A parent's survival guide to fund-raising

What goes around with an order blank, comes around. This is the primary rule of fund-raising, which a smart parent learns as soon as his or her child is big enough to wave one of these documents.

This same parent also quickly learns that it's fruitless to question the age-old fund-raising practice, sometimes known as "charity begins at home" or "robbing the relatives." It's easier to shut up, buy the sausage log (wrapping paper, drinking cup imprinted with school mascot, gourmet popcorn....), and join the frenzied cycle.

How else can our schoolchildren afford educational trips to Silver Dollar City Theme Park?

A parent about to be suckered into the fund-raising experience, however, needs to be aware of these "Fundamentals of Fund-Raising:"

Rule No. 1: If your child sells something to someone, then you are obligated to buy something from that person's child.

It may take 20 years, but believe me, it will happen. A neighbor who can't remember what day to set out her trash will vividly recall that your boy sold her some stale almond bark back in 1982 so his T-ball team could wear uniforms.

Eventually, she will have a child or a grandchild who will knock at your door with a catalog. Do you want the $6.99 cheese ball, which is nearly as big as a walnut, or the $12.99 gift pack of exotic spices?

This is how fund-raising and the human race perpetuate themselves.

The only exception to this "tit for tat" rule is the boss's kid. When this young fund-raiser shows up at work with a bale of raffle tickets and a goal of selling a thousand so he can get himself a pair of $2 walkie-talkies, you're trapped. Just go ahead and reach for your wallet and his goal, even though you will never get to return the deed - unless you're the boss someday.

Rule No. 2: Fund-raising is the only merchandising where the merchandise is totally irrelevant.

"I'll take one of whatever is cheapest," is an appropriate customer response.

The product is merely a distraction, a legal and polite way to pry $10 out of Uncle Vonnie and the others in the home-shopping network. A kid can't just march up and say, "Hey, Uncle Vonnie, will you fork over 10 bucks for the band trip?"

But a kid can confidently march up and say, "Hey, Uncle Vonnie, will you buy a pound of saltwater taffy to support the band?"

Although Uncle Vonnie has skittish dentures, he'll bite. Otherwise, he'll look like a cheap louse.

Rule No. 3: The product rarely resembles its glossy photo.

It doesn't matter if it's a country-cat magnet or a box of imported chocolate turtles, it will be incredibly skimpier than the picture in the Neiman-Marcus look-alike brochure and in your imagination. I once bought a summer sausage that turned out to be a Little Smokie. It rolled off my snack cracker.

Rule No. 4: The product can not be returned.

Most likely the product will be shoddy and flimsy, but so what? There are no returns; this isn't Wal-Mart. The wind chime I bought to dribble my nephew closer to soccer camp must have been engineered for indoor use only. I dangled it from the front porch; it tinkled once in a puff of breeze, then collapsed.

Rule No. 5: The only people who enjoy fund-raising are the kids, because their own personal funds are never involved.

The young salesman comes home, fired up after a pep rally at school led by the company's pep exec.

"If I can sell $500 worth of stuff, then I get $5, cash," my own young fund-raiser exclaimed the other day. "Wish me well, Mom. I'm going out to sell."

I collared him. "Whoa! You're not hounding the neighbors and relatives to buy apple-scented candles. They just bought Mexican cocoa last month to support the Spanish Club, and coupon booklets from your sister to support the senior trip, and chances on a La-Z-Boy to support Little League."

The entrepreneur looked doomed.

"But Granny can't afford to buy $500 worth of candles, Mom," he said. "What am I supposed to do?"

I thought for a moment. "It's coming back to me," I told him. "In 1991, I bought some peanut brittle from Mrs. Jennings's daughter. It's a start. Grab that order blank and hop in the car!"

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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