I'm So Done With Fundraising

by Christine Burke
school fundraising
iStock/Cathy Yeulet

When I was 8, I wanted to play soccer and my mother dutifully signed me up at our local recreation club. Five dollars and one permission slip later, I was a proud member of the “Red Hots” and hit the field in my standard issue red T-shirt. The referees were volunteers, we brought our own water, and we played on a local school field. There was no mandatory “work bond” for the parents, and we didn’t have to sell a thing in order to have the experience of playing an organized sport. I even got to keep my T-shirt at the end of the season.

My mother didn’t have to harass our friends and neighbors to buy overpriced useless crap. Sure, occasionally, there was a team that needed raise money for a trip to the state championships, but usually they sold candy bars from a portable cardboard box. Frankly, the only time I can remember fundraising as a kid was when I was handed a UNICEF box to take trick or treating. We collected nickels and dimes and did our part to help children in other parts of the world. Parents weren’t expected to empty out their bank accounts on the regular so that we could have over-the-top field trips and parties worthy of a Disney production. Life was simple back then and a whole lot cheaper.

Over the years, I’ve been forced to sell coupon books, gaudy wrapping paper, and candles. My kids have peddled cookie dough and pizza kits to unsuspecting relatives. Candies. Pies. Flowers. You name it, we’ve had to sell it in order to do our part to fulfill the financial needs of our schools and activities. I’ve had my car washed and collected clothing. I’ve eaten dinner in fast food restaurants and have attended silent auctions. We have swindled a small fortune out of our friends and family “for the kids!” and it’s a wonder my family even answers the phone for the amount of times I’ve started a phone call with, “So, your nephew is selling [enter overpriced item that no person in their right mind would buy on clearance at Target].”

Recently, we were asked to sell candles to raise money for a school trip. The trip fee was $75 and the kids received 10% of the sale towards their expenses. The candles retailed for $25 a pop and though they were from a company that everyone recognizes, they were smaller than what could be purchased in the store. Basically, it was half the candle for twice the price — a real bargain! So, let me get this straight: You want me to sell $750 worth of scented aroma to fund a trip to a waterpark on a bus with a bathroom? At $25 a pop, that’s 30 candles, people. AYFKM? I don’t even know 30 people, let alone anyone whose household air quality suffers that badly that they need enough candles to last them for 10 years.

Listen, I get it. I’ve been the president who manages the PTA books and I know what it costs to pay for an assembly. I know what dances cost and I’m fully aware of how much a field trip will set a school back.

But, people, hear me: Does everything have to be so over the top? Field trips these days are mini vacations, complete with fancy buses and Wi-Fi. Class parties are major productions with four-course meals and crafts that rival Martha Stewart. Everything these days is bigger and more expensive, and it’s frustrating to families on a tight budget.

I realize that fundraising exists to assist families who don’t have the extra funds in their budgets. I know it’s important to help children not feel excluded from activities. But maybe we should focus on finding cheaper, more inclusive activities that won’t break the bank. The class parties I remember consisted of Simon Says, a small cookie, and some juice. There’s a reason my mother wasn’t hocking chocolates, shoo-fly pies, and hoagies, people.

And don’t give me the “It’s for the kids!” crap. Bullshit. Most of these over the top events and parties are planned by parents in the school district or sports associations. No one is forcing you to rent bounce houses and expensive DJs with glow-in-the-dark light shows. Kids would be just as happy with a tray of brownies and an iPod loaded with tunes, but it’s the parents with too much time on their hands who perpetuate the “bigger is better” mentality.

And, before you bitch slap me for offending you and your super duper carnival extravaganza (it’s for the kids!), I can say this because I’m just as guilty as the rest of you at adding to the fundraising insanity. I’ve begged parents to donate money for school iPads, I’ve cajoled businesses to donate money and items to basket bingos, and I’ve certainly thrown a class party that had way too much sugar.

When is it going to end, I ask you?

We need to go back to basics. Less is always more and parents today have seemingly forgotten that kids need very little to be satisfied. We have PTAs with operating budgets in the tens of thousands and sports associations with more money in their bank accounts than some families make in a year. It’s obscene, and, really, what are we trying to prove?

I, for one, am jumping off the fundraising bandwagon, and I hope more parents voice their opposition to their PTAs too. That doesn’t mean I won’t support my kids and their activities, though. It simply means that I will ask what the actual cost of the trip or activity is and skip selling the stale pies in weird flavors that wind up in my garbage can.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t love those chocolate covered pretzels in the pretty tin. If anyone is selling those, feel free to stop on by.