Monday, May 16, 2011

A Rant on School Fundraising

I risk offending some of my 8 loyal readers today, but I can't go another day keeping this inside me.  I am sick of school fundraisers.  There, I said it.

They are endless.  Starting the first week of school, I am met with catalogs of Innisbrook crap to hawk to friends and family.  Overpriced wrapping paper and stale chocolates. Great.  Then there are holiday wreaths and plants.  Most recently, Jack's school chose buckets of frozen cookie dough to sell which promptly added six pounds to my ass. 

My husband also contributes to my aggravation by subscribing to every magazine, purchasing every case of chocolate, and buying fistfuls of raffle tickets from any kid that asks.  Any kid.  Even the ones selling regular M&M's (no fund raising label) in the middle of the street with an old baseball cap telling naive motorists it's for "their team."

When I was a child ("here we go" say my friends who know my school-of-hard-knocks approach), I couldn't join a lot of stuff because we just didn't have the money.  It made me understand that if I wanted things later in life, I'd have to work for them.  Not anymore.  Now it's society's moral obligation to make sure Junior experiences the joy of t-ball.  And doesn't he deserve a trophy for trying?  Let's hear it for Junior!

Enough already.

As far as school improvements, well I believe some of the greatest minds out there did just fine without access to computer labs and smart boards (I still don't know what those are, but apparently my oldest son's school purchased some with last year's fundraiser).  I respect the dedicated moms out there who work every angle to make sure their kid's school is outfitted with computers, science labs, and George Jetson-like technology, but honestly, I just can't afford all this stuff.  My own computer is 10 years old, but I'm supposed to make sure my 7 year old has the very best?

Then there are the hidden fundraisers that aren't marketed that way, but you know some of the proceeds are going back to the school.  Buy your kid's artwork on a mug for only $25!  Be sure to get 3 sheets of school pictures for $120!  The pressure to purchase these items is extremely high as you've got a little 5-year old holding up the order form asking, "don't you want my drawing on a ceramic tile, mommy?  It's only $50."

At the end of last year during Illinois' cycle of massive cuts in education, I received several letters home from the three schools I have utilized. The gist of each one:

  • We are losing a valuable teaching position!  Please write a check for $200 and maybe we can save it!
  • Parents may need to pay for all day kindergarten next year - please send a deposit today to hold your spot!
  • Our school (preschool) may loose funding for non-poverty kids to attend, please indicate if you'd pay $4000 for tuition ASAP.

Now these requests were actually very heartfelt letters sent from the administration, and I certainly felt their plight.  I also value the fine educations they have provided for my children thus far.  But to get hit up with doomsday scenarios and pleas for money right as I was sending out checks for car insurance, life insurance, and the mortgage...well, the checkbook was already running on fumes. 

There are also the teacher costs throughout the year.  Miss Kindergarten is getting married!  Let's throw her a shower!  Teacher appreciation week!  Everyone contribute!  Christmas is here - let's show the teacher how much we love her!

For the record, I give very generously to all the boys' teachers during Christmas.  If I have anything at the end of the year, I'll throw something in an envelope then as well.  Yet this is at my discretion.  There's something that bothers me about the "group effort" of teacher appreciation.  I feel the parent-teacher relationship is kind of private, like one's relationship with God. If I feel a teacher really gave her all that year, I will be extremely good to her.  If at parent-teach conference, I get the feeling the teacher doesn't even know which kid is mine, I feel a twenty dollar Target gift certificate will do. 

In addition to notices sent home on Market Day, Book Fairs, and Craft Day, there are letters sent home requesting supplies - Kleenex tissues, Bounty paper towels, Clorox Wipes, etc. Why does the school get to request name brand stuff while I'm buying generic?  Thank goodness I have a kind friend who always buys double of whatever is requested because I think she knows I've taken a principled stand on this one.  I could never contribute to an agenda that demands Dixie brand cups...I mean, have you met me?  The generic is 50% less.

Sometimes I make the mistake of griping to private school parents.  Try having to pay for all that PLUS tuition!  Living in a community where many are deeply committed to a Catholic School education, I am aware of the sacrifice these parents have got to be making.  I just don't know how they do it.  We use the public schools, rarely vacation, and buy everything on sale.  How are my neighbors able to afford food while paying $5,000/year for each kid?  And let's be honest.  This is Beverly.  Not too many people have under 3 kids.  Irish Catholics and all. 

Which leads me to Friday night.  My older son's school was sponsoring a gala at the Museum of Science and Industry.  It was $200 a couple.  At first, I was thinking about it.  Then I started doing the math.  It was a cash bar, so downtown prices with tips would probably put us at $60 for our bar bill.  $70 for a babysitter.  $20 to park.  The event quickly out-priced us, yet that didn't stop the pressure from parents:

"It's for the kids."

