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February 08, 2009 | 09:48 AM
Odds are pretty good that at some point in your life, you've been approached by a kid — probably a neighbor — who's selling something in an effort to raise money for a school or ahtletic program. Some of the things that these kids have been selling include really bad chocolate, overpriced sodas, and wrapping paper. (By all accounts, the wrapping paper is actually pretty nice, but it ain't cheap.)
I think it's bad enough that our schools are so underfunded that we have to turn our kids into door-to-door salesmen, but at least the buyers of these products are getting something in return for their money. Granted, it's overpriced, and it's usually not very good, but at least there's some exchange of value.
There's another type of school fundraising out there, though, and it's managed to remove completely the exchange of value concept from the process. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Boosterthon Fun Run.
The premise of the Boosterthon Fun Run is pretty simple. The school schedules a date for its "Fun Run," and on that date students from the school run (or walk) laps around a small, 1/16-mile track. The kids are supposed to get sponsors who will give them either a certain amount per lap or a flat donation.
The minimum suggested donation (a concept I always hated…if you're asking me for money, let me decide how much I can afford…don't make me feel like a scumbag because I can't or don't want to give that much) is a dollar per lap, and the maximum number of laps that kids are allowed to run is 35.
As a result, the school and the Boosterthon Fun Run organizers are thinking that, on average, each sponsor will pony up at least $35. That is an awful lot of money to ask for from one sponsor, especially given the current economic situation. (As I said, though, there is a flat donation option, so someone can always pledge as little as a buck, if that's what they want to do.)
Children are then awarded prizes based on how much money they raise for the Boosterthon Fun Run. These prizes range from something as little as a glow-in-the-dark wristband to a scooter or even an iPod. It goes without saying that you need to raise a whole lot of money to get the more expensive prizes.
I have two issues with this whole process. The first is that I do not like the idea of our kids having to raise money for their schools, even if they are actually selling a product and the customer gets something of value for their money.
As a parent, I do not think it's my child's responsibility to raise money for his school. If schools are so underfunded, then all of the energy that goes into these fundraisers might be better directed at trying to get the budget increased for education. Of course, that's for public schools; it doesn't apply for private schools. For private schools, though, it seems that the answer is to just raise tuition a little.
My second issue (and this is really the point of this article) is with the whole Boosterthon Fun Run concept, specifically in that there is zero exchange of value between the sponsor and the child. When you cut through all the noise, all the child is asking for is a straight donation to the school.
This is always a little awkward, too, because parents are very often friends with other parents who have their own fundraising issues to tackle. So, you ask your neighbor to kick in $20 to some school-related cause, and next month his kid is at your door asking you to buy $20 worth of popcorn.
We're all just basically trading dollars with each other. Enough!
Even worse, all of this becomes magnified when the school doing the fundraising is private.
My 5-year-old son just had a Boosterthon Fun Run at his private school, and I cringed at the thought of him asking friends and neighbors to sponsor this. You can use any words you want, but this is how it sounds when you ask people to sponsor a private school Boosterthon Fun Run:
"Hi, I'm having a Fun Run at my expensive, private school, and we're raising money so that we can afford things that are nicer than what we already have. My Mom and Dad spend $X,000 a year for me to go this place, but my school is having a hard time financially. Will you please give this private school some of your money, even though your own kids probably go to an underfunded public school?"
As a parent, I simply felt like I'm asking my friends and neighbors to subsidize my tuition bill. I didn't want to do that!
Of course, you could always opt out of this whole process. No one is putting a gun to your head and forcing you to get sponsors. However, in the days that lead up to the Boosterthon Fun Run, there is a daily tally of which kids got how many sponsors, and there are prizes given each day for good performers. So, there's just a little bit of peer pressure here…
I do not think that schools should ask their students to raise money for the school.
If students are going to raise money for their school, there should be an exchange of value. The sponsor has to get something for his money.
If there's no exchange of value, the fundraiser is wholly inappropriate for private schools. There is no "cause" here for sponsors to embrace.
That's pretty much it. I will say this, though.
The company that managed the event for the school (Duluth, Ga.-based Booster Enterprises) did an outstanding job. They had employees on the school site in advance of the event to talk to the kids and hand out materials, and they did pass on some very positive messages to the children. The event itself was also very high-energy, and the kids — and even the parents — had a great time. Our son had a blast, and he was very proud of himself for completing all 35 laps.
I may not agree with the philosophy behind the event, but I have no complaints about the company that managed it.
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