Are Schools and Organizations Ready For Accountability In Fundraising?

Gone are the days of answering the front door to find an adorable Girl Scout selling cookies or thick, jersey-clad jock selling the World’s Finest Chocolate.

Fundraisers are different now – and for good reason.

Children can’t canvass neighborhoods asking for donations or orders anymore – most of us don’t know our next door neighbors, let alone the guy on the adjacent street.

Rest assured, though, fundraisers from schools and kid-serving organizations are not stopping – as evidenced by the tables of Girl Scouts at the grocery store.

In fact, four pink-colored flyers came home last week advertising my kids’ next school fundraiser – a “Move-A-Thon”.

Fundraisers are not disappearing, they are evolving – and seeming to come faster and more frequently than ever before.

There are two major changes in how schools and organizations are raising funds:

(1) Direct Method

Organizations have realized that fundraising is a multi-billion dollar industry that generates profits on the backs of their little pee-wee-er’s hard work – typically splitting the raised funds 50/50. 

Schools and organizations are starting to cut out the “middle-man” – electing, instead, to conceptualize, promote and directly use all of the earnings of their participants.  

To spur support, schools and organizations are now pairing their direct fundraising efforts to events or a specific, championed cause that donors can get behind.  

(2) The Standard as a Supplement

The standard-bearers of the fundraising industry are not going away as more schools raise funds directly. 

The recognizable, industry-leading fundraising companies are still effective for generating dollars to bridge budgetary shortfalls. 

The use of these standard, old-school fundraisers is pervasive and will continue to be – particularly as they become annuity-like for a school’s P.T.A. budget.

It’s wise for schools to use these available resources.  Parents like me should have no issue buying the products as long as the school profits.  Even 50% of sales is certainly better than nothing.  

These fundraisers, though, are not a financial windfall that will buy rooms of new technology quickly.

High volumes are needed to contribute meaningful dollars.  

The Girl Scouts, for example, make a measly $0.70 on a $4 box of thin mints.  This translates to $1,000 for selling 1,500 boxes of Peanut Butter Patties. 

The math is similar for a Scholastic book drive or the holiday cheese and sausage gift basket.    

The changing tide of fundraising, to me, is more positive than negative – placing more dollars into the bank accounts of those doing the collecting.

But, that isn’t all.

More direct fundraising efforts drive accountability that schools and organizations need to ready themselves for.

I’m a perfect case study of the changing expectations of donors.

I would never demand an accounting ledger for the hundreds of dollars I’ve spent in Scholastic books annually.

I am, though, keen on making sure the money I donated last year to directly fund recess is, indeed, allowing my kids to have daily, supervised, outdoor play at school.

The expectations do change as funds are raised directly for a cause.

The principles change for the same reason that sending children to a doorstep is the most effective sales conversion strategy – this creates a personal attachment.

Whether the attachment is created by knowing the beneficiary of the donation, or by witnessing the building of the playground your cash helped construct, or hearing your child’s excitement about the prospect of playing at recess – an assumed accountability contract is drawn up with direct giving that does not exist when I turn in a book order.

And, while I’m hopeful that organizations will embrace the accountability that will, rightfully, be demanded of them, I’m skeptical.

No matter how a fundraiser is run, the reality for me is that I’ll continue to buy the Elmo book box sets from Scholastic, the World’s Finest’s Dark Chocolate with Almonds, and too many boxes of Thin Mints from the Girl Scouts.

Today, I’ll fill out my four pink donation slips for my kids’ “Move-A-Thon” without hesitation.

I’ll do so while quietly remembering last year’s equipment fundraiser and wondering why the tether-ball poles seem to be on perpetual back-order.


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