A hard sell

October 10, 2007


To the editor:

When my kindergartner came home with her Reader's Digest school fundraiser envelope, I felt a little annoyed. Earlier that day, she had attended a school assembly where she had picked up phrases like "fabulous prizes" and "world's finest chocolate." I could see that the consumption marketing machine had gotten to her.

In fact, she was desperate to win the poorly made plastic incentive prizes: light-up pocket flyers, filter optic pens, and hydration station drink pump and plastic light-up cup. She was primed to sell, sell, sell. And I, as I mentioned, was annoyed.

Still I wanted to support my daughter's school. Moreover, I wanted to support the efforts of our PTA, who work very hard year round. Therefore, I decided to buy an item. I browsed through the fundraiser catalog several times before I gave up. I simply couldn't get the image of my 5-year-old attending the motivational all-school assembly out of my head. I could clearly see her sitting on the gym floor receiving instruction on the selling points of Reader's Digest "World's Finest Chocolate"; it was disturbing. Needless to say, I opted out of the fundraiser and, in its place, my family gave extra support to the annual school carnival.

I mention all of this because I was particularly impressed by Schwegler Elementary's green fundraiser, which was featured in the J-W's Thursday, Oct. 4 edition. Kudos and super congratulations, Schwegler and Westar Energy! We can all learn from your inspired collaborative green school fundraiser.

Kelly Jones,



tangential_reasoners_anonymous 10 years, 5 months ago

"I moved to Austin about two years ago. I just hang out here for the quality of debate."


Ragingbear 10 years, 5 months ago

They do that for the same reason why the government doesn't take any actual action to regulate games like Doom and Quake. Because it primes our children for what they want them to be. Mindless automatons in the service of a select few of elite entities.

We got one that can see.

Ragingbear 10 years, 5 months ago

Subscribe now and save nothing! We want your money!!

These pneumatic tires actually allow your car to ride on a cushion of air!

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 10 years, 5 months ago

"I simply couldn't get the image of my 5-year-old attending the motivational all-school assembly out of my head."

... and, this summer, Jesus Camp!

Richard Heckler 10 years, 5 months ago

Hold a bake sale, a sing along, auction designs created by the school children or do a musical.

acg 10 years, 5 months ago

Kelly the same company did the same thing to my kid in Jeff Co. schools. He was told that if he sold 7 magazine subscriptions, he could get the wonderful prize and get to attend the pizza party but if he didn't sell at least 7 he didn't get anything. Is this what we tell a 6 year old? I pestered family members to buy the stupid subscriptions so he wouldn't be left out of the pizza party and receiving the prize and for that, the kid got 2 pieces of cold pizza and a flat cup of pop and a cheap crappy plastic toy made in China that never even worked. I was so mad I couldn't see straight for a week. I called the school and told them to not send my child home with any of that crap. He wasn't going to whore products out for these companies anymore. Every time the PTO has a fundraiser now I just write a check. It's easier on us and I don't have to make our friends and family feel obligated to buy magazines, wrapping paper and chocolate that they don't need or want. Since I've done this, a few more friends have gotten on board. There are many different, and more effective ways for our PTO organizations to raise money.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 10 years, 5 months ago

"And what's wrong with Jesus, tangential?"

... Jesus Camp


( It's an eye-opener-not to mention the awesome ambient soundtrack )

"What would Jesus say?"

... "suffer the little children"...?

Sharon Roullins 10 years, 5 months ago

The prizes are items you can probably get at the dollar store, Walmart or some other discount outlet (Oriental Trading). But this is the company's incentive to boost sales. I try to support my children's school by purchasing one or two items throughout the year but I don't buy into the hype about the prizes. They are overpriced and poor quality. I think maybe the PTA and other organizations should rethink the whole fundraising idea and look for more tangible ways to raise money; this would allow them to keep more of the profits and stop making these other company's get rich. Bake sales, car washes, carnival, raffles sound more like fun anyway.

