It happens all of the time. A coworker approaches and hands over a catalog. What is this, you think to yourself, as you flip open the pages of the glossy magazine. Your coworker explains, “We are doing a fundraiser at my child’s school and just seeing if you’d be interesting in supporting us.” Regardless of your choice, other parents approach you throughout the day. All with different catalogs and all beam about their child.
On the one hand, the act is an appealing gesture. Who in their right mind wants to be seen as not supporting childhood education? On the other hand, who in their right mind would want to be $12 for pizza dough or $15 for stale popcorn with cheese-flavored salt on it?
Fundraising ideas meant to fill gaps
The concept of fundraising at schools has increased in recent years in response to a slumping economy. With decreased tax revenue, state budgets are making cuts in all sectors, and education is not immune to these cuts. And while many government offices are learning about efficiency techniques gleaned from manufacturing, like LEAN operations and just-in-time production, educators are turning to the untapped labor market of children.
Fundraising in schools is not new. For several decades, booster clubs have been hawking cooking utensils, food stuff, cups, mugs, coupons and calendars, all in an effort to generate funds for their operating budget. What is fairly new is the way schools are using their students to meet the budgetary shortfall.
Parents surprised by fundraiser scheme
When parent Lyndsey Barber’s daughter came home with her school artwork, like any parent, she looked forward to viewing the piece. What she got was a 4″x5″photo printout of her child’s art. On the back was a web address, and attached was a price guide. This fundraiser focuses on the parent buying their child’s art that they produced in school.
A quick search on the internet yields dozens of companies that provide this sort of art-based fundraising. Many of the companies yield plenty of advice to coordinators, and all of the ones viewed during research for this article required a password in order to access or view the art. On first glance, the business model looks quite ingenious. Labor is minimal, production costs are limited to only when someone orders an item, and initial outlays are limited to just some photo print-outs of other people’s labor.
For example, a class of students creates an art project. Each project is sent to the company, scanned into a computer and saved into a database. A print of the art project (4×5″ seems to be the norm) is then sent to the parents. Parents can then order, through the program, various items like an apron, tote bag or Christmas ornament. Most of the companies do not include a price list as the price is set by the school. One company, Square1Art.com, did give out a sample price list. In their case, a framed ceramic tile will cost the school $11.00, but they recommend that the school charge the parents $16.50, a 33% mark-up. The school then pockets the difference.
When Mrs. Barber read the details, she was furious. “I just want her [daughter’s] picture. Look at this thing,” she said as she handed over the 4″x5″ print. The glossy print was a shrunken version of the original drawing. Later she added, “If the school would have just asked for money, or art supplies, I would have given it to them.” As it stands, she refuses to pay the premium on her child’s artistic creations.
Budget problems at all levels will continue fundraising plans
Increasingly, as parents and schools battle for scarce resources and funds, fundraiser sales are likely to continue. While anecdotal evidence suggests that fundraisers are becoming more and more prevalent, it is hard to pin down exactly how much of an increase. A Google search for school fundraiser kicked by 5.5 million results on December 5, 2010, and while it does not suggest the size or scope of fundraising events, it does suggest that it will not be going away anytime soon.