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Fundraising a "Necessary Evil"
for Elementary Schools

by the NAESP

ALEXANDRIA, VA—April 27, 2000—A majority of elementary school principals would stop school fund-raising but find it necessary to provide services, supplies, and extra opportunities for their students. These are among the findings of a survey conducted this spring by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). Nearly 700 principals responded to the nationwide survey (22% return) that asked them how and why they raise funds.

Principals from every state and the District of Columbia, from urban, rural, and suburban schools, and from schools in low to high socioeconomic areas responded to the survey. Nearly all respondents (90%) said that their school raises money to supplement federal, state, and local government funding. And although 81 percent felt the benefits of fund-raising justify the time and effort, a majority (62%) would end fund-raising if it were possible.

"Most principals view fund-raising as a 'do-or-do-without' situation," said Vincent Ferrandino, executive director of NAESP. "In some cases, if they don't find the money themselves, their students go without computers, field trips, library books, and even pens and paper."

According to survey results, the top four methods used to raise funds are:

  • Book fairs — 88 percent
  • Product sales — 81 percent
  • Portraits of students/family — 53 percent
  • School carnivals — 48 percent

In addition to these fund-raising methods, many schools also receive money through year-round activities, such as collecting food labels and box tops (74%), retail affiliation programs (34%), and vending machine royalties (20%). Only 8 percent get funds from Internet retailers.

Although the amount of funds raised varies among schools, how the funds are spent is similar despite the school's location and the socioeconomic status of its students. The most common uses for the funds raised are:

  • Classroom equipment and supplies — 58 percent
  • Field trips — 57 percent
  • Library books — 50 percent
  • Playground equipment — 45 percent

There are some notable exceptions however: One school reported giving all the money it raises to charity, another spent 75 percent of its funds on an arts program, and another used 90 percent to pay salaries.

Increased Need and Parental Complaints

A majority of respondents (76%) report an increased need for fund-raising in the last 10 years. And as schools increase their fund-raising efforts, the number of parental complaints has gone up.

Just over half of the principals (51%) said that they have had complaints from parents regarding fund-raising. The main complaint is that there are too many fund-raisers or that they occur too often. Using children as salespeople (NAESP has an official platform position against door-to-door sales by children) and the poor quality of the products sold were also mentioned.

Overall, principals understand the importance of fund-raising, but wish they didn't have to do it. "The only reason I think fund-raising is valuable is because the results are important," said one principal. "But wouldn't it be great to focus solely on education?"

However, not all principals knocked fund-raising. Some found fund-raising a positive experience for students and families. "Fund-raisers have brought parents much closer to the school and its various educational programs. It has developed a strong school spirit and parent involvement relationship," said one principal.

Other Key Findings

The survey also questioned principals about how often and for how long they raise funds each year, how much they raise, and who does most of the work. Other key statistics include:

  • 54 percent of schools have between one and four fund-raisers every year.
  • Nearly half (45%) spend a month or less raising funds each year.
  • More than one-quarter (27%) raise at least $10,000 a year.
  • For a majority of schools (65%), the PTA/PTO is responsible for fund-raising.

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About the Author:

Established in 1921, the National Association of Elementary School Principals serves 28,000 elementary and middle school principals in the United States, Canada, and overseas. For more information visit their web site at

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