Ridiculous School Funding Drives

A perennial annoyance for me as a parent is the many odd ways in which schools force parents to organise the funding for trips and stays at camp collectively. The general idea is sound: it would not be fair to make the parents pay up front, because then the poorer families might not be able to send their kids. But our specific cases are ridiculous, because my kids' schools cater to some of the most affluent communities in the history of the world. I'm by far the poorest of the parents involved, and I can easily afford to pay for my kids' trips and camp stays.

What's particularly silly is that a lot of the accepted ways to collect the shared funding are so damned inefficient. Imagine one of these moms who's a district attorney or a neurosurgeon or head of marketing at a tech company. She may spend six hours baking cakes and selling them at a fundraiser in order to donate the meagre proceeds to the class. But she has a huge salary! She would be able to donate twenty times that sum if she just stayed at work for those six hours instead! And when I point this out at meetings I get these looks like I had suggested that we sell one of the kids into slavery.

And then there are the “jobs” intended for the kids. “Buy a bunch of candles / a box of olive oil bottles / a clutch of 'easily sold' salami sausages, and send your kid out to sell them to family and neighbours”. Of course all of these families end up “buying” most of the shit from their kid instead.

My suggestion is that we should quietly agree to buy 25 jars of blueberry jam, one per kid, and then pay $600 per jar to the class treasury. So far no takers, because there's this perception that it is important for the kids to "deserve" their trip. As if our kids weren't one big bunch of hugely over-privileged gits to begin with.

But this year I have finally managed to steer clear. After conferring with my ex, I just wrote the organiser of this year's olive oil campaign:

Dear Mrs. So-and-so,

Junior's mother and I are not willing to distribute any olive oil. But we will be happy to pay for our share. Please just tell me the amount and the account number.

Best wishes,


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Overall I agree completely. But you touch on one of my pet peeves: the idea of oportunity cost when actual, real-world work is involved.

"She would be able to donate twenty times that sum if she just stayed at work for those six hours instead! "

Well, no. And neither can most of us. I get paid a monthly salary that stays fixed whether I stay extra hours or not. I get paid for the overall results, not the hours I put in. Actual overtime with pay will only happen if the employer, not I, decide it needs to happen. Even people with hourly wages don't generally get to decide they can work a few extra hours to make a bit more. With the possible exception of the neurosurgeon above (who presumably can fill a temporary vacancy somewhere at a salary premium), the people you mention really could not choose to dosalaried work for a few hours like that.

Also, opportunity cost is what you _would_ actually do instead, not what you conceivably could. If you're spending saturday afternoon baking cookies, chances are it's not your work that suffers, but some hobby of yours, or time spent with other members of your family.

I usually just donate directly to the organization without taking the product. I see no reason to give money for some project that ends up supporting some marketing company.

The people organising these drives here usually don't even ask if anybody wants to opt out of the product. I believe it is not my responsibility if they end up with more free olive oil than they can use at my expense.

My wife was so proud of her last bake drive sale that made $25 in an hour.
Until I added up ingredients etc. and pointed out if she'd donated $50 she'd be ahead, and hadn't spent a day in the kitchen.
What really bugs me is that in the US there's a huge shadow industry for these fund raisers, and you're not allowed to circumvent them. Even if they sell snickers bars at the local megamart for half the price, you're only allowed to sell the official fund raising snickers because "the school gets some (never specified) part of it".

There is nothing wrong with kids selling stuff but the school should pick up some of the bill for a trip or a prize since most schools get funding for that anyway. Teaching the kids about money and economics is great but disappointment is not a lesson that needs to be taught if the kid tries and fails to sell ridiculous amounts of anything.

By Becky @ Crawle… (not verified) on 12 Dec 2012 #permalink

I'm all too familiar with this method of fund raising. I always thought it was an American sort of thing, being mercantile, encouraging a kind of pushiness, violating people's personal space, and so on. It's a venerable tradition over here. I sold a shopping cart full of canned Passover macaroons in NYC back in the 60s, That was one of the joys of apartment living, lots of customers, many of them even Jewish. (Everyone loves macaroons and these canned ones had a reputation for being extra chewy as well as Kosher for the holidays.)

I basked in the glow of my success. It was almost as easy as selling Girl Scout Cookies. Of course, the "Cookie Kid" used to sell tens of thousands of boxes of Girl Scout Cookies on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Her girl scout troop vacationed in Gstaad. She made inspirational training films for IBM salesmen. My limited sales success was strictly outer-borough.

I agree that this is an inefficient way of raising money, but it does have its charms. For years we bought our Christmas wreath from whichever child of our friends asked us first. Now the children are off to college, and we actually had to buy our wreath at a Farmers' Market. Yes, some of the wreaths were a trifle mangy, but we still miss buying from the kids.

As for the time value of money, I should point out that there are people who like the bake, just as there are people who like to golf, knit sweaters or play Settlers of Catan. Baking, unfortunately, results in baked goods, often of high quality. Baking for a fundraiser is an opportunity to bake without the inevitable pile of high calorie treats sitting around the house tempting one. If one factors in the value of being able to bake without adding to one's waistline, $25 is not all that much for a couple of hours of baking.

(To be honest, my parents always paid cash for school trips. I brought the money to school in the envelope with the permission slip. I have no idea of how they handled kids whose parents couldn't raise the money, but I'm guessing it was handled quietly by the school and DSS.)