If you have children in school, there is one thing you can count on. You will be asked to participate in a school fundraiser.
Whether the school is public or private, in a wealthy neighborhood or a low-income one, there are almost always more needs than available funds.
The constant fundraising can lead to parent fatigue as one funny letter making the rounds on the Internet showed. The letter sent out to parents by an elementary school PTA asked parents to check the box at the level they wanted to donate. The box to check for a $10 donation said, "I do not want to bake so here is the money I would have spent on cupcakes." The one for a $50 donation said, "I do not want to walk, swim or run in any activity that has the word ‘thon’ in it. Here is the money I would have spent on my child’s ‘FREE’ T-shirt." And the one for a $100 donation said, "I really wouldn’t have helped anyway so here is $100 to forget my name."
In all seriousness, it’s important to evaluate if a fundraiser will be worth the work before you begin. Ask:
• How much will the fundraiser net the school after all expenses are taken into consideration?
• Does the fundraiser fit in with the school’s mission and values?
• As the letter above suggested, at the end of the day, does it make more sense to just write a check?
Here are a few ideas to consider when planning your next school fundraiser.
Think Big – Really Big
St. Francis High School in Mountain View gained national attention in 2017 when it turned a $15,000 investment into the company that developed the SnapChat app into $34 million.
Venture capitalist Barry Eggers, a parent at the school, suggested the investment after he came home one day in 2012 to see his kids and their school friends engaged in playing with the app, which lets users post photos and videos that are deleted after 24 hours.
"I do think this is something other schools can do and I have spoken to five to 10 schools on how to make it happen," he says.
It’s just important that three factors are present, Eggers says. The school has to have parents or alumni who have good "deal flow" – who have access to the latest business proposals and investment pitches. The investment should not be connected with the school’s endowment so if it loses money people won’t get angry. Finally, the school and parents must have a long-term view because the returns won’t come in for 5 to 10 years.
"Once it does, it’s a great thing," Eggers says. "It funds itself. You take the money from returns and keep investing it in other deals."
So how is St. Francis using its riches? It has enough money to give annual teacher bonuses for the next 20-plus years and is now moving toward using the returns for financial aid and capital campaigns.
Make It an Educational Experience
Four San Jose sixth-grade friends learned valuable skills about planning, budgeting, marketing, website creation and management and more when they organized fundraisers for two schools, which they did not attend.
Aman Patel, Anriudh Kalahasti, Nikhil Hituvalli and Suhaas Surapaneni and their families wanted to do something to give back to the community and work as a team. So they formed the group 4KidzAid and organized fundraisers for two San Jose schools.
"We feel we’re so fortunate to have what we have in life, and we want the kids to learn what other kids are going through," says Usha Kalahasti, one of the parents.
The kids raised $3,500 for Dove Hill Elementary School for P.E. equipment through emails to friends and family members, by setting up a GoFundMe page, by standing outside stores like Target and Wal-Mart, and by having a restaurant fundraiser.
They raised $1,600 for Montgomery Elementary School for school supplies by partnering with Goodwill Silicon Valley. Goodwill wrote the check to the school in exchange for 11,500 pounds of donations the boys collected including clothes, computers and household items.
Usha Kalahasti says the boys learned so much from the experiences, such as how to talk to strangers and ask for money, how to set goals and follow through, and how to learn from mistakes.
Use the Fundraiser to Build Community
Living Wisdom School, a small school in Palo Alto with just 75 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and a burgeoning high school, struggled for years with fundraisers, such as labor-intensive auctions and a "joyathon" – the school’s version of a jogathon. Finally, the school hit on having a fall high tea as the one fundraising event of the year.
The event is elegant with beautifully decorated tables, tea sandwiches and treats and, as a highlight, a chocolate fountain. Students perform a song and then go to play. "Because parents get to relax with one another while we care for their children, they connect in a way that is quite special, both with each other and the teachers," says Helen Purcell, the school director. "So it is a great community builder as well."
Make It Easy for Donors
Identify ways people can contribute to your school without doing a lot of work. Urban Montessori Charter School, a public school in Oakland, posts a list of easy ways to support the school on its website. Among those are sending your children to school every day since the state gives schools money based on average daily attendance. Other painless ways to help include donating to the school directly by clicking on a button from the website, signing up for a corporate match with an employer who has a giving program that matches employee donations and enrolling with Amazon Smile, which gives .5 percent of all purchases made through Amazon to schools and other charities.
Or if all else fails and your child goes to a private school, you can follow the lead of All Saints Catholic School in Hayward and institute a "mandatory donation." The school requires parents to contribute $50 that will be used toward gift baskets for their annual spring fling auction and requires families to purchase at least one adult ticket to the event.
Lisa Renner is a calendar editor and frequent contributor to Bay Area Parent.