Reinventing the school fundraiser

Reinventing the school fundraiser

By: Jenn Savedge

November 19, 2014, 9:44 a.m.


If you manage to squeak through the first fundraiser with minimal damage to the environment and your wallet, you can bet that another one will follow quickly in its footsteps, either for the school or for your child’s sports team, Scout troop or chess club.

As much as we hate them, it’s a cold hard fact that fundraisers are a necessary evil to fill the gaps in dwindling school budgets. Depending upon the school, fundraisers may pay for everything from field trips to computers to playground equipment. And fundraising is big business. National companies vie for the chance to sell their wares at your child’s school by offering school-wide inflatable play days and other marketing promotions. But at a time when school administrators and parents are scrambling for ways to address childhood obesity, forcing kids to sell candy and cookies seems slightly off-message.

That’s where FarmRaiser comes in. A few years ago, FarmRaiser founder Mark Abbott was taken aback when his fourth-grader noted that his own family would never eat any of the cookies and candy that he had just sold for his school’s fundraiser. “It’s too bad we couldn’t try something healthy like apples,” said his son. Well, why couldn’t they?

So Abbot set about trying to remake the school fundraiser. Instead of candy, cookies and candles, why not help schools make money by selling healthy food from local farmers, beekeepers and food artisans? In 2012, Abbott launched a pilot fundraising program in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. The following year, FarmRaiser ran 30 fundraising campaigns for schools in Michigan and Washington state.

Similar to traditional catalog-based fundraising programs, students in a FarmRaiser promotion sell products from a set list of vendors. But unlike traditional programs, the students aren’t pushing cookies and candy. Rather they’re selling locally made and harvested products such as fruits, vegetables honey, pasta, granola, spice mixes, artisan breads and jam. Most vendors are located within 30 miles of the school. And if the school has a personal connection to a vendor, farm or food artisan, FarmRaiser will add the vendor to the product list. “We love to sell products that directly connect back to the students at the school,” says says FarmRaiser’s campaign manager Christina Carson.

Local vendors get to expand their customer base, parents can purchase products they believe in, and the schools get a cut that can be used to support a child’s education. That’s a big win all around.

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No sooner do most kids go back to school than those backpacks get filled up with fundraising materials. So what’s your child’s school selling this year? Magazines? Cookie dough? Wrapping paper?

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