Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The funds, they are a-raisin'

A couple of weeks ago a viral photo of a PTA fundraising form was making the rounds of Facebook:

(photo courtesy of Dee Heinz)

Apparently it touched a nerve because the woman who posted it, Dee Heinz, suddenly found herself the focus of interest from hundreds of thousands of fellow parents, and from outlets like CNN and Good Morning America.

That it did was no real surprise.  As soon as the children go back to school, form-filling-in season is quickly replaced by fundraising season.  Within the first week or so, the fundraisers start pouring in: Cookie dough! Yankee Candles! Not-to-scale casserole dishes which look like they're made for a lasagna but are actually made for a meatloaf!  Wrapping Paper!  Chocolate and candy! It seems like every week they send home a different plea for kids to shill crap you don't need.  Now, Heinz has made it abundantly clear in interviews (and to me, personally), that she is not anti-fundraiser.  I agree.  Our PTO is amazing.  They do wonderful things for our school.  Just in the past few years they have installed new playground equipment, renovated our gym, and provided all of the teachers with smart-board technology in their classrooms!  Those are all GREAT things for our kids that the school district was unable (or unwilling) to provide.

What I don't like are the manipulative tactics that some of the fundraising companies use to get kids to buy in to them.  If you don't pester your grandma to buy an overpriced ceramic bowl, you won't get the little plastic charm to hang on your necklace like all of your other friends!  If you don't sell $300 worth of wrapping paper you don't get to attend the pizza party! The other thing that galls me about those fundraisers are the incredibly tiny profit margins for the schools.  They're pimping out their students for a couple hundred dollars.  I think if they sent out a simple request to the parents for cash donations in lieu of all of the nonsense, they could easily get as much, if not more.  I do feel for the parents who aren't in a financial position to do that.  Their kids should have an opportunity to help the school, too, and the sales make that (in theory) possible.

Apart from the pimp factor, for us, the school fundraisers aren't the only ones we have to worry about.  A couple of days ago, Brendan came home from a boy scout meeting and told me that if he sold $2,500 worth of popcorn, he could get a ~$200 electronic gadget.  Oh, yeah?  Sounds like a great deal.  Sign me up!  Nate, as a cub scout, is also expected to sell popcorn.  For many years now, we've reached an accommodation similar to the one proposed in the above photo.  The boys will do the storefront sales (I'm sure you've seen them - arm wrestling the girl scouts selling overpriced cookies for space at the front of Lowe's or Giant Eagle, or Walmart), and we make an outright donation to the troop for an amount that we think is about the profit margin that they would've received if we allowed the boys to harass neighbors, grandparents, and our coworkers.  I suppose it defeats the purpose of teaching them salesmanship, but it's just how it works in our house.

Because it's not just school fundraisers and boy scout popcorn.  Oh, nooooooooooooo.  So far this year, there have been at least three fundraisers for Bren's high school soccer team.  Last year there were at least four fundraisers for Nate's hockey team.  Lacrosse, so far, seems to be blissfully fundraiser-free, but I imagine that will change in the near future.

There are a couple that we will participate in.  In the winter, one of them (hockey, maybe?) sells some pretty holiday wreaths and poinsettias.  The prices aren't bad, and we'd probably be buying them anyway, so the organization gets the benefit of our laziness.  Likewise, every spring the Boy Scout Troop sells flowers (like, the planting kind, not the vase kind).  They're beautiful, very high quality, and an extremely reasonable price.  We'd buy them at that price or higher from Lowe's anyway, so there's no real downside.  Our boys have very generous friends and family, and we try very hard to avoid hitting them up for money every time we see them.  We do occasionally pass along one or two of the things that we think are reasonable, or that people might legitimately be interested in.  So if you find yourself hungry for some chocolate covered popcorn, you can feel free to come buy it from them at Giant Eagle in a couple of weeks, but we won't be twisting any arms.

In the meantime, here's a solution I think we can all get behind:

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