Cookies on a plate - cookie doughIf you have children who are old enough to be involved in any kind of a group activity, you are most likely going to encounter the dreaded “fundraiser”. For those of you who have multiple children, you already know the pain far too well.

Whether it be for school, gymnastics, dance, Little League, or junior underwater basket weaving, there will come a day, if it hasn’t come already, when you will be asked to become a salesperson for any or all of the following items:

It doesn’t matter if you are a professor of astrophysics at M.I.T., a Supreme Court Justice, or a professional underwater basket weaver, raising money for your kids is the great American equalizer.

Fundraising done wrong, however, can make everybody unhappy. So, I want to share a few strategies that make this maligned rite of passage a little more tolerable for all involved.

Step One: Don’t Surprise Them

If you really want to tick some parents off, go ahead and spring random fundraisers on them. One day, completely unannounced, send home a letter and order form telling them they have to sell cookie dough. And the money’s due in ten days. I promise, you’ll make a lot of friends.

No seriously, this is not a good idea. It is much wiser to actually set a fundraising plan before you kick off your year or season. Know exactly which fundraisers you will be running and set the dates in stone. Write this information down and give it to all the parents involved.

This becomes your bible. Do not stray from it. If mom and dad know that there is going to be a frozen pizza sale in February, they can cope with it. They have time to plan or perhaps time to flee the country.

Step Two: Be Very Clear on the Goal

Sometimes it seems that we fundraise just to pay for all the fundraising we do. Honestly, I have been involved in groups where I’ve been asked to sell something or other, and I’ve had absolutely no idea what my money was going to buy. I would seek out other parents to ask them if they knew, but they just had this glassy look in their eyes and chanted: “Must sell the donuts… Must sell the donuts…”

This is the wrong way to go about having a fundraiser. Along with letting everyone know well in advance what’s being sold and when, you really must give parents an exact picture of what’s at stake. If the money will be used to purchase new equipment or help pay for a really great trip, that gives parents a solid hook for their sales pitch at the office.

If the money you collect is going to fund the general operating budget, just pick something attractive that you were going to buy anyway and say that fundraiser is for that. I don’t believe that this is dishonest, as long as your organization is truly going to purchase that thing during this year. The money all goes to the same place, but you are giving a face to your campaign, and that’s important when trying to raise money.

Step Three: Don’t Sell Junk

Now, I need to be a little careful here, because I don’t want to offend anyone, so I’ll speak in general terms, but honestly folks, some of the stuff that we, as parents, are asked to sell is useless, overpriced schlock. Really, some of the things that get passed off as a “fundraiser”, I wouldn’t give to my worst enemy.

I pay close attention to this sort of thing, and I’ve noticed that there are some businesses these days that get into the fundraising racket, just to increase their bottom lines. No matter that they sell radioactive Popsicle sticks, they put out a brochure that proclaims “It’s a Fundraiser, and you get 10% of the profit!” While this may be a slight exaggeration, it’s not far from the truth.

If you want to make parents happy and have a profitable fundraising sale, you really need to make sure the item you’re selling has a broad appeal, is reasonably priced and is of high quality. If your item doesn’t hit it on all three of these markers, don’t sell it. If you have any doubts, ask a handful of parents before committing. Call some other schools or groups to get their take on the subject. Your parents and their customers will thank you for it.

Step Four: Let Parents Opt-Out

Ah, the opt-out option. This is like a grown-up version of the “Get Out of Jail Free” card in Monopoly. Many schools and groups are moving toward this option, and if we’re lucky, perhaps one day all fundraisers will be opt-out-able.

Basically, an opt-out option, if you are unfamiliar with it, is a plan under which, parents can pay a certain amount to NOT participate. Beauty, eh? Some groups even go so far as to make the entire year of fundraising optional, as long as you’re willing to write a big, fat check.

What’s great about this option is that it appeals to a segment of your population that perhaps didn’t participate in your fundraisers before, because they were simply too busy. Giving money wasn’t a problem for them; it was just a time-thing. Now, with the “official” opt-out option, they have a way that they can still give to a cause they believe in, but don’t have to go through all the machinations to do it. Talk about a win-win!


Fundraising is a necessary part of life. We, as parents all want the best for our children, and that often means that we have to pay for it. Product sales, auctions, golf outings, and walk-a-thons have become common tools in helping us achieve our financial goals. Unfortunately, the entire process has become a little unpleasant. However, with a few key strategies, you will be able to keep the parents happy, while you’re still sticking them with the cookie dough.