Big or small, it's in every administrator's wardrobe.
I once slept on top of the roof for eight days and then gave myself a mohawk," recalls former principal Dr. Donald Lemon. It's not a fraternity hazing the North Dakota professor remembers, but rather a voluntary escapade to reward his elementary school students and parents for raising $10,000.
Lemon today provides leadership training for new school principals at the University of North Dakota. He believes that fundraising, like so many tasks a principal performs, is most effective when done in "partnership" with the entire community. Lemon, for example, found private donors to match funds raised by his former school's PTA.
"If a PTA fundraiser brought in $2,000, then I had someone ready to write a check for $2,000," Lemon says.
Today, many principals would rather delegate fundraising responsibility to someone else often the school's parent/teacher organization. However, experts say this hands-off approach can hamper a fundraiser's success. It is better that principals stay involved from start to finish, they advise.
"The principal serves as watchdog and sounding board for the entire school community," according to Cynthia Francis Gensheimer, parent and author of Raising Funds for Your Child's School. Gensheimer speaks from first-hand experience. With three children of her own, she has conducted a number of school and PTA fundraisers and recommends that school principals participate in setting goals. "They understand the school's overall fiscal picture and can best identify shortfalls," she says. "The principal's endorsement is also crucial in committing school personnel from teachers to custodians to any school project."
Parent Joanne Salwei's school PTA in Kingston, WA, follows Gensheimer's advice. As a leader in the local and district PTA, Salwei says her principal participates in planning for the coming year and works with the PTA to assess school needs. Salwei reports, "we invite the principal to every meeting."
But how important is the principal in selecting the fundraising program itself and the fundraising service provider? Professional fundraising companies believe that parent volunteer turnover can lead to poor decisions about fundraisers. Often the principal is the only constant from year-to-year and, therefore, in the best position to provide valuable experience and historical perspective to a new group of parent volunteers charged with selecting a fundraiser.
"Many times principals choose to wash their hands of fundraising, and parent organizations often think this is great because they really want the final say," says Bob Rumberger, a supplier of fundraising products based in Franklin, TN. But he thinks they're doing each other a disservice because a principal can warn a committee if the school or other schools have had a bad experience with a particular company, program or product. A former band director himself and a professional fundraising representative and supplier for 16 years, Rumberger has sat at both sides of the fundraising table. His experience suggests that any decision made without the principal's input may pose a risk to the school and the fundraising organization.
Rumberger recommends that principals serve as the school's fundraising gatekeeper. Without some controls, it's easy to see how a school can end up with five or six fundraisers in the course of one year," says Rumberger. "The PTA has the fall magazine sale and the spring candy sale. The fifth grade class wants to raise money for a field trip to D.C. The principal has a pet project that needs separate funding. Before you know it a parent is getting hit with fundraisers once a month."
Rumberger suggests a fundraising schedule be developed and governed by the school principal.
Dave Ramirez, owner of a fundraising company in San Diego, CA, also likes the idea of controls: "When fundraising is regulated, it's a good thing. I'd rather a school do a couple of big fundraising projects than 10 little ones. It's better for everyone."
Gensheimer agrees: "Principals can keep things in perspective. It's vital that there be open lines of communication between the principal and the parent organization in every school activity."
While some principals may invest more time (and hair) than others in fundraising activities, many realize the importance of committing at least some effort and energy toward helping fundraisers succeed. Whether it is setting goals, coaching parents through the selection process, or motivating students, parents and the community at large, when a principal puts on his or her fundraising hat it could mean the difference between success or failure.
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This article is from the Fall 1997 issue of the Fundraising Edge, an online publication of the Association of Fund Raisers and Direct Sellers and is reprinted with permission. Visit their web site at http://www.afrds.org/ for more information and a look at the complete issues of the Fundraising Edge.