I Think School Fundraisers Are Classist — Here's Why

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
A Person Holding Their Wallet And Change In Their Hand

My children were in school for (maybe) three weeks when they started bringing home fundraising announcements. I audibly groaned when the kids thrust the fundraising papers into my hands. Listen, I get it. Schools need money. Is there ever really enough funding for education? Absolutely not. The more money our schools have, the more resources our kids have access to and the better our teachers are paid.

However, I draw the line at my kids going door-to-door selling apple-scented candles, flimsy wrapping paper, and cookie dough in exchange for ten-cent prizes. No, just no. I take issue with this for many reasons. We are fortunate in that we can just cut the school a check and shred the fundraising papers. But I’m mindful that the reality is many families cannot just pull some money out of their wallets to donate to their kids’ schools. Instead of pushing kids to become little salespeople, I think schools should do something else instead.

Before I get into what kids and schools should be doing, let’s talk about why school fundraising is absolutely terrible. For starters, I empathize with lower-income families who don’t have the option to force their kids to sell the stuff. I grew up in a low socioeconomic school district with kids who came to school unshowered and in yesterday’s clothes. There wasn’t a plentitude of job opportunities, especially not for those without a college degree. The jobs that some lower income parents did qualify for only paid minimum wage—which, to this day, still isn’t enough to keep a family financially afloat.

The fundraising projects offer sales-based incentives. First, if kids sell a certain dollar amount, they get prizes. Usually they are terrible (in my adult view), like an eraser and a $5 gift card to a local pizza place. Incentives continue to increase in “value” depending on how much the student sells. Sometimes schools offer homework passes or an extra recess. The top selling classes can earn pizza or ice cream parties. Of course, kids are easily lured by these prizes, yet the entire system is based on classism. They who have the most money, win—always.

Students have to have parents who are willing to supervise their sales, as well as have the time and transportation to go around selling. Students also need people to sell products to. If a student’s family and friend circle is equally disadvantaged, we can’t expect those students to reach their sales goals. Not everyone (or dare I venture, most people) have a lot of spare cash to pour into crappy, overpriced products so a kid can earn a sparkly pencil and a rubber bracelet featuring their school name.

Of course, the students who have parents with more spare time and wealthier family and friends are going to prevail. They will “earn” the top prizes and relish in the success—that they really had little do with. This only shames the students who can’t pony up. Plus, after all the crappy merch arrives, parents have to take time (money, and transportation) to deliver the goods to the buyers. Again, this screams privilege.

You might be thinking, aren’t a lot of these fundraisers online? Yes, some are. But who can access these in the first place? Only the families with both devices and reliable internet access. Not only do they need these things to view the fundraiser, but then they must have the money to spend on the items.

I don’t blame schools for needing to raise funds. There’s a jacked-up system in place where many of our teachers are buying their own classroom supplies, as well as providing items for students that their parents cannot afford. Some schools are falling apart, their technology is seriously lacking, and students are in overcrowded classrooms. Money doesn’t solve all problems, but it can certainly help.

What can we do instead of luring students into selling crap for cash? No matter the student’s family’s financial situation, for starters, we need to ditch the sales pitches. I have never received an amazing product from a school fundraiser. Let’s ditch the popcorn tins and magazine subscriptions.

We also need to ditch the prizes based on sales. No more (#1 selling) class parties, awards ceremonies for top-sellers, and prize packs. It’s time to either have a whole-school celebration or nothing at all. Why are we making lower-income students feel ashamed while rewarding higher-income students for being privileged? They receive these prizes in class. The entire thing just feels gross.

Simply put, the school needs to honestly say they need money and why. A student’s nearest-and-dearest can donate or not. 100% of the funds goes to the school. Schools can encourage a donation of any size, emphasizing that every dollar helps. A portion of these donations can go toward a celebration if the school chooses, where every student receives an equal prize or party.

I know that some parents argue that their students need to “work for it” instead of just having money handed to them for their school. That’s why I love when our schools have walking events. Students collect money and walk the playground, eating snacks afterward. In these fundraising events, 100% of the proceeds go to the school—and not to some company that keeps a lot of the profits in exchange for plastic, cheap merchandise.

Also, kids are supposed to be just that—kids. They aren’t supposed to be junior salespeople. They can learn to be good humans in many ways. They can learn hard work by doing chores at home. We don’t need to send them on sales pitches in order for them to understand the value of money and the importance of a great education.

Just because we’ve always (for as long as I can remember) sent students home with fundraising papers, doesn’t mean we have to continue. There are alternatives that create equity, not more financial shame than what already exists. Parents can join PTA committees if possible, or at the least, e-mail this article to their PTA and principal. It’s time to ditch making our littles ones sell things and instead, work to minimize the shaming.

This article was originally published on