"It's only once a year."

"Think about what you spend on other things that are less important."  

Well, we do spend a lot on other things - music lessons, chess, swimming.  And next year, I will have 3 kids in 3 different schools.  We may live in a nice house and the kids may wear Gymboree (bought either used on ebay or on clearance with an additional 20% off coupon), but I am tired of giving.  I feel like Shel Silverstein's Giving Tree.  I'm just a used up old stump.

So in a very foul mood, I headed to the grocery store Friday night to buy milk instead of attending the gala.  The cashier looked at me cheerily and asked, "would you like to make a donation to help find a cure for breast cancer?"

The Giving Tree stump could only drop her shoulders, nod, and watch her $2.99 milk bill jump to $3.99 with donation.


  1. Let's not forget the ice cream bars sold at lunchtime for $1, the proceeds of which I suspect went to pay the principal's cell phone bill. The jump-rope-a-thon for my 6 year-old son who can't jump rope and market day - high fat, high sodium and countless other preservatives. Featuring items such as the ultimate breakfast cookie.

  2. By the way, did you want to purchase a Little Caesars Pizza Kit to help raise money for our schools athletic program. Those soccer balls don't last forever!

  3. One rule we have in our house is that we only buy from kids in our neighborhood. We live in an area that is prone to having inner city kids as well as kids from a neighboring district being dropped off to sell their items. As much as I hate to make a little kid frown with his soccer mom glaring at me, I simply tell them "I am a single parent and I can only afford to support XYZ School district." Other neighbors have elcted to do the same things when strangers come knocking on their doors.

    I also have a rule that I only buy one fundraising item per kid in the neighborhood so if little Tommy is in soccer, band, French Club and football, I only buy from him ONCE.

    My in-laws also only give to one fundraiser per grandkid or it would use up their monthly Social Security benefits.

  4. Anonymous - those are some great ideas and probably a lot more diplomatic than my stock response of "my husband already gives away all our money to whoever asks so I got nothin'." I'm putting your practices into effect this week. Thank you!

  5. Great article. I feel the same way, especially the gala thing, your exactly spot on about the pressure and comments towards the that. I remember when my kids were in preschool, I kept supporting a friends' kids fundraisers, then when my turn came, she bought nothing from kids twice. I was so mad, then I realized how silly it all was, to get mad and to have my purchases not remembered. It is insane....I feel like I am asked for money every single week. What's worse is that now people are asking for insane donations like please donate to help my son's parkour (super expensive jump off buildings sport for rich kids) open another location or please donate for my daughter to join a beauty pageant (which may or may not be legit) and doesn't include a scholarship. I mean serioiusly??????

  6. Oh I loved your post - it made me laugh even though I'm one of those PTA moms thats sending out all of this junk to our parents. Then again to be fair being on that end I know where the money actually goes so I justify it to myself! I don't have a ton of money so I just watch what I use it on during the year and if I can and want to buy I do but if I don't then I don't - I wouldn't expect any different from other parents. In fact this coming year our president picked a company with so-so items and I don't plan to buy anything but I will ask family if they want - we don't ask strangers/neighbors.

  7. those are some incredible thoughts and most likely a mess more strategic than my stock reaction of "my spouse as of recently gives away all our cash to whoever asks so I got nothing.

  8. I've been thinking of a sign to put on my front door and to have printed on a t-shirt.
    "I am not cheap or uncaring. I am financially challenged. I can barely afford to pay all my bills. I cannot afford the inflated prices of the products you are selling in order to send your children on a band trip, to football camp, to buy new uniforms, go to summer camp, to go bunge jumping in the Andes or to take a white-water raft trip. In fact, I'm so financially challenged I can't afford to have children of my own. Leave your number. When I marry a zillonaire and we have children I may see things differently."

  9. I would much rather give the organization their profit (about 50% the selling price) in cash and they can keep the crappy cookie dough, useless holiday gifts and frozen bakery.

  10. If they wouldn't sell overpriced garbage, it would be a lot easier to participate. What about the trash bags and other practical products that some schools have started selling? At least you're getting something for your money?

  11. I refused to participate in this overpriced crap when my kids were in school. I just gave them $20 of pure profit to the cause, and that was it. Also the local businesses who sell the same products for less are losing sales, because the kids are pushing this stuff, and many will buy it just to say they did, and the out of town hustlers make the money off it.

  12. what about the safety of these young children going door to door selling this crap, and how about the kids whose parents are poor and can't donate, these little fellows try so hard to sell enough to get in on the promised prizes for selling the most or at least a certain amount, only to be left out and disappointed when they can't meet the projected amount. I hate this practice and I will never participate in it, I believe it should be stopped, maybe the teachers need to learn to do more with less