Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

No more wrapping paper: PTA fundraiser alternatives

Posted September 13

Start of school, classroom generic

I don't know about you, but when I need wrapping paper, I like to get the cheapest tube that I can get from a dollar store. And, when I want to support the PTA at my kids' schools, I'd rather all of my money go directly to that all-important group and not split among some company making money off the sale of stuff I don't really need.

But, that's the story for many school fundraisers. Kids and families are asked to fan out across the community with fliers for candles or candy or wrapping paper. Schools get just a percentage of the proceeds when, in reality, they really need all of it after years of classroom cuts that leave parents buying everything from tissues to wipes.

Plenty of schools, however, are breaking the mold, finding new ways to raise money that don't include selling things none of us really want. I checked in with the North Carolina PTA to find out how PTAs across the state are raising money with hopes it might inspire PTAs and parents to push for new kinds of fundraisers.

Regardless of what a PTA lands on, Marianne Hedrick Weant, N.C. PTA's director of health programs, tells me that it's critical for PTAs to keep in mind their mission: To make every child's potential a reality.

"As a PTA thinks through that mission and the activities they want to undertake at their school, they should also be thinking about how advocacy plays into that, at their school, in their district, and at the state and national levels," Weant said.

Here are some fundraising options:

No Fuss: Popular at both of my kids' schools, this involves soliciting pure donations. Essentially, PTAs just ask for money. And it works. At my kids' elementary school, the PTA has always reached its goal. Businesses and individuals are actually more than happy, Weant tells me, to chip in. "I always think it's great to give people an opportunity to help - it feels good to say yes to helping," she added.

Weant suggest schools lay out what the school might get if the goal is hit. Perhaps it might support a school garden, literacy programs or teacher appreciation. PTAs also could suggest specific amounts. So a $100 donation provides a classroom with needed supplies, for instance.

"We see no fuss fundraisers often go the other way - donate the $25 you'd use for wrapping paper - but I think framing it in terms of what that means to a school is a compelling 'ask' and a great conversation starter about the needs of the school and school funding, which is one of our advocacy priorities," Weant said.

Activity Fundraisers: Fun runs, races, bikeathons. They all can be great ways to not only raise money, but build community and get kids active, which PTAs across the state are working to encourage.

Kelly Langston, N.C. PTA president, said dentists, restaurants and other local businesses will line up and pay good money for their names to be emblazoned on the back of a race T-shirt, for instance. By encouraging help from the community, these events also mean there's less pressure on parents to raise the money for school needs. Langston said she's seen PTAs raise $40,000 from these single events.

"It's the business owners that contribute," Langston said. "That's always nice because you're not being hit with back-to-school expenses and fundraisers at the same time."

Langston does caution PTAs from hiring race coordinators, who can sometimes take as much as a 50 percent cut from the event's earnings. "That's crazy, in my opinion," she said. "They aren't that difficult to do."

PTAs also have been successful raising money through fall festivals, spring flings, movie or family nights and dances. These events can be great ways to connect parents and families, provide access to academic resources and raise money, Weant said.

Sales: Sales fundraisers are difficult, though they can be successful. Weant recommends avoiding the sale of any food - even fruit. "It's a slippery slope to get to junk food from there and the profit margins aren't great anyway," Weant tells me. "Additionally, with the tighter (and wonderful and necessary) restrictions on food in schools, it's better to be safe than sorry."

But some schools, especially elementary and middle schools, do make money through the sale of items such as spirit wear or car magnets. Langston's son's cross country team sells pansies. Students are asked to sell a certain number of flats of pansies or make a $60 donation.

"If you're going to sell something," Langston said, "give parents an option for a straight up amount so they aren't guessing" if if they'd rather just write a check.

For sales - or any kind of fundraiser - Langston said PTAs must be mindful of the labor required to get it done.

"When you commit to a fundraiser and you commit to the hours of labor, don’t forget to put a price tag on that labor," she said. "If you have a strong volunteer base, it’s one thing. But if you’re topping out your volunteers to raise a little money, I don’t think it’s going to serve your organization well. People get burned out quickly."

Langston added: "Sometimes we get these big goals - $5,000 profit - but we all spent way too many hours. I would challenge is that fundraiser even worth it or did it tap parents and volunteers out. Don’t just do anything for a few bucks."


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  • Stacie Hagwood Sep 14, 7:53 p.m.
    user avatar

    I have to add that the only thing I have ever bought that I felt like I got my money's worth is the Attractions coupon book. I seek out kids selling these so I can buy one.

  • Stacie Hagwood Sep 14, 4:31 p.m.
    user avatar

    What if kids actually WORKED for the money? Kindergarteners could do small chores for family or neighbors (collecting mail, feeding a dog, etc.) on up to middle schoolers doing yard work. Then you have them compete for who does the most work for their school.

    Or better yet, lets elect leaders that will fully fund our public schools.