bugmenot 10 years, 5 months ago

I agree completely with the notion that the kids get swept up in the idea of prizes and want to sell just to get the cheapo prizes. I remember being in elementary school and feeling the same way. I think enough parents explained to their kids that the prizes weren't worht the effort that sales dropped off. I think this new tactic (if you sell more than X, you can go to this pizza party with your peers) is dirty and disgusting. No parent would lose sleep over depriving their kid of sad, cheap little incentive toys, but to be the reason your kid gets left out of a peer activity is harder. That's just dirty, dirty tricks, I think.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 10 years, 5 months ago

Are you people kidding? Have you not tried those $10 candy bars? They're awesome! They taste like...victory.

bugmenot 10 years, 5 months ago

I also think this would be a winning strategy. When a school is in need of money and gets approached by one of these shilling agencies to have the kids sell for them, the school should draft and sent home a letter to parents. That letter would explain the school needs money, and, unless they get what they need, they'll allow one of these marketing groups to come in and force their kids to be door-to-door beggars. I bet you 80% of parents would send a fat check in the next day, just to avoid this nonsense.

badger 10 years, 5 months ago

CeeCee -

Thanks, but I'm a Lawrence expat.

I moved to Austin about two years ago. I just hang out here for the quality of debate.

Though I definitely appreciate your offer, I have located a local source for cookie crack and am well-supplied. This week, I will pull the last box of Thin Mints out of the freezer.

I hoard those babies, you bet I do.

domino 10 years, 5 months ago

I have always HATED school fundraising stuff! Send the kids around to all the family and neighbors who will feel obligated to buy stuff they don't need or want. Same goes for Boy/Girl scouts and their overpriced popcorn/peanuts/cookies etc! In the past I have bought stuff I neither wanted nor needed because my kids/friends/neighbors kids were selling it for one reason or another. In my "old age" I am at the point of not feeling guilty about saying NO to many of them. I have also offered to give them $10 or whatever as a donation to what they are raising the funds for. I figure they get to keep the full amount, rather than $1-2 dollars. Some of my friends have started doing that, too. One friend later told me she had an acquaintance come back with their child, bring back the $20 check my friend had written to their "cause" and berate her because she didn't buy anything - just gave the money. My friend tried to explain that because of health issues (diabetes & heart) neither she or her husband could have the candy products the girl was selling, but was happy to help out. The mother continued to chew out my friend and tell her that if she couldn't buy something for herself, she could give it as a gift or she could keep the money because her daughter didn't get any credit/prizes for that. My friend smiled, took the check out of the woman's hand, tore the check in half and as she shut her door, told the lady and her daughter to have a nice evening!! I'm sure she made a mental note to never "contribute" to anything that girl was doing again!

trinity 10 years, 5 months ago

unreal. domino, what a tale! i'm agreeing with all ya's, this pimping out of school kids is just asolutely ridiculous. now that mine are grown&out, i can look forward to my grandbabies coming up with all sorts of sales crappola! it's bad enough the mothers that bring their kids' junk sales stuff to work, let alone to bowling, etc...agh!

acg 10 years, 5 months ago

I have to say, about the trashbags, those were a pretty good value. We got some of the extra large ones last year and we still have some. Those things are huge and durable. They'd hold a body, if you needed one to.

CeeCee 10 years, 5 months ago

My 2 daughters are in school and in Girl Scouts. From September thru November they have 5 fundraisers. Five in 3 months. Insane. I make my daughters choose 1 to participate in. (They always choose Girl Scouts.) Then they catch crap from their peers for not choosing the 'right' fundraiser and catch crap again from the peers of the fundraiser they did choose to participate in because they did not sell enough. I make my daughters do the selling themselves. My husband and I do not take the forms to work. I do not let the girls take the forms to school. Our neighbors are so bombarded by every kid in the neighborhood constantly asking them to buy something, they don't buy much if any at all. So when the Top Seller prize is handed out (to the girl whose parents sold 350+ boxes of cookies for them by taking the forms to their work) my daughters always feel bad because they know that will never be them. But, I tell them to keep their chins up because (to quote the latest sales packet) my girls are "Gaining courage, confidence and character through product sales" and they "are learning money management skills, goal setting, communications and so much more as they hone their entrepreneurial skills." Whatever.

