Kids and Fund-raising
By Nancy Mann Jackson

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Finding Success
Selling Alternatives
Fund-raising Do's and Don'ts

So your child has to sell candy bars. Or wrapping paper. Or raffle tickets. You’re not alone. Schools, Little League teams and many clubs request that children get involved in fund-raising. And while most parents and children want to help out, there’s a fine line between doing your part in school fund-raising and driving your friends and neighbors crazy with solicitations.

Because of safety concerns, most schools and organizations discourage children from selling door-to-door. Because of this, in many families, fund-raising can easily become the job of the parents.

“It’s easy to say, ‘This is awful,’” says Tim Sullivan, president of, an online resource for parent-teacher organizations. “But you have to remember that you’re doing this to send kids to the zoo or to bring in a Shakespeare Festival. More than ever, the money raised by parent-teacher groups is central to what schools are able to do.

“Field trips and enrichment speakers used to be a basic part of a school’s budget, but now that’s nonexistent,” Sullivan says. “The things that schools are able to do as a result of fund-raising can turn a school from very basic to very special.”

Locally, school fund-raisers help pay for many of the same types of items schools rely on in other parts of the country. At Homewood’s Hall-Kent Elementary School, recent fund-raisers have helped buy playground equipment and physical education materials. At Our Lady of Sorrows School, also in Homewood, this year’s fund-raisers will help equip a new video production room and support the school library.

While the profit margins vary according to the type of fund-raiser, the most common products, such as giftwrap or chocolate, net a 45 percent to 55 percent profit for the school or organization, Sullivan says.

“We don’t do a fund-raiser unless we net at least 50 percent of the profits and at least $5,000,” says Debbie Smith, former president of Our Lady of Sorrows’ parent-teacher organization (PTO). “Otherwise, it’s not worth the time our volunteers put into it.”

The number of fund-raisers held each year varies from school to school and usually depends on school-system guidelines and decisions made by the school’s PTO. For instance, at Hall-Kent Elementary, children are involved in only one fund-raiser each year. But at Brookville Elementary in Graysville, children are asked to participate in at least four to six fund-raisers each year.

Getting Involved
It’s pretty easy for parents to simply take fund-raising order forms to work and avoid getting their kids involved in the process at all. But fund-raising shouldn’t be strictly a parent’s responsibility. Because it’s so important to a child’s school, scout troop or ball team, it’s much more effective if the child is also directly involved.

“So many times, the children never know that the parent is getting all the sales for them, and they have no pride in the process,” says Nanette Baecher, a Homewood mother of two who takes fund-raising order forms to work, but also gets her children involved in selling to neighbors and relatives. “If the child doesn’t put forth any effort, it’s like the parents who do the child’s art project and the child wins a ribbon for their efforts. That doesn’t work.”

Not only is it unfair for children to gain recognition for work they didn’t do, but when parents take ownership of a fund-raising project, children also miss out on the lessons they could learn through the process, such as having good manners and interacting appropriately with adults.

“Fund-raising can be a good way to teach children about sales and the rejection that comes with the territory,” Baecher says. “Of course, it is also something that can build confidence if it is done under the supervision of a parent.”

While the sales pep talks often given at school sometimes go overboard, according to Leigh Ann Brody, a Graysville mother, “some of it is great motivation.”

“Those pep talks at school really get kids pumped up,” Smith adds. “It keeps them involved and informed, and it really helps make the fund-raiser a success. When we don’t have them, the fund-raiser never earns as much as when we do. I’d say the pep talk generates a couple extra thousand dollars.”

Some parents complain that the sales can become too competitive, pitting children against each other and making some feel bad for not selling as much as others. But if handled correctly, participation in fund-raisers can also help children to see that their efforts really do matter, and that they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.

“School fund-raising is really a very communal thing,” Sullivan says. “When parents and children get involved, they see that the new playground or whatever doesn’t just come from nowhere; it comes from a lot of people working together. Selling merchandise is just one small way to be a part of improving your school. And everything you do to help is a lesson taught to your child about doing your part.”

Finding Success

Once you’ve decided to get involved – and to get your children involved – in fund-raising, there are a number of ways to make sure it’s a positive experience:

• Discuss with your child who he or she is allowed to approach, as well as how to ask for a sale and respond to various answers from the people approached.

