How to (politely) turn down those Girl Scout cookies

Children often ask their parents to buy something and so they can donate the proceedings to their school band, soccer club, or Girl Scout troop — but parents don't always want to accumulate boxes of thin mints. Hamm offers ways parents can give to a cause without having to buy unwanted things or let their child down.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Members of the Eastern Massachusetts Girl Scout Troop 71911 sell cookies at the Harvard Square subway stop earlier this year in Cambridge, Mass. While it may be hard to turn down a neighbor's child (or your own) who is selling goods for charity, Hamm says parents can just donate directly to causes they care about.

About once a month, either one of our own children or one of the children that live near us pops up with a fundraising form.

They’re trying to raise money for their school band or their soccer club or for extra classroom supplies – all of which are noble goals.

Usually, this comes hand in hand with a form with which to buy something. They might have an offer for magazine subscriptions, for example, but it usually seems like they have a catalog that contains food products of some kind.

The problem is that I genuinely don’t want any of this stuff.

I don’t want another magazine. I don’t want a grossly overpriced box of chocolates or cheese or cookie dough. I don’t even want Girl Scout cookies (though it pains me to turn away from a Thin Mint…).

Still, that doesn’t change the issue of having a neighbor’s child on the doorstep wondering if I’ll help them with their cause. That has three consequences.

One, I know they’re out there trying to support something they’re involved with, something that doesn’t receive great funding (because, frankly, what youth program does receive great funding?).

Two, if I do say “no,” they’ll probably talk to their parents about it – parents that I usually try to have a good relationship with.

Three, if I do say “no,” they also may feel rejected themselves. A self-confident child wouldn’t, but I know that at their age, I felt awful when a neighbor would tell me “no” when I had worked up the courage to ask.

In the past, those two positive features have left me ordering something from their catalog. I would justify it as $10 or so spent to help out the kid and the organization.

What I’d rather do, though, is just give $5 to their organization directly. I end up helping out the child in all of the ways described above without spending as much money and without receiving some item that I don’t really want.

By offering to donate directly, the goal is to bypass the fundraising group and give money directly to the child and the project, meaning that even with a smaller donation, the child and the project likely wind up with more because of the donation than they would after the product manufacturer and the fundraising company take their large cuts.

So, I’ve instituted a new policy. Whenever a child approaches me with a fundraiser, I simply tell them that I’m not interested in the stuff but that I would love to give $5 (or so) to their club. If they say that’s not possible, then I reconsider it, but I’ve actually had only positive responses thus far. In both cases, they filled out a form for me with no items ordered but a cost of $5 and I gave them $5.

What’s the lesson here? When you’re buying something, know the real reason you’re buying it and look for a way to obtain the results you want for a lower price. Ask yourself why that money is leaving your pocket. What is it that you’re actually wanting to obtain? When you figure that out, look for the lowest cost path to obtaining the actual result you desire. It might not be the first thing you thought of, but chances are it will turn out to be the best plan of all.

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