Responsibly Say No to School Fundraiser Requests

by Tracy · 32 comments

It’s that time of year again when children come home from school with brightly colored fliers promising them cool prizes if they sell so much wrapping paper or x number of entertainment books. Often, they’ve just come from a pep rally of sorts to get them pumped up and excited about the notion of raising money for their school and earning those cool prizes.

Even if you don’t have school aged children, you’ll probably get handed an order form or two at work or a social event and find it awkward to buy nothing. After all, you’d like to help out your friend’s children but you really have no need for a 3lb bucket of cookie dough, especially not at fund-raiser prices.

Of course, almost all of us want to help our local schools and give the children wonderful educational activities but participating in fundraisers might not be the best way to make this happen. Schools only receive a small portion of each sale and the dedicated members of parent’s organization have to spend many hours to put it all together. I think all of us appreciate that PTOs and PTAs are in between a rock and a hard place when it comes to fund raisers.

That said, you have to put yourself and your family first so here are a few thoughts on declining to participate in fund raisers in a graceful way.

If you are the parent:

  • Unless your child attends a private school, fund raisers should never be mandatory and you do not have to participate. You should also be able to choose to only participate on a level that feels comfortable for you. For example, you can buy a few items from the catalog but decline to actively sell to family, friends and coworkers. Don’t feel guilty and remember not everyone can do everything for every good cause.
  • If you can afford to do so, write a check directly to the PTA/PTO and feel good knowing that 100% of your donation will go towards programs for your child’s education.
  • Explain to your child in an age appropriate way why you are declining to participate. This can be a wonderful opportunity for financial education, however don’t feel too frustrated if your little ones don’t fully get why it’s highly improbable that they’d be able to earn the limo ride and iPod and why you don’t want to help their school. Be patient and persistent in teaching them and eventually they will get it.
  • Be involved as much as possible in your child’s school and talk to the principal and PTO/PTA board to let them know if you are bothered by some of their fund-raising tactics. Be polite and go in with the understanding that they have only the best of intentions, but realize that you have the right to make your voice heard even if you aren’t able to serve on the committees or volunteer on a regular basis.
  • If you do decide to participate in a fund-raiser do your best to do it in a way that doesn’t make others feel pressured into buying. Make sure to ask about company policy before bringing the order forms into the office and understand that if people decline to buy that it’s nothing personal.

If you are asked to buy:

  • The majority of the time a simple no thank you is all that is required. Keep in mind that the parents and children are trying to raise money for a good cause so don’t raise your own blood pressure by becoming inordinately offended or put out.
  • Be proactive at work and discreetly ask human resources to issue a clarification about the company policy on fund raising before the season begins. This way nobody feels like they were the straw that broke the camel’s back if somebody complains two weeks in the “season”.
  • Sometimes it might be more prudent in the long run to just buy one or two small things. When that happens just take a deep breath, pick inexpensive things that would at least make good gifts and chalk it up to the cost of living in society. I think we can all relate to needing to keep that loud-mouthed sister in law quiet or having to suck up to the boss. In theory you should stick to your guns but sometimes $20 is a small price to pay for relative harmony.
  • It can be hard to say no to children but don’t feel bad as long as you are polite with them. Children need to know that others won’t say yes 100% of the time and will learn from your example how to say no like an adult. Give them the respect of saying “no thank you” while making eye contact and perhaps they’ll get the message that saying no is perfectly okay and not something that you have to do while averting your eyes and rushing away.

Remember, we all have limited resources and we have to make the choices that make sense for us when deciding where to spend our time and money. Saying no to any one particular fund raiser or cause is no reason to feel guilty.

I’m eager to know your thoughts on this. How do you deal with school fund raiser season?

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • H H says:

    I send that stuff back with a note that we will NOT participate. It’s unsafe for kids to go door to door (a boy in New Jersey was murdered going door to door) and I work in a government agency that does not allow parents to solicit.

    I couldn’t even figure out where the money was going! We had to buy uniforms for kids in sports if they participated and pay for their equipment. There were no field trips. I got the run around when I finally got tored of the constant pressure to sell and asked where the funds went.

    Finally a PTA parent at my son’s elementary school told me the previous year’s funds were used to purchase a flat-screen tv for the school office! It plays an event calendar on a loop! What a waste of money! A bulletin board could have been used! How does this help the kids?! At that point I said NO MORE.

    My daughter’s school sent home a trivet with her class artwork on it and a note that we had to pay $5 for it. I sent back a note about artistic copyright and that we were keeping the trivet and would NOT pay $5 for it. I also requested a disclosure as to where the money would go. I was told “administrative costs.” NO WAY.

