Show and sell: School fundraisers are teaching kids how to close a deal

While researching an article on sales training recently, I spoke with a consultant and author who grumbled about the sales profession being slighted in the halls of higher education. “You can’t go to any college in America and get a degree in sales. There aren’t many that even offer courses on it,” he said.

The collegiate world may short-shrift sales, but our primary and secondary school systems have embraced the concept with zeal. The staggering proliferation of school fundraisers in the past decade is not about teaching a skill but, rather, sending today’s youth into their neighborhoods to peddle cookie dough, coupon books and everything in between. It’s all in the name of keeping classrooms properly equipped, funding field trips and covering a portion of the cost of school sports and other extracurricular activities.

The Value of Fundraising,” a nationwide survey of more than 1,000 school principals conducted last spring by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, reveals that 94 percent of U.S. schools use fundraisers. Most agree they would rather not have to raise funds, but 87 percent believe it provides valuable returns.

School fundraisers are brought home in backpacks during the first week of kindergarten, and they keep coming up to — and often times through — high school graduation. Add to that the fundraising efforts built into most sports- and club-related activities, and by the time today’s students reach middle school, they’ve closed more deals than Howie Mandel.

“I can’t think of a week at our house where we don’t have somebody stopping by to sell something,” says Stan Mack, superintendent of Robbinsdale School District 281. Mack lives in Fridley; the school district he presides over covers the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis.

School-levy defeats increase the need for fundraisers
Lest you hold out hope that your student’s sales activity may level off, Mack and other school officials throughout the Twin Cities warn that last month’s defeat of several school operating levy referendums creates the need for more, not fewer, fundraising dollars.

While acknowledging the importance of these fundraisers, Mack backpedals from taking responsibility for their proliferation. School principals and parent-teacher organizations determine the number and types of fundraisers that are used, he says.

Shame on the adults in a society that can’t adequately fund its schools, says Bill Doherty, a professor in the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota. In many respects, he says, parents have only themselves to blame for the fundraising frenzy because they have overextended their children.

“Middle-class kids are involved in way too many activities that need funds, and it can put pressure on them and their parents. It’s best that kids raise funds for things that they have decided to take on rather than for things that adults have set up for them,” Doherty says. “This helps them be involved in figuring out how much money they need and what it will go toward.”

Doherty admits one factor that makes it tempting to continue shoving children onto neighbors’ doorsteps to peddle goods is that they are hard to turn down. He says he’s living proof. “I just bought chocolate that I don’t need from a local fifth-grade girl.”

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