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Raising money for your school

Fundraisers have moved beyond bake sales as creative parents help cash-strapped schools look for every extra dollar to boost their budgets.

School bake sale
Photo credit: Joelorama

By GreatSchools Staff

School fundraising has evolved since the days when PTA members would set up a card table and sell homemade cookies and brownies for 50 cents apiece to hungry schoolkids. With many districts facing hefty budget shortfalls and layoffs, teachers, parents, and students are looking at more lucrative alternatives to bake sales.

Most fundraising falls into two categories: the traditional approach of selling items (such as candy, discount cards, and magazine subscriptions) directly to friends and neighbors and online fundraising, in which schools earn money through sales from Web-based vendors. Not sure which is best for your school? Read on for pointers on both.

Going the traditional route

Whether students are selling cookie dough or coupon books, these seemingly small items can add up to a lot of cash. School groups raise more than $1.5 billion every year selling various products — the profits account for about 80% of the funds for such "extras" as computers, field trips, and playground equipment. But it can be tricky deciding what to sell or figuring out what will bring the greatest return.

The same concerns over childhood obesity that are prompting states to crack down on school soda sales are forcing athletic booster clubs to think twice about selling candy to fund sports programs. And by adopting stricter nutrition standards for food sold on campus, some school districts are rendering bake sales and other food-based fundraisers obsolete.

One innovative and high-yielding option is recycling cell phones and printer cartridges. Since most families upgrade their cell phones and toss out an average of three to four printer cartridges every year (businesses throw away even more), this is an easy market for school groups to tap. It's also a good way to teach kids how going green can help the planet and pocketbooks: Recycling companies pay anywhere from 50 cents for ink-jet cartridges to $5.50 for high-end laser cartridges.

Choosing the right product and company

The bottom line in any fundraising drive is maximizing the amount of money you can make, so it's important to not only choose something that will sell well but to also work with a company that offers a fair percentage and low shipping or delivery costs. And don't forget about quality control: If you choose a company with inferior products, you may not have as many repeat customers or earn as much money in years to come.

Once you have weighed all the factors and chosen a company, contact a sales representative and take advantage of his or her experience to wage the best possible sales campaign. Many companies offer free promotional materials, prizes, and advice on how to craft campaigns.

Taking it online

The Internet has ushered in a wave of "charity malls" — websites like eScrip and OneCause that let people make donations while buying from such well-known merchants as Amazon and Staples. The charity mall gets a sales commission (about 5 to 8% of the purchase price) from the online merchant and then passes on a portion of this commission to whatever school the shopper designates. How much the school receives differs for each mall. For example, a $20 purchase made on one of the leading sites would result in a donation of 75 cents.

Beware of fundraising companies that offer commissions as high as 20%. These are generally short-term promotional campaigns in which part of the commission goes to the school and part goes to the company.

Generally speaking schools do not have to enroll to begin accruing funds through charity malls, but they do need to register to receive any money. Most sites wait until schools have accrued a minimum amount — usually about $50 — before sending a check. Keep in mind that school donations made through charity malls are not tax deductible.


Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

02/21/2012:
"hi this is a realy good page do you think so well it realy helped me rais loads of money for my school i hope it helps you just like it helped me "
02/7/2012:
"This is a great article! I am a 4th grade teacher and often times I am using my own money to pay for things. I also found this company who helps school staff & faculty raise money for schools! www.facebook/2helpkids "
12/16/2011:
"is OneCause mentioned in the article still running ? When I looked on their website and wanted more info - I got an error message. Just want to know if it is still legit before we sign up. thanks for any updates. Ed. Note: We contacted OneCause today and they are still in business. They say they are undergoing website upgrades, which is why some links are broken. Hopefully this will be remedied shortly. "
10/31/2011:
"Another great option out there is edRover.com. It launched early this year with a number of national chains showing their support. A mobile app, edrover finds retailers (geolocated near your cell phone) who have agreed to support schools with $ from each "check-in". I love it because if the kids and I are out and about, I just search for the retailers near me that are participating and shop/eat there so my school gets credit. :) "
08/29/2011:
"I live in Texas, and one of the most effective and simple ways to fundraise is by doing Spirit Nights at local restaurants. At first it was difficult to find participating restaurants, but now there is a website that makes it simple to fundraise. The name of the company is GroupRaise.com or www.groupraise.com. This company has plans to expand nationwide, currently they offer great locations in Houston, TX. I hope this is helpful, be on the lookout. "
05/23/2011:
"nice like your website but needs more info for raising money for your school."
04/5/2010:
"This article is a bit dated and any information getting out there about school fundraising is important these days. Recycling programs, scrip and donation sites have not proven to be high-yielding as mentioned in the article. Really, gift catalog, frozen food sales (i.e. cookie dough) and large event fundraisers are still responsible for the vast majority of fundraising revenues. It's maybe best to reconsider all these other small fundraisers and limit fundraising at schools to two or three per year and focus all efforts on making a few fundraisers wildly successful. I posted on my blog about it at believejay.blogspot.com"
04/2/2010:
"Schools should start thinking of creating an'endownment fund' and have a percentage of all fund raising go into the fund. The fund over time will grow and the interest that the fund generates is what gets used to fund programs at the school. I would even go a step further and saving 10% of the interest earned on the investment. Soon our children's children will nnot have to worry about fundraising anymore. How many school communities are willing to do this? Big Fat Zero because we want it all 'now.'"
03/31/2010:
"No. Great Schools should not be allowed to ban hugging. Maybe we should ban eating so as to prevent obesity."
03/30/2010:
"I've read all of the comments; we all are going crazy between budget cuts and fund raising! Our school's administrators have very limited options. Parents if you really want to know were all the money goes, then go and attend the 'Shared Decision Making Council' meetings, in this meetings both the administrator (principal) and PTA have to report their budgets and results from previous month(s), as well as planning, designing or deciding the budget, programs, etc. for the month(s) ahead. You don’t have to be part of the board to be present, but you can't vote, but since there almost no parents going in to this type of meetings, there is a big chance you will become a part of the board, like it happened to me, at my first visit! This meeting is only one time a month and it could even be an hour long, it depends on the agenda, but even if it is three hours long, for me it's worth it! This is how I learn about the school needs, challenges, budget, and tough decision that needs! to be made, but also learned how I can help my school in the areas that are need it the most. For parents that are wondering how money get to be spend in computer programs instead of the teacher teaching this programs, I do agree that there are some accountabilities on the teacher side if the kids are not learning the basics, but consider that we have a growing problem among our children 'LEARNING DISABILITIES' as many students learn in different ways, education specialist have notice that computers are not only busting the learning challenges on kids with ADHD or ADD, etc. but to the class in general. Another reason our kids need to learn how to handle the computer is because our whole lives now revolve around computers, these days everyone has to know computers, for schoolwork, as professionals, and even to fill order at any fast food place!"
02/23/2009:
"Parents should ask their teachers to use School-ToGo.com. Teachers recommend books and products that are directly related to the children they teach. Very soon, parents will be able to purchase through the site, and the teacher will then get a percentage back to purchase resources for their own classrooms. Check out http://school-togo.com. "
12/10/2008:
"I am glad to give my opinion about fund raising for schools. I feel anyone who is a taxpayer has a say so and as a grandparent to 5 in public schools, nothing is more upsetting to me than fundraisers,even when my 2 were in school. We in SC pay enough wrongly spent taxes, plus a state lottery (which I disagree with) to cover what the schools needs are. I talked to the elementary school's principal who blamed the need of fundraisers on our governor. I have learned from calling our state governor's office that if the administrators down to principals salaries weren't so nicely padded with the money, there would not only be more money for the classroom, but the teachers would be paid more.Our children are worth more than having to hear there's not enough money to go on field trips,etc!!!!This is pathetic! "
12/3/2008:
"Why doesn't this school take campbell soup labels and box tops? I have a lot of both and hate to give them to a different school when i know this school needs help. "
09/18/2008:
"Great website! Amazing! Wonderful way to motivate parents to do something for their kids schools. Thank you. Yanick."
05/30/2008:
"I was a child once and had to sell all kinds of fundraising 'stuff'. As an adult I was guilted into buying it and as a parent I am making a change. Hence...www.growkids.org Growkids Fundraising is the eco-concious choice in fundraising. Schools keep 50% of the profit and Growkids plants a tree for every sales participant. Supporters can shop from six different product catagories of exclusive high design merchandise that is actually useful. Growkids fundraising teaches children to be responisble sellers and consumers. "
02/12/2008:
