School Fundraising Is Messed Up

by Lindsay Chamberlin
Originally Published: 
kids fundraising
vchal / Shutterstock

Bake sales, booster-thons, magazine subscriptions, fun runs, consignment sales, event sponsorships, jump-rope-a-thons, and every other ridiculous thing we dream up to raise money for our kids’ schools requires planning, volunteers, time, talent, and if you’re lucky, tons of lively debate about how to do it the right way. It’s all hard work. And hard work sucks. But after the last brownie is eaten or the last rope jumped, there are rewards, and that’s the point.

I have a confession, however: I saw on Facebook that your nephew’s adorable Tinker Toy Society is raising funds for its annual trip to TinkerWorld outside the neighborhood grocery store this weekend, and I will therefore be headed over to SuperTarget. I know, I’m a rotten person. If I didn’t get your public notice, I would have walked right into that bear trap and smiled at their cute faces and painstakingly constructed cardboard sign and begrudgingly put a dollar in their water-cooler jug.

It’s a lose-lose situation. My car isn’t washed, and I didn’t get a fancy handmade boondoggle bracelet, and those sweet little kids didn’t get the lesson earning money is all about, which is that there is in fact an “earning” component.

Our kids are smart and talented, and it’s never too early to teach them that their talents are valuable. Are you raising money for band? Sell private parades to march through block parties on the 4th of July. Is drama club in need of costumes? Perhaps the same kids who paint sets could paint fences and garages. Is your choir competing at nationals? I’d love to see you outside of the grocery store—singing.

Thinking back to my own youth, I remember sitting in brainstorming meetings, trying to think of what we could do to raise money, specifically for our senior class trip. Being from upstate New York, a trip to the ocean over spring break meant we needed a lot of funding to head several hours east and many hours south to hit bearable temperatures. I don’t remember anyone suggesting we just sit outside the hardware store with a bucket and an expectation.

Fundraising in the ’90s meant first hitting up your parents, who would make you earn it a quarter at a time by doing chores beyond your regular chores. The next step was going into the community to help by raking leaves, washing windows, and weeding. It was grunt work, but doing it with your friends was better than doing it alone. We worked as a team, earned a few dollars at a time as a team, and succeeded as a team—no folding table, no handouts, no begging.

Parenting is hard, teaching is hard, fundraising is hard, but this isn’t one to put on autopilot, because the lesson is too important. Let’s roll up our sleeves and stop telling our kids that if they need money for something special, they only need to bat their eyes and ask. It’s messed up. Our generation was not perfect, but we gratefully earned peanuts for crap work, and when my senior class finally did board that sweaty bus headed to a two-star hotel in Virginia Beach, we appreciated it.

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