I just want my girls to know what it means to work for something, and feel good because they did the work themselves. I don't want them to learn to dump their responsibilities on someone else.

moo 10 years, 5 months ago

I remember I always wanted that pizza party so badly when it came to wrapping paper sales time at Deerfield. Then I always won some toy that never worked. Man it was depressing, always after such a buildup. I agree with you guys, why not a fund raiser with some human contact, one that perhaps encourages a feeling of community in these neighborhoods and schools. Carnivals, plays or concerts put on by students, bake sales... whatever. These could help kids "gain courage, confidence, and character" through working together for their school instead of standing on their neighbor's stoop and (if they are like i was at all) trying to stop their heart from racing because they have to ask their neighbor who they have not seen once since last year's fund raiser to buy something THIS year.

bugmenot 10 years, 5 months ago

My mom was our (Girl Scouts) troop leader, way back when. Do you know how much money, per box, the troop gets to keep from each sale? 20 years ago it was 20 cents. I think it's still only about 12 to 17% of each sale ($3.50 per box times 17% is still only 60 cents per box). One year, I sold 333 boxes. My mom was so angry to see that, after all that work selling and sorting and delivering orders, the troop got about $65 from the whole ordeal.

I assume the charitable portion of these school sales is equally small. I can't believe schools let these folks do this to their kids. Honestly, be straightforward with parents and say, "We have a budget shortfall and are looking at our options. We'd like to hold some fundraisers (bake sales, carnivals, etc.) where the kids can help raise money. If those don't raise enough funds, we may have to consider one of these marketing groups." It's not extortion; it's honesty. At least there's a chance your kid won't have to be a door-to-door salesperson.

badger 10 years, 5 months ago

I hated those fundraisers. We were 'committed' to five boxes of candy bars each in band, and if we could find someone to take on our boxes we didn't have to sell them. My friend's dad took the candy to work for him, so he'd usually let all his friends hand off a box or two and get a top sales award (no prize, just a printed certificate and some fawning from the band teacher). I'd manage to sell two or three of the other boxes, and then just end up buying the rest myself and eating them for months rather than deal with selling them.

You know, about five years after graduation, I ran into one of our habitual top sellers (no parental assistance, and he sold twenty-five or thirty boxes every year). He asked me and another friend to come over and 'catch up on old times'...and then he pitched us his Amway hard-sell.

Some folks are just born to sell, I guess.

Haiku_Cuckoo 10 years, 5 months ago

I'd rather have schools raise money this way than raising my taxes. "They want my child to sell chocolate! Boo-hoo-hoo!!" I sold "World's Finest Chocolate" when I was in school and the priests told us that we were not allowed to return any unsold candy. Whatever we didn't sell, we had to pay for out of our own pocket. Yes, It was a drag but it's part of growing up. I remember being in second grade and dragging a "Christmas Kit" from door to door that contained all sorts of cheap gift items and trinkets (penguin shaped refrigerator fresheners, disposable flashlights, etc). I was a four-foot tall Willie Loman. Nobody wanted to buy my knickknacks and novelty gadgets. Then there was always at least one kid in the class who won the sales contest because her dad took the box of goods to work and pressured his employees to buy. For this reason, I don't buy Girls Scout cookies from my coworkers who peddle it on their kids' behalf. The ones that put on their walking shoes and show up at my door get my business.

badger 10 years, 5 months ago

I buy Girl Scout cookies at work. This is because despite three years of having a sign on my door that says, "Yes I want to buy some Girl Scout cookies, at least two boxes of Thin Mints, two boxes of the chocolate peanut butter ones, and two boxes of the Caramel Delites. I may want more if you have lemon crisps. If I do not answer, come back later or leave a note," not one Girl Scout has come to my door. They're told not to any more because we as a society are governed by fear. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to find the grocery store sales table, but many years my refusal to buy at work on principle meant I went without GS cookies. And I really like those peanut butter chocolate ones, the caramel delites, and the lemon crisps they keep having under different names. So I buy at work because I am ruled by my love for cookies.