"I am interested in recycling--cash for cans, newspaper, etc. My grandchildren go to school in another town,but I would contribute to their school if I could."
11/30/2007:
" I found out that Office Depot offers 5% back to school program. They also do the PTA program too. I didn't know which one to choose from and also I didn't have any information for the PTA. So everytime I order supplies, I use the 5% back to school to help our school. Target stores also do that and I added San Jacinto to the help the school program. There is help there, just got to look."
09/26/2007:
"Our family is stretching its budget to enroll our gifted child in a for-profit, expensive private school because our area has no schools for gifted children and the local public schools are in bad shape. Unfortunately, the school has a group of rich, bored housewives on the PTO. These few women have made the PTO their jobs and have coerced the school administration into fundraising assemblies that brainwash the kids into selling gift wrap and magazine subscriptions so the kids can have unnecessary 'entertainment' assemblies and other frivolous extras at school. Fortunately, the school has avoided a required contribution amount, but the PTO blackmails students and parents into contributing nonetheless, with incentives like free-dress days and cheap toy prizes. Meanwhile, I'm stuck trying to explain this bald capatalistic greed to my young child, who just wants to fit in, get along, and learn. What a shame."
06/25/2007:
"Dear Greatschools.org, This email is to inform you that not all internet fundraising program that offer 40 to 50% of the proceeds are bogus. We have a very legitimate Company that has Organizations like Schools sell gift cards to donors who can shop on our website. The Company nmae is Communities4Giving and our website is Communitystorecatalog.com We pride ourselves in helping the children and not scamming anyone. Do we make money? Of course we do, but very, very little and not at the expense of these Organizations EVER! So please take the time to check us out. We don't require any money up front, no contracts, no product handling and they get their funds right off the top. That's Communitystorecatalog.com for maximum profits for your Schools."
11/13/2006:
"there are schools with parent association organizations or home school organizations. These groups do not include teachers, whether by intention or accidently, they too need to get credit for what they are doing. They help the schools and provide as much support as the other groups. So let's here it for all the groups with or without teachers, there are parents who will carry the load."
10/16/2006:
"my 5yr old just started school.My husband has been attending booster meeting for a month now. We have notice that are school is doing a fundraiser for a fundraise.We also found out that the funds are going to a computer program 'punch a paragraph' that seems unnecessary.I mean what, the teahers can't teach them that? I think that every school should have a money adviser, maybe some of the petty stuff will be more limitted on what school funds are really going to. I think we should redirect focus on other programs like art and music that can build passion and charter at Elementary school.I feel that if parents are giving there school there hard earned cash then it should go on stuff that is really needed. Not on coffe and donuts at PTA mettings. I urge parents to get involved and the parents who are involved to speak up, that is what you go to mettings for.Parents can make a differnce."
03/3/2004:
"I agree! HEARTof.com is the ticket! We have been using them successfully and they pay the biggest rebates of any site we've found. "
03/2/2004:
"Schoolpop recently gobbled up Schoolcash, and schools can now now expect to earn less cash. Schoolpop donates a much smaller percentage of shoppers' purchase prices. That's why I recommend www.HEARTof.com. They have over 300 leading online merchants and they offer the web's biggest donations -- up to 40% of purchase prices. "
06/30/2003:
"I have found an answer to the fundraising problem. It is called Fundever. This company offers families discounted (up to 70% off retail) EDUCATIONAL PRODUCTS, like Leapfrog, computer software, and books. Finally, something that offers a value and promotes education. Your school can raise money year-round by shopping their website at www.fundever.com! It's worth looking into! "
06/2/2003:
"In response to the private school mentioned, I agree that public glory or shame shouldn't be used to make parents involved with fundraising. On the other point, parents that have doubts the school's need for fundraisers should maybe volunteer some time at their child's school, (not just one day, but over time) to get a really good look at what kind of budget the school has to work with and where the money goes. I think that seeing with their own eyes how creative teachers and schools are with the limited funds would answer any questions they have. If there are still any doubts, set up an appointment and speak with the principal about the school's budget. Maybe you could offer some suggestions. "
01/24/2003:
"I have 5 children and they have attended a local Catholic School here in our area we have been there for 18 years. The fund raising there has gotten out of control to the point where our HSA (HOME SCHOOL ASSOCIATION) has driven everyone out. They want us to sign a contract to be a silent supporter and pay $600.00. Or be an active supporter and agree to every fundraiser whether you support it or not. And raise $487.00. Last week they even sent home a statement of names listed for the parents of the school of who gave what. Please!!! let me know Is this not wrong? We consider ourselves Christian people but believe that you can not strong arm people into giving sometimes money that they just don't have. Is this how Christ taught people to live? So at this point we are prepared to leave the school. I am very unhappy about it but I feel that this is the right thing to do. Any comments or suggestions would be appreciated. PS we also realize that Catholic schools need money to keep going However can't the parents agree on how they would like to raise the funds? And not some hotshot chosen for the board. "
01/23/2003:
"Hi, I am a Mom with 2 year old. I have been seen a lot of fund raising from the schools. I am worried that all our kids and parents are just doing make more money. We need to teach kids to savings, care for people, doing good things for the school, family, friends and study. Study is their first thing. They don't have to worry about the money at young ages. We pay lot of for taxes and we have lottory to help school too. But we still doing fund raising, even more then before. Where are all those money goes? I bet that if you give school more and more money, they still will have fund raise................ We as an person has to make ends-meet, why don't our schools make it too. What kind of example are we give to our kids. Worried parent "
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