    ASK WHERE YOUR CHILD’S LABOR IS GOING BEFORE YOU PARTICIPATE. If it’s going to a club they do not even belong to (I remember being forced to sell FHA cookbooks. I took the cooking class but did not actually join Future Homemaker’s) – or a project that does not benefit your child, JUST SAY NO.

  • Rob says:

    I have inside knowledge of secrets, tricks, lies and manipulations being taught to the the future of our great America. Being a victim and ultimately an accomplice of this abuse, If only by mere protecting one of the biggest manipulators in the industry, and of the century. I have proof by the manipulators own hand Of the gross maliciousness , that in my opinion, should not be allowed . How do I bring this injustice to light?

    • Donald Harvey says:

      Rob wrote, “How do I bring this injustice to light?”

      Contact the folks at the Fun Runs Are A Scam Facebook page. Requests for anonymity respected.

  • Out of cash says:

    My issue is that we are “pushed” into fundraising, which I participate but then the same parents/ co workers I asked is now asking me, which is fine but I can’t afford to participate in everyone’s fundraiser. It makes me not want to ask anyone. I am a single parent and I need to stick to my budget.

  • Tom Langley-Smith says:

    My daughters are figure skaters. We have paid our registration and we pay extra for private lessons. The club and our girls are registered with the Canadian Figure Skating Assoc.., which we also paid for. The club is now asking for parents to volunteer to run bingo nights, if you don’t they will charge you an additional $ 200, as an opting out fee. Can they do this?
    Is this legal?

  • Luci says:

    I know this is an old post, but it’s a good one! I totally agree that high pressure sales, with only a small % of funds going back to the school itself, is not something I would support.

    I would underscore the “if you don’t like it, try getting involved” point. School fundraisers are often organised & run by volunteer parents who are trying to fit it in around their own work and life responsibilities, they are doing the best they can, because they see that the school needs more money. If you don’t like the fundraiser they’ve chosen why not be the first to put your hand up with an alternative idea that matches your own values and interests?

    Most schools run about 8 different fundraisers a year, varying in type & size, and it’s natural that they are going to appeal to different groups of parents – get behind the one that suits you.

    There’s no shortage of possible ways to raise money for schools, however what is hard is finding enough willing and able volunteers to put the ideas into action. If you’re not in the position to contribute financially (or don’t want to), could you instead help apply for a grant or ask local businesses for sponsorship? Or donate some of your time or skills to help with something that someone else will pay money for (e.g. car wash, bake sale, tree planting, disco, movie night, walk-a-thon etc).

    I don’t like the high pressure sales type of fundraiser either, however I also can see that my daughter’s school needs more funding & therefore some type of fundraising is necessary. The type I’ve decided to get behind with my time & energy is online fundraising because that matches my skills, interests & knowledge. It’s a space in which I feel like I can contribute & get good returns for the school without high pressure sales or poor returns.

    Disclaimer: I have created an online fundraising site to help our school & others. On the blog I write about all kinds of fundraising ideas, not just my site, so you might want to check it out if you are looking for alternatives to high pressure product sales.


  • Jessica says:

    I try to order something whenever I can. Truthfully, I could always use wrapping paper or gift bags. The price is usually good to normal and the kid can be a little bit closer to meeting their goal.

  • misty says:

    my son and his football team were givin 20 fundraising cards each to sell at $10.00 a peice and were told to sell them all in 3weeks. well the 3weeks came up and alot of players still had cards left, so the coach decides to stop football practice until all cards are sold by each player. is that fair?

  • Kelly says:

    Instead of saying no, we either donate directly to our children’s teachers, or make a one time donation to the school.

    We share with our kids how important it is to give back without feeling like we have to overextend ourselves. When they are set on participating to win the prizes offered we offer to add some money to their savings account instead. It usually works like a charm.

  • Fred says:

    What is really disturbing is when we go to Church, and kids are running up to us before and after the service shoving these fundraising brochures in our face. Why do parents allow their kids to do this? This is so disrespectful.
    The one’s who are making the most money from these fundraisers is the companies that sell this junk.

  • BelieveJay says:

    It seems that when fundraising comes up, there’s a lot of talk about how to rationalize not participating in fundraisers. The fact is, not participating undermines the schools ability to raise funds and makes for more and more fundraisers. In the end, the same generous parents get to donate over and over because the majority of people opt out. With the state of education being what it is, fundraising has become more about salaries, general funds, books and equipment than it is about field trips and teacher appreciation gifts. In that way, I believe it is every parents responsibility to participate, not just a few.

    • Maryl says:

      No, it’s not. My property taxes were jacked up $650 bucks this year. Last fundraiser. So far, in my life I’ve contributed more than $120,000 to the school directly and I’m only 52. More goes through fed and state taxes, and even sales tax in my state. The school budget climbs but supplies don’t go to the classroom. Teachers are being converted to adjuncts, but the school still pretends they have their benefits costs. Close the damn varsity programs before cutting academic programs then lets have a look at what’s still bleeding.
      Nope. Fundraising not my job. I’m too busy remediating the crap education through home tutoring that’s required because the school is over reliant on volunteers and fun days.

