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Children and Fundraising:
Where Do We Draw the Line?

by the AFRDS


Defining the Child's Appropriate Role

When 11-year-old Kiernan Fox sold cookies for her girl scout troop a few years ago, she also sold cookies for her older sister Caroline. Now three years later, she's helping little sister Bridget perfect her pitch. "Just be polite," she encourages. "Don't, like, try to bother people. If they tell you they're on a diet, they really mean 'no.' "

With her determination and easy smile, it's hard to imagine anyone saying "no" to Kiernan. For her, fundraising has always come naturally. "Kiernan's one of those industrious kids - always wanting to do her best no matter what," according to her mom, Susan. "As a child I never liked fundraising, but she seems to really get a charge out of it."

By the time she was eight, Kiernan had sold magazines, gift wrap, tee shirts and candy for dozens of worthy causes. The money she raised helped pay for camping trips, playground equipment, softball uniforms, library books and scores of "extras" to support her education and busy lifestyle outside of school. For Kiernan, and so many other children her age, fundraising is a fact of life.

Indeed, there are some that would say fundraising is out of control - that children shouldn't be expected to help finance their own activities. They fear that fundraising drives place too much pressure on kids to become "little salespeople."

Others believe that product fundraising performs a necessary service for underfinanced schools and youth groups. They understand that product fundraising provides an effective avenue for raising a substantial amount of money (nearly $2 billion nationwide annually) in a short amount of time. And, if handled properly, supporters say this grassroots mode of fundraising offers valuable lessons for today's youth.

There will always be a need for money and few argue that fundraising should go away altogether. So the question many organizations are left asking is, "Where do we draw the line?"


Salesmen or Messengers: Defining the Child's Role

Once a group decides a product fundraising campaign will meet their needs and a fundraising company is selected, it is important that children play an appropriate role in the fundraiser's success. According to Lorri Campbell-Franckle, a professional fundraiser in central Florida, most children are involved in product fundraising drives primarily as "messengers."

Every time she makes a fundraising presentation to a group of kids under the age of 16, Campbell-Franckle's message is always the same, "Stay within your circle of friends and extended family and never solicit sales without parent permission and supervision." Campbell-Franckle believes that safety concerns are the primary reason most people object to having children involved in fundraising.

Like most of her colleagues, Campbell-Franckle repeats safety messages at every opportunity: first in oral presentations (often called fundraising "kick-offs") and then again in parent letters and on all other company literature, including order forms. Ideally, children will learn more from the experience if parents escort them on fundraising expeditions, says Campbell-Franckle and others. But, the reality is most families are too busy, so working parents help by taking order forms to the office.

For years fundraising sponsors and companies have followed similar procedures, according to Russell Lemieux, executive director of the Association of Fund Raisers and Direct Sellers (AFRDS). The international association of nearly 700 professional fundraising companies has been tracking fundraising trends for over a decade and, according to Lemieux, "the success of these fundraising drives does not rely on children knocking on doors, but rather children asking for support from family members and friends."

AFRDS supports the position that "Children should never be allowed to sell door-to-door unless directly supervised by a parent or adult. Fundraising companies, school and organization leaders and parents must be diligent in assuring that children participate in fundraisers in a safe manner."

The challenge, according to Lemieux, is making sure children hear important safety messages from group leaders, school administrators, fundraising companies and parents. Leslie Horne, AFRDS member and former PTA president, agrees: "This is no less important than bicycle safety."

Horne, like others in the fundraising business, works almost exclusively with youth organizations. She prefers to have a few minutes with every group to talk about the fundraising program and the importance of adult supervision. To avoid interrupting classroom time, however, some schools restrict lengthy group assemblies, opting instead for: brief classroom presentations and video messages; lunchtime presentations or closed circuit TV. Some schools will rely on the parents to get the message to their children.

"First we have to get the kids to take the information home and, at the very least, encourage their parents to read the information," said Campbell-Franckle.


Recognize Participation with Appropriate Awards

Every other Monday, students at an elementary school in North Kingston, Rhode Island, enjoy outside speakers on a variety of topics as part of their school's cultural arts program. The program is completely funded by the schoolĖs PTO with money raised from one product fundraising sale in the fall.

However, fundraising chair Diane Linnane said that the children "don't really understand and, therefore, need extra motivation." That's why her PTO includes a multi-level incentive program for students who participate in their fall fundraiser, starting with a small award or "thank-you" gift such as a pencil or a ruler just for taking the fundraising information home to mom and dad.

Many groups reward 100 percent participation with school-wide or group parties. Other groups encourage volunteers with the prospect of watching their favorite teacher, coach or principal kiss a pig or catch a pie in the face.

Fundraising is a voluntary activity and should be promoted as such. The key, say organizers, is to avoid flashy, expensive prizes that award only a few "top-sellers." These incentives may unintentionally entice kids to ignore warnings against unsupervised door-to-door soliciting. The best incentives add fun and excitement to encourage participation even at a minimum level, says Campbell-Franckle, and are "quality programs that everyone, including parents, can feel good about."


Responsibility 101

Kiernan Fox admits that, when it comes to fundraising, the prizes are nice. She also likes knowing that she did her part to help her class fund a field trip. But, according to Kiernan, whose father is a successful entrepreneur, it's seeing commerce in action that gets her excited about fundraising.

"I like counting the money and putting it in the envelope and making sure I have enough," she says. And her parents like seeing Kiernan's enthusiasm and budding business acumen. According to mom, "I wish we could bottle it."

Indeed, many experienced organizers say there is a lot to learn from participating in fundraising drives. They cite: increased self esteem, confidence, appreciation of value, responsibility, as well as lessons in public speaking and good manners. Fundraising drives are often a child's first introduction to volunteerism allowing them to participate in a community activity while at the same time witnessing their parents own civic-mindedness. Some groups will make charts of their fundraising progress to integrate the fundraising project into the classroom in age-appropriate math lessons.

"If you want something in this world, you have to work for it. I want my kids to learn that before they leave school," according to one mom, whose PTO raises $10,000 each year to pay for extra programs at her children's elementary school. She, too, likes that her children are actively involved in fundraising because of the valuable lessons they learn in ownership and paving their own way.

Each organization must carefully consider what role children - young and old - should play in fundraising efforts. Only by working together can adult volunteers, administrators, parents and fundraising companies ensure the experience is a positive and rewarding one.

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About the Author:

This article is from the March 1999 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.



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