part about this is that my son felt he had to donate the money, so he could get the pink shirt and be like everyone else on the team. If he didn’t, he could be the only one not in pink and that could be hurtful, and I don’t want that to happen, so I have to give him the $5.

The second way I felt bullied by fundraising this morning was an email I got from my son’s eighth grade class. I read that there is a pizza kit fundraiser coming up to help pay for special activities for the year.

As you know, if you’ve read this blog, I’m a big supporter of telling parents the fundraising plan for the entire year, but I guess I should have made it clear that the plan should be worthy of fundraising for.

Here’s what my son’s school wants me to go sell pizza to all my friends and family for:

  • A trip to a movie theater
  • A trip to the ski slope
  • A trip to the water park
  • A trip to the high ropes course

Are you kidding me? Where’s the trip to the amusement park? To the ice cream shoppe? My daughter would love to go the mall. If I sell more pizza, can she go there, too?

Now, I know that by complaining about this, I become everyone’s scrooge. And really, if they were fundraising for new computers, more technology, more after school clubs, or ANYTHING relating to their academic education, I’d sell pizzas all day long. But not one single item on their list of field trips is going to help my child improve his academic performance. I’m sure they would counter by arguing somehow that these trips are good for building school spirit, working on enhancing relationships, and giving kids who normally don’t go to the ski slope a chance to experience something new. But, come on.  Don’t kid a kidder.

I’m sure the school would tell me I don’t have to sell the pizzas or pay the opt-out fee, but if I don’t, my kid can’t go with all the other students and that would ostracize him. So, without any input, we are just bullied into selling pizzas or writing a check for play time.

This is flat-out bullying when it comes to fundraising. And, neither example I mentioned is truly benefiting my child’s education.

I strongly implore you, if you’re working in a school as a fundraiser, be smart about what you ask parents to pay for and how you ask them to pay for it. Otherwise, you’re just a bully.

Photo by: Pipe

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

I won’t reveal where I took this picture, in order to protect the reputation of this non-profit, but I did take it on September 15, 2011. I just happened to be passing through this building and was so surprised by what I saw, I had to take this picture.

I will admit, it was taken here in Michigan, where I live. Bottle drives are very popular here, because there is a ten cent deposit paid on every single carbonated beverage bottle or can. Non-profits and schools can really rack up a tidy profit if they’ve got a bunch of students and supporters bringing in big trash bags full of returnables.

However, there are several things that disturbed me about this organization’s effort at fundraising. Let me list a few.

The garbage can looks like it has been run over by a garbage truck a couple of dozen times and then shoved in a corner. What is that?! You are asking people to donate money (in the form of bottles and cans) to your organization, and that’s the best you can do? That’s embarrassing! Would you show up to a golf outing or auction in ripped clothes covered in mud? It’s the same thing! Every time you ask for money, you are making an impression on your audience. What kind of impression do you want to make?

In addition, the collection can is sitting in a corner with dirt surrounding it, a broom (which obviously hasn’t been used) behind it, and an empty watering can left out in front of it. You might as well put up a sign on the wall above it that says, “No, we’re not really interested in you donating to us. Just forget it.”

The thing that bothers me most is that this total fail is that it tells me a lot about what kind of organization this is. If they can walk by something so bad every single day, then there’s got to be all sorts of other problems with their overall fundraising effort. I would not feel comfortable donating any money to them, based on what I saw in their foyer with the bottle collection can debacle. They wouldn’t handle it well, based on how they ask for money

Let this be a lesson. Please, go take a look around your own facility. Is there something that would look very bad to the public and cause them to think this poorly of your organization? If so, fix it immediately! I am absolutely positive it is costing you money and ruining your reputation!

Should a School Only Have One Fundraising Goal All Year Long?

Back in May, I wrote a blog post about the insanely high number of elementary schools I’ve been reading about who have been holding fundraisers to purchase new playground equipment.

These schools are willing to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to have these shiny plastic and wooden obstacle courses installed on their grounds. In my article, I questioned the wisdom of paying so much for something with limited educational value.

I did allow that physical education, play, and letting off steam are all important parts of an elementary student’s day. Without this physical activity, kids have a harder time learning in the classroom. I know this from my time spent working as a school administrator, a camp director, ropes course instructor, and a father of four children.

However, I also know from experience that children’s play does not require an $80,000 piece of equipment to get these same results.

It seems incredibly misguided to me that a school would invest so much time, energy, and money to raise all this money for something that could be accomplished by some very simple and inexpensive playground equipment like can be found in a Flaghouse or Learning Outlet catalog.

I bring this up today, because I just read about a school that is in the process of raising $85,000 for a new “big toy”. Yes, this is what they actually call it: a “big toy”.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

The playground will cost $85,000 to install, and the school has $40,000 saved toward the project. That leaves $45,000 to be raised this year through fundraisers such as the school’s November book fair, major raffles and Spring Fling.

As school kicks off this fall, Memorial is heading up its first 2011-12 fundraising efforts with the sale of entertainment books for $30, which include discounts to Christmas Tree Shop, Six Flags, TGI Friday’s, Learning Express, Gap and other retailers.

“Every penny that we can raise this year at the school will go toward the playground,” Smith said. “We need all the help we can get from everybody in the community.”

“Every penny?” “We need all the help we can get from everybody in the community.” Really? For a massively overpriced extravagance? You’re going to forego fundraising for everything else your school truly needs during the course of the year, just so you can have the biggest, shiniest, “toy” in your school district?

Are you saying that your school is completely “good” for the year and don’t need new text books, new computers, new interactive white boards, additional field trips, awesome assemblies, teacher trainings, etc? You telling your school families that $85,000 for a “big toy” is a wise use of their hard-earned dollars?

I think this is a terrible idea and it undermines the power of fundraising to provide important but unfunded priorities.

Again, I totally understand how important outside play is for elementary students. However, dedicating “every penny” from at least two years of fundraising, when our schools have so many glaring areas of deficiency, is almost criminal.

Photo by: SMcGarnigle

People STILL Don’t Get It. Kids Should NOT be Selling Things Door-to-Door!

I mean, it’s 2011. We’ve had plenty of time to watch and absorb all the lessons regarding child abduction. After endless reruns of CSI and Law & Order, as well as a daily dose of the local evening news, you would think we’d have figured out how to best avoid our kids getting kidnapped, abused, and killed.

I know we can’t prevent every act of this particular terror, but we can at least think about what we are doing.

True story.  Yesterday afternoon, there was a knock on my door. My kids were outside playing, so I thought it was just one of them. I went to open the door, but instead of seeing one of my own little rag-a-muffins, there was a young man, maybe 12 years of age, dressed smartly in a blue blazer with his red hair combed severely across his forehead.

“Good afternoon. I am selling items from this catalog for the middle school band.”

I stood there dumbfounded. What was this kid doing? Had I stepped back to 1973? Hadn’t he been told that kids should never sell things door-to-door like this? Especially alone? Didn’t the school remind him of this when they passed out the fundraising materials? Where were his parents? continue reading