“We sell mostly to family and people at church,” says Brody, whose child has sold candles, coupon books, cookie dough, raffle tickets, candy and wrapping paper. “I tell my son not to bug the same people over and over. If you ask someone to buy during one fund-raiser, ask different people on the next.”

• Advise your child not to nag a potential customer until the person buys “out of guilt.” Ask once, Brody says, and if the person doesn’t seem interested, have the child say, “Thanks. We’ll check with you next time.”

• Talk with your child about what to say to potential customers when fund-raising. Baecher went over selling procedures with her son before he began selling popcorn for his Boy Scout troop. “We talked about what to say to a prospective buyer,” she says. “Of course, we stressed good manners and to smile and say, ‘Thank you,’ even if they chose not to place an order. We knew the people we sold to, so it was easier than standing in front of K-Mart selling. We also talked about showing the variety of popcorns available, and he also mentioned that his mom gave the tins of flavored popcorn as Christmas gifts.”

• Find out whether the fund-raiser allows for online sales. Some fund-raising companies offer online sales as an additional option, so that friends or relatives from other parts of the country can help support the child’s school or organization. If most of your friends or family live out of town, it may be worthwhile to ask your school or group to use fund-raisers that allow online sales.

• While selling to strangers is probably not a good idea, most parents agree that allowing children to approach relatives, friends and neighbors on their own can be beneficial. “Sometimes with friends, I’ll ask if they’re interested, and if they want to see the products, I’ll let the children follow up with them,” Baecher says.

Selling Alternatives

Sales of wrapping paper or snack food tend to be pretty successful fund-raisers. But if your child’s school or organization seems to be fund-raising by selling merchandise too often, you may want to suggest alternatives.

For many area schools, non-merchandise fund-raisers also yield great success and sometimes become much-loved traditions. Like many schools, Homewood’s Hall-Kent Elementary holds a fall festival each year, coordinated by the PTO and raising $25,000 to $35,000 annually. While students do sell raffle tickets for prizes awarded at the festival, they are strongly encouraged not to sell door-to-door. Much of the money raised at the festival comes from a silent auction, where items donated by local businesses are auctioned to the public.

At Homewood’s Our Lady of Sorrows School, an annual Casino Night also includes a silent auction. Tickets for the event include food, drinks and $100 in make-believe casino money. Donated items for auction have included airline tickets, hotel stays, Alabama/Auburn gift baskets and game tickets, artwork and crafts from each of the school’s classes, furniture, spa packages, a new set of tires and fine art.

“It’s an adult evening with a festive, party atmosphere, and this lends itself to higher bidding,” Baecher says. “It’s a fun night out for the parents, and it’s great to get to know the teachers in a social environment.”

Other options for fund-raisers that don’t require children to sell merchandise individually include PTO sales of book covers in the fall, candy and flowers at Valentine’s Day, car washes and rummage sales.

And, of course, parents who don’t want their children to sell at all can always make a donation instead. “I can’t think of a parent group that wouldn’t gladly accept a donation,” Sullivan says. “In fact, the donation has a 100 percent profit margin, which is great.”

T-FAMILY: Verdana">Fund-raising Do’s and Don’ts

Help your child make the most of his or her fund-raising experience. Here’s a list of guidelines to get you started:

• Don’t let your child sell merchandise door-to-door except to people you know.

• Don’t ask the same family to buy something more than once a year. (Some families make exceptions for relatives.)

• Don’t feel like you have to buy large amounts of every item that goes on sale just because you’re the parent.

• Do help your child by taking order forms to work or asking friends for support, but don’t do the project yourself without help from your child.

• Do allow your child to do the talking when approaching a potential buyer; most buyers will appreciate the fact that the child is putting forth his or her own efforts.


Beyond the Bake Sale: The Ultimate School Fund-Raising Book,
by Jean Joachim, St. Martin’s Press, 2003. Great ideas for planning, organizing and improving fund-raising. Innovative ideas for specific fund-raisers.

ps: 315.0pt">How to Get Grants and Gifts for the Public Schools, by Stanley Levenson, Pearson Education, 2001. Tips and strategies to help school staff and parents access funding opportunities for schools; instructions on seeking grants, setting up an education foundation and creating a total fund-raising plan.

  – Nancy Mann Jackson