    • H H says:

      Read my post above! The money raised was used for irresponsible and frivolous purposes that in no way benefit the students! The previous year they bought a tv for the school office that continuously plays an upcoming calendar of events (ever hear of a BULLETIN BOARD? You can buy a big one for ten bucks!!) and paid for a Christmas party for the teachers! I was disgusted and outraged.

  • Nadia Heyd says:

    Here are 3 more reasons NOT to participate in school fundraising:

    1. It fosters inequities in the public school system. Schools in wealthy neighbourhoods are able to fundraise more and schools in poorer neighbourhoods are often not able to raise any funds. Imagine what kinds of things you might find in a school in a wealthy neighbourhood vs. a poor neighbourhood. This has got to be impacting student success. (See this People for Education report for more information

    2. When parents raise funds, it lets governments off the hook for funding schools adequately. Maybe governments just can’t do it, and we need to find another way, but I’m not sure fundraising is the whole solution. Check out this foundation – they have got a good approach, I think: If we could find more foundations like that, and more governments willing to work with them, what a wonderful world it would be.

    3. You and your children become an unpaid (and sometimes even paying) sales force for some cookie dough or publishing company. Merchants of fundraising goods are exploiting families’ desire to do good for their children, and that, to me, is just off-putting.

    Just a few more thoughts added to the discussion.

  • Seo Guru says:

    My kids are on a private school and often they are given fliers by the school for that fundraiser thing. The worst part of it is when you see the reason of the fundraising event, to buy this and that for the school. WHAT? So what do you do with that ultra high tuition fee I am paying you? I don’t participate with reasons like that.

    • Zena says:

      Agreed so my sons school is private haven’t participated because each year is something new. Last year at end of school year we got a email and included in that was “your two week deposits will be refunded or you can donate it back for a tax write off” this year right now we are doing fund raisers and right at the door directer and some teachers hover right at check in on tuition day “wanna buy a raffle ticket?” Three parents ask “so it goes to the school? I pay 418 for tuition. For 3 days 4 hours. When I was asked I gave five bucks. “What about the grandparents hey buy it as a Christmas gift for somone”. The school traps parents. My friend and I were in a entry way if school leaving with our kids both our kids squirming ready to be done with school and we are talking both to our kids. Teacher blocks our entry “hey we had no involvement Last year and you both Could easily fill your family share opertunity by picking up donations from around comunity “. Well raffle selling began a week ago. I went to one business that school said they had a basket. Owner was so upset she put her father in a nursing home and had no idea who the school was. Embarrassing. And as raffle tickets are being sold the week of tuition I thought “ok that is done”. Nope. “Hey!” Teacher got my attention. I turn. “Do you know where the salon is?”
      I said “no”. Half turning to leave
      “Well they have a donation Thankyou!” It was a way for them to get people to buy more Spend more for different baskets as they come in. Here’s the family share obligation for this school. Can fulfill 15 hours during the year. Or caugh up 300 dollars. Also if they have a family lunch day. You bring a side or a donation aka money. My first year I didn’t understand one particular invoice. So I corrected my mistake. Again I’m wrong “your paying too much. Your double paying” they said. “Oh well ok re write me a check for what I over payed” “Sorry it’s non refundable”. Director said. Ugh… Last year I did my family hours and I had a few extra hours that I could pay off. Well apparently I didn’t add right. “I just want to know Are we gonna get our money?”I was off 20 bucks. Like 20 bucks really was a matter of life or death. So this year I payed off the 300. But tuition went up 3 percent. And a 50 dollar activity fee and 130 dollar activity fee lol. It’s rediculas. That’s my private school story.

  • Tracy says:

    All reality schools are hurting. Funding raising is a good way to help improve education. We need fund raising for schools. Donations and everything. These budget cuts are hurting our schools and its not fair to the students to have a lower expectation of the of educational requirements.

  • G says:

    I have 3 kids in school right now. For the most part, I do not participate b/c of the fact the PTO gets a small percentage of the funds raised. Sometimes I have sent back the materials with a polite note telling the teacher our family is not participating; sometimes I write a check to the PTO and sometimes I buy the product if I know I will use them. My children know this and don’t have a problem (neither do I) that I say “no” most of the time. I find other ways to directly help our school.

  • basicmoneytips says:

    These things are the worst. During the school year I constantly see fellow employees place these sheets to buy various products in our office kitchen. The kids are not even making an effort – the sheets just are there for you to sign up. I never do, I feel like if the kid cannot take the time to ask me himself/herself, then why bother.

