At school pickup time today, my son Jack bounded toward me, excitedly waving a document that parents dread more than teen pregnancy and head lice. Its brightly colored photos displayed prizes that every kid dreams of: a flat screen TV, a remote control race car, an iPod Touch, spy goggles, a lifetime supply of Silly String and a few smaller rewards that normally break six seconds into the first and only use.

Ahh, fundraiser time again at schools across the country.

“If I sell a thousand buckets of cookie dough, I can get a 52-inch flat screen TV for my room!” exclaimed Jack. “The fundraising man said we should set our goals high in life, that we all know lots of people. And who doesn’t love cookies? I really want that TV, so I’m going for the thousand. Think we can do it, Mom?”

“We? Honey, I see your name on the form, not mine,” I pointed out to my son, who’s more than willing to include me in any activity that involves soliciting donations from neighbors not currently on speaking terms with us.

As an elementary school parent, I’ve taken on the jobs of bus driver, referee, counselor, library volunteer, homework Nazi, classroom story reader, paper grader and fall festival face painter. I’m not a sales person. I’m just not. I’ve tried it many times. And failed many times.

Early on, I decided against a sales career after spending three weeks working at a lighting store called Lamps Plus. Each day, we’d pass the first half hour listening to Annie, a drill sergeant turned sales manager, give us a shouting “pep talk” about how worthless we were and if she weren’t so compassionate she’d fire us all on the spot. I always entered the merchandise floor feeling shell shocked, yet grateful to Annie for not shooting me as a sacrifice for team motivation.

The day that I broke more inventory than I sold, my lighting industry dreams came crashing to the floor along with a Swarovski chandelier. Before Annie could get her gun, I was driving out of the parking lot.

Since then, I’ve spent most of my working years in marketing, thus making it easier for sales people to do their jobs. I guess you could call me an enabler.

Back to the present…

“Well, Mom,” Jack bargained, “if you won’t help me sell a thousand, will you at least buy 12 buckets so I can go to the Mega Party? We get to ride in a Limo and they’ll have pizza and blow up slides and a bunch of other cool stuff. And we get to skip school for three whole hours,”

“Let me see that sheet!” I countered. “That’s a 1979 Country Squire station wagon. It says Limo-like transportation.’”

“C’mon, Mom. Can’t we just walk around the neighborhood? It won’t take that long to sell 12.”

“Okay,” I caved. “But we have to do it NOW, before the other neighborhood kids get home.”

Each year, when fundraising time comes around, I buy just enough of whatever the school’s peddling for my son to earn the lowest prize on the chart…a glow-in-the-dark eraser or equivalent. And each year the angel on my shoulder chides me for robbing him of the chance to experience entrepreneurship and the satisfaction of hard work.

“Jack’ll never gain the valuable skills necessary to find a lucrative job in the U.S.’s evolving customer-centered workforce if you don’t get out there and knock on doors with him,” my shoulder angel scolds. Meanwhile, the devil on my left shoulder picks out her 12 favorite cookie dough flavors.

Armed with the order form, a pen, a zip lock bag to collect money and our obnoxious mixed-breed mutt Katie, we set out. My strategy was to tell people we were selling dogs and Katie was the only one left. After seeing her, they’d be more than willing to buy anything else we had.

Our first stop was the Slater family. They’re on my short list of favorite neighbors.

“Would you like to buy some cookie dough,” asked Jack in his most Dale Carnegie approved voice.

“Yeah sure. Would you like to buy some magazines, Mrs. Weight?” countered Kelsey, raising the ante.

“Uhm, I guess so,” I replied reluctantly, trapped.

After a short round of negotiations, we walked away having sold two buckets of dough and purchased two magazines that I’m sure I’d have subscribed to anyway… at half the price.

A couple of houses down, we met Lisa Scott, who bought a bucket of oatmeal-raisin and in turn sold us a Boston butt roast for twice the price of the dough. It was to help her son’s preschool raise money for new playground equipment. We don’t eat Boston butt, but I’m sure it’ll make a great gift….to someone. Although the only upcoming gifting occasion is Little Natalie Sandberg’s seventh birthday party. She probably won’t be receiving any other 10 pound cuts of meat.

One street over, Mrs. Zinker bought a bucket of chocolate chunk and talked me into hosting a Tupperware party. And so our sales calls went…

Two hours later, after knocking on 28 doors, buying three magazines, five raffle tickets, a ham, a case of Cokes, a roll of Santa Claus wrapping paper, a bag of fertilizer and a Mary Kay skin renewal kit, we finally hit number 12.

