Let's Put An End To The PTO Fundraisers

by Christine Derengowski
Originally Published: 
A woman giving a high-five to the girl and smiling at a PTO fundraiser
Scary Mommy and SDI Productions/Getty

My five-year-old came home from school the day of the Fall Frenzy Fundraiser very upset, heartbroken actually, and super disappointed in himself and his mom. I had forgotten to tuck the envelope with the money we had raised in his backpack when he asked that morning, and he was well aware that he had failed his PTO.

For a month, we had been reminded pretty consistently about the incentives, stipulations, and deadline. If they raised x amount of money, they’d be eligible for the small prize drawing for things like movie tickets and would also be able to participate in the Color Fun Run the following week. They were “strongly encouraged” to collect a larger set amount, and the two students who raised the most money would each receive a light up scooter. Everyone would be eligible to partake in fall field day activities like pumpkin bowling and mummy wrapping the day of the drawings.

These are pretty nice incentives for elementary-aged kids who were then highly motivated to ask people for cash without any basic concept of money or the rules and norms surrounding it. I understand the need to raise money for our schools’ PTOs and support them. I don’t, however, support this particular process.

The PTO has my support. But I just can’t get in line with their fundraising practices.

First of all, who are we supposed to solicit for money? Everyone I know has school-aged kids who are also fundraising right now. The only people I’d feel comfortable asking are those without kids. So, basically our parents. I can’t send my kindergartener door to door requesting cash from strangers. Maybe I’d feel more comfortable if they were equipped with a box of candy bars or coupon books. But flat out asking for money really rubs me the wrong way. This isn’t how the real world works.

It also bothers me that these young kids were incentivized to ask people for money solely so they could enter a drawing for prizes or participate in a fun run. There’s no effort or learning process involved on the kids’ behalf. Why are we leading our kids to believe this is appropriate? It’s just not. The money is for extras like field trips and assemblies, not necessities like books or school supplies. Most of these kids aren’t even old enough to understand the impropriety of the situation. And why would they? By tasking small children with the responsibility of fundraising, the school is teaching them that this process is acceptable.

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What bothers me the most is that pressure was put on these little kids at all. My heart breaks for the students who don’t have the means to participate, through no fault of their own. Not every family has the extra cash in their budget or close family and friends they can ask.

I grew up like this and can remember distinctly the feeling in my stomach every time the teacher brought up something “fun” that required money from home. Most of the time I didn’t even bother asking my parents. Even though it was essentially my choice not to participate, I still felt like garbage being the only kid usually sitting out.

So you can imagine my disappointment in myself when I saw the envelope on the table mid-morning, knowing it was due by nine o’clock or my son would be excluded from participating. Knowing how my son would feel. When I drove the money up to the school, it was already too late. He came home crestfallen, with tears in his eyes as he explained that he wasn’t allowed to take part in the Fall Frenzy activities because he didn’t bring any money. He was, but he didn’t understand the rules because he’s five. He was only technically left out of the prize drawings but thought he was excluded from everything.

The school sent pictures from the event in their digital newsletter later that day. I could see my son in the background, biting his lip the way he does when he’s trying not to cry. Picture after picture of kids having fun and mine, blurred in the periphery thinking he was being excluded because he failed to bring money.

This is not okay. The pressure of fundraising does not belong on the kids. Feel free to ask me every day of the week. Send a reminder with increasing urgency every single day. I’m the one with the checkbook. I’m the one with the phone who understands who is and isn’t appropriate to ask for money. I’m the only one who should feel disappointed that the envelope was left on the table.

The PTO still received my money. They still have my support. But I just can’t get in line with fundraising practices that don’t teach kids a thing about the value of money and makes kids with lesser means feel left out.

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