coolmarv 10 years, 5 months ago

I always disliked the popcorn sales for Cub Scouts. It just not worth the cost. When my son became a Boy Scout I thought 'great, no popcorn sales'. I was wrong. The $1 candy bars are good because most can afford a $1. The Girl Scout cookies must be good because people buy those by the dozen. Innisbrook has got to be the biggest rip off. Book Fair at school also. I do think that if more parents would donate their time the PTOs could utilize other fundraisers better, like cleaning up at events at KU or working concessions stands. Those can bring in some good money but take manpower to do.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 10 years, 5 months ago

I'd rather have schools raise money almost any OTHER way. The kids in my neighborhood could make a fortune selling tickets to throw baseballs with them in the dunk tank seat!~) KIDDING! I might pay to dunk old "put on your walking shoes" Cuckoo, though, for all of that corporatocratic harassment he perpetrated as a child!~D

Hoots 10 years, 5 months ago

I'm so glad they didn't do this when I was in school. I'm not sure this really teaches the kids anything besides disappointment from what I've seen. I would much rather give $5 to the cause then buy some over priced product that some NO NAME company get a large cute of. I bet the company get a bigger cut than the school. www.Feedthepig.org

imastinker 10 years, 5 months ago

I remember selling candy bars with the boy scouts, but when we sold them, they were not really much more expensive than at the gas station. Most people bought one.

I had a boy scout come by last year and I bought some popcorn. I had no idea how much 16 OZ of popcorn was (it's very light). well, about $16 later I had some popcorn that was smaller than what you get at the movies. I swore never to buy that crap again. I also swore to send a letter to the scout master, but that never happened.

KsTwister 10 years, 5 months ago

We hated the idea in the 80's of little door to door salesmen especially when a child was almost abducted walking home from school one day. Several parents made a deal with the PTA that we hold an auction of donated items. We raised over $8,000 for the "India/Kaw Valley" schools. Many people including businesses even donated memberships or items(a tax write off) to be auctioned. We bought new computers,software,books,supplies,playground equipment,and even put new microwaves in the kitchen for everyone. It took the principal two years to use the money (but not all).

The following year they were back to selling gift wrap. If more parents refused to be a part of this I think it would stop. There are other ways and try to convince me the schools get that much from their items now. The hard part is the little guy who sells his heart out and comes home with pencils instead of a boom box.

Haiku_Cuckoo 10 years, 5 months ago

The hard part is the little guy who sells his heart out and comes home with pencils instead of a boom box.

Unfortunately, the little tyke must face reality sooner or later. You can't always win. I went through the same thing, except I didn't even get pencils as a b00by prize. I soon realized that my sales career would go nowhere as long as I continued to hawk cheap trinkets for the Catholic school system. Instead, I picked up a rake and raked leaves for the neighbors. One old lady down the street was a regular customer and she paid me $2 each time. That was good money back then.

CeeCee 10 years, 5 months ago

Badger- I'm sorry to hear you have such a hard time getting Girl Scouts to come to your house. As many Girl Scouts as there are in Lawrence, I'm surprised you don't have more than one knocking on your door. If you would like, I would be happy to let you know when and where my daughters troop does their cookie booth. :)

alicenevada 10 years, 5 months ago

I absolutely agree! My son's school had a fundraiser as well this year. The items for sale were not poor quality, but the "prizes" he recieved SUCKED!!! Cheap plastic crap that, as one post above said, could be bought at the dollar store. What is this all about?? Sure I might be interested in buying an item in the cataloug, but what is it teaching him if all he gets is junk? What about the money going towards "adopting" a child in a third-world country, or helping out our local community? These would be so much better. Any ideas on how we, as parents, can make our voices heard collectively on this issue? Boycott these sales, perhaps?

Kathy Gates 10 years, 5 months ago

Actually, the school my children attend has a direct campaign in addition to the stupid Innisbrook fundraiser. If you don't want to sell door-to-door, then you can just donate however much you want to donate directly to the school.

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