What do we teach our kids when they fundraise for their school?



Columnist ponders the implications of fundraising by young students, especially those who come from poor families

ABBI COBB, Opinion Columnist

Girl Scout cookie season is here and it has me thinking about more than just needing to work on my willpower. Every year it reminds me how much I hate having to decline the opportunity to help by buying cookies, whether it is because I can’t afford it or because I don’t typically carry any cash. But most notably, it always reminds me how much I hated school-related fundraising in elementary school. Note: I do realize Girl Scout cookie sales and school fundraisers are very different. In this case, cookie sales just remind me of my own failed fundraising efforts.

You know, the school gathers for an assembly. Everyone is excited because you get to be out of the classroom for 45 minutes and see fellow students that you usually only see during recess. And to make it better, there is a person at the front of the room promising you, a 5 to 11-year-old kid, that you can receive all kinds of prizes… that is, if you sell X amount of the company’s unnecessary products. And if you out-sell your classmates, you might earn a prize that your family otherwise could not afford.

Which brings me to my first point about school fundraisers: the competition to sell the most is humiliating to poor families. Initially, it seems like a great idea – age-appropriate incentives that work to motivate kids to raise money for a cause that will not only benefit the school and this third-party company, but also the child, if they “work hard” by asking family and friends for orders and donations. But that’s exactly the issue. Who do the children depend on when beginning their sales? They ask Mom and Dad, of course. And from there, they (or, more likely, the parents) ask grandparents and extended family to contribute. Receiving orders from poor family members is unlikely. Even less likely than conning your family into buying things they don’t need is raising enough funds to win a prize. This is a scheme and it should be banned.

Secondly, teaching students that they can (and should) expect something in return for charitable work is disgusting. It makes sense for fundraising to be centered on the cause. The act of fundraising is supposed to be motivated by helping whatever need is being funded. This is hardly ever the case with school-related fundraising. The emphasis put on earning material compensation takes away from the actual goal of the fundraising. In fact, I am not sure if I ever really understood where the proceeds of the sales were supposed to go. When incentives are removed and importance is put on the cause, children can instead become invested in and motivated by the contribution aspect, by helping others.

Funding our schools is important. It’s something that every student should be able to get involved in and take pride in. There are many fundraising opportunities that not only encourage cooperation of all students and the community, but remove the third-party beneficiary, which increases the allocated funds to the school. Things like student-lead car washes, student talent shows, holiday-themed bake sales, or school flea markets. This way, the school and the students can advertise the events and the opportunity to help the school. Community members, then, know that their contributions will help the school, and the students know where their efforts are going as well.