Jack shouted ‘victory,’ and I promptly fired my shoulder angel.

Written by Angela Weight, blogger at You can also follow her on Twitter.



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  1. HA! This had me in a laughing fit. I cannot believe I forgot about those ridiculous fundraisers. I remember being the participant in those fundraisers! I’m pretty sure one of them promised us a trip to the moon if we sold 4 million of whatever shit they were pedaling. Ironically enough, I ended up in sales….still waiting on my trip to the moon, though.

  2. My blood pressure goes up every time I hear or read the word fundraiser. It’s out of control in the schools and there are soooooo many sites like that make it easy to ask other people to pay for our shit. My kids are in pre-K…it’s already started.

  3. They should have an option to just donate money straight-up and skip the cookie dough and whatever else. “$50 and we’ll shut up, and even throw in a glow-in-the-dark eraser.” I’d pay that.

    • That’s exactly what we do. It’s called a direct donation drive. They send home a letter and an envelope, and they ask us to find one other person who will send a check in.

      So far, it’s been super successful at both schools my kids have attended (normal, middle class public schools).

      There are some things I’ll write a check for. I also like the entrepreneurial aspect of fundraising, so I’ll attend functions and purchase from kids things I’d usually buy – Christmas wreaths and cans of holiday nuts are prime examples of “functional” fundraisers. The one product sale that can never ever be replaced, however, is Girl Scout cookies.

  4. Ugh. I dread catalog fundraisers. Instead of buying $40 worth of cookie dough so the organization can come away with $20 or less, I’d rather just give the entire $40 to the organization and save myself from inhaling a few gazillion freshly-baked calories that my ass doesn’t need.

    As soon I became PTO president, I said what the rest of the membership had been saying for years, “NO MORE,” and we started doing event fundraising instead. It requires a hell of a lot more work on our part, but the families definitely appreciate the effort. We have one major event in the spring that acts as our only fundraiser for the year (the first year we held our public auction, we raised $14,000 – I almost shit my pants because our catalog fundraisers averaged about $4,000 per year), and at least nobody has to buy or peddle cheap plastic shit and crappy food anymore.

  5. Sorry, but if you don’t like it, join the PTA and make a change. Those women are doing the best they can to come up with ideas to raise money that will benefit your kid.

  6. Amber Shipley Reply

    Here’s an idea. Buy the dough, bake the cookies, and sell them at a bake sale. Either for the school or just to get your money back without having to eat all the cookies.

  7. My daughter’s only 3 and it’s already started. I have no problem throwing the fundraising info straight into the trash, especially since I’m paying an arm and a leg!

  8. I am crying laughing and thanking God that my kids are out of school! I still have a closet full of wrapping paper and just bought cookie dough and magazines from my young neighbors. There’s got to be a better way!

  9. It was a glorious day when the youngest was old enough to knock on the neighborhood doors without me. Our school sticks to raffle tickets, which don’t melt in your car when you stop at the grocery store on the way home from school, and the neighbors can get off as cheap as a buck!

  10. I was all for volunteering, and I am always good with donating, but I had a hard time with the fundraising sales. Some of our schools now do “unevent fundraising.” They send invitations to the dinner they don’t have, and then on that date, you an donate and not go to the dinner (that never happened). It’s been wildly popular and successful. I think it’s brilliant.

  11. You are a better mom than I! That whole fundraising is for the birds as far as I’m concerned. Our elementary school now holds a 5K — the Trick or Trot. It was actually last weekend this year. They raise like $10,000 and no wrapping paper. YAY.

  12. What a wonderful take on a bad crazy situation! I can’t imagine what you would have come home with if your shoulder angel convinced you to let your son listen to that horrible fundraising mom’s (someone should fire her…) to set his sights higher…. Maybe the fundraising mom is related to your Lamp’s Plus boss :)?
    Such a great piece!

  13. A walk down memory lane – my kids are grown but I remember those awful days in which we bought all that stuff just to meet the goal. I hated that time of year and shudder when I see a Mom at my work come at me with the expectation that I buy something but feel obliged to do it because I have been there too. Totally the F word is a perfect label for the fundraising school project.

  14. LOL Great post. I remember those days all too well! I think we all cringe when we hear that word. Fun memories though! thanks for sharing!

  15. I remember those days. I usually ended up buying them myself. Because, like you, I just dreaded asking everyone I knew!

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