The Pros and Cons of School Fundraising

Written on January 31, 2012 at 10:14 am , by

 

Guest blogger Alina Tugend on school fundraising.

As the mother of a high-schooler and middle-schooler, I’ve now gone through, oh, let’s see, about a dozen years (more if you count pre-school!) of bake sales and car-wash fundraisers and stuffing tubs of frozen cookie dough I don’t particularly want into my freezer to support our schools.

Don’t get me wrong. The public schools my two boys attend in our New York suburb are terrific and I’m happy to support them. But like every parent I know, I’m tired of being hit up for money. And it’s only getting worse. When the economy tanked a few years ago, even solid school systems like ours were hit. Suddenly emails were flying around the community begging families to help raise the tens of thousands of dollars needed to keep some of our sports teams going.

While interviewing experts and parents for my article in this month’s issue of Family Circle I found myself constantly nodding in agreement. Yes, all public schools are facing a funding crisis. Yes, private money is needed. But there’s a real danger that goes along with that. Corporate donors can certainly help out, but at what cost? Our children are already slammed with so many commercial messages outside of school – do we want to bring that kind of advertising into schools as well? And how will sponsorship influence what schools buy?

Private money from parents also comes with a price. Will a family that gives big to a sports team or drama club have undue influence when it comes to their child’s spot on that team or in the school play? Won’t such fundraising inevitable exacerbate the already large gap between wealthier and less affluent school districts as richer communities can give far more than poorer ones?

And finally how much time do we want teachers and administrators, already overburdened, to devote to fundraising activities?

But fundraising won’t go away. There are ways to develop programs that do it in the best and fairest way possible. One example is set up a non-profit schools’ foundation for the entire district, so many raised is equitably distributed among the schools. Another is to do bigger but fewer fundraisers over the year, so parents don’t feel they are being hit up at every turn. And schools need to make sure they have strict guidelines in place about who they will take money from and how it will be used.

As all administrators told me, no one likes fundraising, but it’s a necessary evil. The focus in the future should be to do it the best way we can.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Alina Tugend’s book, Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong(Riverhead) is out in paperback this month. She also writes the biweekly ShortCuts column for the New York Times and the parenting column for Worth Magazine. Alina lives in New York with her husband and two teenage boys.