The Time for Healthy Fundraisers
written by Jeff
Sirlin, President of School-Fundraisers.com
budgets are getting tighter each year to the point where many
programs and activities are being cut. The child obesity rate
is steadily increasing in our country, and our children are
developing poor eating habits at an early age. There are two
real concerns that schools and parents are facing throughout
the country. On the surface, these appear to be separate issues
that have little to do with each other. But as many school
administrators already know, these two issues are incredibly
bound together and have created a dilemma in the K-12 community.
Fundraising has been a staple of the
American school culture for over a half a century. Many people
view running a fundraiser as a necessary evil (which I personally
disagree with, but as a parent I understand this point of
view). Yes, in a perfect world, schools would have unlimited
budgets and could offer every program imaginable to their
students. As we all know, this is not the case. And in many
cases, sports and fitness programs are some of the first to
go when budgets are being "restructured." In many
cases, fundraising is the only option to ensure a program's
survival. Parents and school administrators understand this,
and are willing to support the fundraisers (to a certain point)
if their children benefit.
And now for the dilemma: Some of the
most popular fundraising campaigns have been focused around
products with limited to no nutritional benefit. In fact,
many times it's straight out junk food. Candy bars, cheesecakes,
lollipops and cookie dough are some of the most successful
fundraising programs. In some cases, tens of thousands of
dollars are raised from these campaigns. Make no mistake;
these are real money makers for the schools.
But in some cases, they are also being
phased out due to school wellness
policies. In 2010, legislation
was passed limiting the type of foods that are allowed to
be sold on school grounds. There is some debate that fundraisers,
when run by parent groups such as the PTA or PTO, are technically
not run "on campus" and do not apply to this law.
Yet many schools are banning these types of fundraisers anyway.
But the "catch 22" is that the money raised from
these successful fundraisers is also disappearing.
There is a reason why the candy bar
sales do so well: People buy them. Schools have struggled
replacing these programs with new ones that comply with their
wellness policies. There was a school in Michigan that replaced
dough fundraiser that annually raised over $20,000, with
a "healthy snacks" sale (featuring granola bars
and nuts) that raised under $2,000. Was this worth it? It
depends on who you ask.
I think things will evolve and the
fundraising offerings available will become healthier and
promote overall wellness. I know the cookie dough offered
by our company has eliminated the trans-fat, which makes for
a healthier product. I personally support the school wellness
policies that ban candy sales in schools. Most of my industry
contemporaries will strongly disagree with me on this point,
but I will never alter my values to make a buck. I will never
preach one thing in my household to my own children, then
turn around and do the complete opposite in my business.
There are great ways to combine a
healthy culture with the fundraising activities of a school.
Because I am not comfortable with most of the "healthy
food programs" in terms of being a money maker for our
groups, I tend to push the non-food programs the most to our
I'm a big fan of our flower
bulb program. You can't go wrong selling a product that
gives back 50% to the groups, while making the community a
more pleasant place to live in. And most of our groups bill
their bulb fundraiser as a "help beautify the community"
campaign. They encourage their supporters to buy additional
bulbs and donate them right back to the group. Then the kids
will hold a planting day and plant the bulbs somewhere in
the community: a school, a church, a playground, a senior
living facility, etc. Where ever they think it will help.
The kids and parents have a great time and the benefactors
of the flowers are extremely grateful. There is a whole lot
more than making money that can make a fundraiser truly rewarding
for the participants.
Schools are running more and more "a-thon Fundraisers."
I fully support any event that ends in a "thon"
and generates financial support: Walk-a-Thon, Read-a-Thon,
Dance-a-Thon, jump-rope-a-thon and so on.
These fundraisers are great due to the involvement of the
child. They are actually doing something productive for a
I am a wellness fanatic and believe that we need to set a
positive example at an early age for our children. The more
ingrained bad eating and fitness levels (or lack of) are,
the tougher it will be for them to make a change later on
in their lives. So if a walk-a-thon or dance-a-thon helps
promotes exercise and healthy living, the greater the impact
will be. Whatever works in getting our kids to be active and
I had a parent bring up the point to me that their child
is only doing this so he can win a big prize. My reply was
"the point is that he is actually doing it. He is walking
20 miles! Yes, he wants a prize, but he's staying in shape
while doing it. Not to mention the worthy cause your child
is supporting. So it's a win-win all around."
As long as it's something productive: dancing, reading, studying,
exercising, etc., I am in favor of it. A "video-game-a-thon"
or a "texting-a-thon" will have a tougher time getting
my support. There's a huge middle ground where the school
can find an activity the kids will like and one that will
actually raise money. We encourage including the students,
parents and teachers in the decision process when determining
what type of "a-thon" fundraiser to run. It's wonderful
when everyone comes together and finds that 'one great idea'
that everyone gets into and fully supports. This is the ideal
ingredient to a successful campaign.
If non-food and event fundraisers can reach the financial
goals of your group, then you have your answer there. However,
if they fall short, then this needs to be re-evaluated and
a solution is required. Maybe it's more fundraising programs
throughout the year. Maybe the expectation and goals need
to be reduced. Or maybe food fundraisers can still have a
role, but off campus. This is for the school community to
decide. The motivated groups will find a way to raise money
and maintain a healthy environment at the same time. We know
it can be done.
Jeff Sirlin is president of School-Fundraisers.com (www.school-fundraisers.com),
a fundraising company working with schools and non-profit
organizations throughout the United States. Jeff has been
in the fundraising industry for over a decade, and has been
an advocate for improving the health content of fundraising
programs sold in schools.
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