  • Global Forex Signals says:

    I have been giving my money directly to PTO without taking part in this fundraisers. I think this is one of the real ways of avoiding spending that money on different trifles not connectd with education. At the same time I’m thinking of offering my wife to quit the job and raise the children instead. This will be much better for them, I suppose.

  • be says:

    I remember our son’s first fundraiser as a Kindergartener – he didn’t sell “enough” and had to stay inside school while most of his other classmates were treated to an outside stuffed pig race (all this on a beautiful, 70-degree afternoon). After an evening of tears and a long letter to the prinicipal (followed by much conversation between us), this type of practice was stopped. The children now work toward common goals, no one is excluded from activities and those who can’t or don’t want to sell are not “forced” to by being excluded. The PTO also now gives an option to give to the school directly, which we gladly do. A conversation with the principal and/or the PTO can go a long way to dissuading these activities and practices.

  • vered says:

    Giving to the PTO is part of my annual giving budget. I give up to my pre-determined amount and stop at that. Having it in my budget takes the emotions out of saying “no.”

  • Amber says:

    I was recently discussing these fundraisers with my husband and we realized a few things. First, we probably raised very little money for our school – most of it was probably mopped up by the company selling the junk. But most importantly, it fostered this ridiculous consumerism in us – we really, really wanted the stupid crap we got for selling this stuff. Enough that we’d go out and knock on people’s doors and pester our friends and relatives. And when they all politely declined, we felt it reflected on ourselves – why won’t anyone buy from *us*? Not to mention the shame of trying to talk your grandmother into getting another roll of $6 wrapping paper.

    It’s really disappointing to me that my school (and seemingly schools everywhere) have no problem fostering consumerism and damaging kids’ self-esteem for what can’t possibly be a very large amount of money for the school. Writing a check directly to the PTA is a good solution – though I distinctly remember being discouraged from accepting direct donations when I was a child doing these fundraisers. It may fall on parents to provide these details to their children.

  • Jenna says:

    I try and buy just one thing that I need. I support a local school, a local child and get something I need in return. Nothing wrong with that. Also, it’s good practice for kids to learn to ask for things, answer questions, and feel pride for their school. A small price to pay in my eyes.

  • KM says:

    I hated those when I was in school myself and I refuse to participate in them now. But I quickly look through the catalog or ask what kind of things they are selling, then think about it for a second and say no. At least it looks like I am not blindly refusing, but I genuinely don’t need what they sell (which is true).

    I remember being in that situation myself, even though I didn’t knock on people’s doors and only asked family friends and parents’ coworkers because I knew I wouldn’t buy the things from the catalog, so why would some random person? The only time it felt like I needed to sell something was for my swim team when we were told we needed the money to buy competition suits for the team. I can see now how it would have been much easier to just write a check directly to the swim team and I will probably do that if my children are faced with that.

    • Tracy says:

      When I was in high school, we worked to earn money to go to the national Future Business Leaders of America conference. This was an international flight for us (I went to a US military dependents school overseas) so our work was cut out for us.

      We raised the money by bagging groceries and selling eggrolls that my mom made at the main headquarters building during our lunchtimes. I still have a lot of pride that we put so much work into making our goal a reality.

      I’m not sure those fundraisers where it’s mostly parents bringing catalogs to work would give kids that same sense of accomplishment. Then again, we’re living in a very different time.

      • KM says:

        I agree. I would have much rather worked to earn the money than try to sell something useless to someone who probably only buys it because they feel sorry for you and try to help you.

  • CD Rates Blog says:

    If I can, I participate. I am more apt to help out the children of close friends. It does seem like a big circle at times. We support their children, they support ours.

    • Tracy says:

      I half agree with you, I do like participating in good causes but like Kerri mentioned above, a lot of times these fundraisers seem to be encouraging materialism and there are concerns that the children are getting the wrong message.

      I do take it on a case by case basis.

  • kerri twigg says:

    I participate in some and not in others. I was most offended by their fundraiser for “sustainability.” They rewarded the top student fundraisers with plastic toys made in china — therefore encouraging consumerism, mass production of disposable objects plus the travel time and perhaps supporting slave labor. How sustainable. I wrote a letter (and a blog post) suggesting other ways the children could be rewarded.

    • Tracy says:

      I really dislike the prizes for participating. They are almost always cheap junk that we could buy at a dollar store. And while I do want to teach my kids that anything is possible if they put a lot of hard work and brainpower into it, the truth is the playing field for these competitions isn’t level and there isn’t much the kids can do to overcome it.

      It’s much preferable for the kids to work together to accomplish a goal and then enjoy the reward together. There are still so many ways to celebrate individual achievement in school, why not teach them the rewards of working in a group, too?

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