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What School Fundraising Can Teach Your Child

By Clay Boggess on Feb 7, 2017
What School Fundraising Can Teach Your Child

Fundraisers help prepare your child for academic and professional success

Fundraising in small community organizations and at large nonprofits alike focuses almost exclusively on the bottom line. Indeed, the outcomes-focused corporate culture that drives decision-making in many businesses is among the most influential components of success.

What is often sacrificed in this approach however, and what leads to burnout in the traditionally lower-salaried nonprofit sector, is being intentional about shaping the way fundraising impacts those who are doing it. You can be a full-time resource development specialist, a consultant, an executive director, or even a volunteer, and it is highly unlikely that you will leave “fundraising” on your desk when you go home at night.

Entrepreneur and nonprofiteer Adam Braun said, “When it comes to fundraising for a social enterprise, if you are pursuing your true passion, you'll learn to become great at your craft because you'll care so much about perfecting the skills necessary to make that dream a reality.”

Braun’s observation that fundraising is a practice to develop skills speaks to both the mission-minded and human capital aspects of fundraising, recognizing that it powerfully shapes and is shaped by those who engage in it.

As social enterprise grows and fundraising becomes a means to good outcomes for more and more causes, it poses the question: what does fundraising do for our children? At it’s earliest stages, what types of long-term benefits and skills can be gleaned from school fundraising experiences?

Focusing on these aspects can be powerful ways to engage parents, faculty and community in support of your school fundraising ideas. By showing how your fundraiser is both improving academic outcomes and developing civic leadership skills in your neighborhood’s youngest learners, your fundraiser is poised to have a new level of impact.

1. School Fundraisers Teach Teamwork

Collaboration is a buzzword you’ll see on virtually every job description in this day and age. Harvard Business Review’s 2016 study revealed that—even if not fully integrated across organizations—teamwork and collaborative efforts are on the rise. The data also showed that people want more intentional and focused collaboration efforts, as opposed to “one-off” requests, indicating that learning effective teamwork skills now will be very valuable in future job markets.

While students undoubtedly get exposed to teamwork and collaborative situations in the classroom, on the stage, or on the field, the unique context of fundraising offers a setting most similar to that of a professional career. Financial goals coupled with deadlines and networking needs are fundamental to business environments and school fundraisers alike.

Sales campaigns offer viable opportunities to engage students in a transferable type of collaboration experiences. At the macro-level, each school or sponsor has a fundraising goal that all inputs support. But, a school fundraiser can be collaborative at various scales, ranging from grade levels to classrooms.

Students can create posters, share resources and schedule times to go door-to-door in their product fundraisers. They can work on dividing and conquering local neighborhoods, ensuring that they can meet individual and team goals. Groups of students may even find that one student excels at sales pitches while the other is good at organizing schedules. Through experiences like these, students learn that collaborative opportunities help them uncover the strength in diversity.

Berkeley faculty member Shannon Ciston writes about how she intentionally uses the classroom setting to teach teamwork. One critical element that workplaces tend to forego is creating time for “group processing.”

Ciston says, “Groups reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, and make plans for changes or corrective action to keep their project moving forward.”

If you model your school fundraising program to support teamwork (which does not have to preclude individual incentives for success!), there’s great potential to highlight how teams grow and improve. Plan ahead and work with faculty and guidance counselors to facilitate group processing sessions, so that students can be led to constructively internalize the fundraising experience and the value of collaboration and teamwork.

2. School Fundraisers Teach the Value of Earning

The idea of incentivizing good performance is directly connected to advancement in the workplace. However, raises and bonuses are not reserved for grown-ups; most parents can attest that positive reinforcement has remained a dependable way to develop good habits in children, from an allowance for doing chores to an hour with friends for every three hours of studying.

Before you go further, first take a minute to reconsider the size, shape and cost of a reward for your child. The rewards they reap from fundraising can go far beyond a new electronic or an experience. In fact, children assign a lot of value to acquiring new skills, and they take their cues from parents and adult role models on what skills they should aspire to develop. Of course, there are plenty of tangibles students can earn in a school fundraiser, too!

How can parents and volunteers change reward culture in fundraisers to help teach students to value the process and the prize? Here are a few guideposts to assist in framing rewards:

  • Assign the most value to skills like confidence, leadership and planning when communicating about school fundraising.
  • Provide parents with talking points to promote conversations with children about these skills. has some great ideas on how to rethink the reward and promote self-motivated behavior.
  • Consider alternative and innovative reward programs, like a Big Event prize program, that offer large group experiences that students can enjoy with friends by selling as few as five items.

Big Fundraising Ideas believes in the power of unique, experiential prize programs to drive better school fundraising results. Traditional prizes certainly have their place in school fundraising, and we continue to offer them because high-quality toys, games and electronics genuinely motivate many students to raise as much money as they can. How much they incentivize students, however, varies significantly from child to child.

With higher item requirements for premium prizes, many students choose not to participate at all, resulting in lost volume, lost dollars and lost opportunities to reward good efforts. If you’ve noticed this trend in your school, a Big Event is definitely worth your consideration for a more inclusive and motivating fundraising experience.

 Family discusses school fundraiser

3. School Fundraisers Foster Gratitude

Millennials are rapidly approaching the age where a majority of the generation will have children in elementary school. With this, schools will encounter a new, socially networked demographic of parents and students who will undoubtedly have new and innovative ways of approaching fundraising.

Like any generation, Millennials have had to contend with their own set of stereotypes. Alternatively called “Generation Y,” those born between the 1980s and early 2000s have experienced some of the most rapid changes in daily life in human history. Their connectivity, dependence on digital devices and ability to individualize virtually any experience has been seen by some as evidence of impatience and entitlement.

However, as Generation Y unfolds, and these innovative and creative thinkers dive into business, it appears they’re adding the social bottom line to all that they do. The Case Foundation, in discussing their Change the World competition in 2015, noted that millennials aren’t settling for business as usual; they need to know that what they’re doing means something, and this bodes well for the values inherited by their children as Generation Y redubs itself “Generation Why?”

To bring this full circle, a generation inherently motivated by doing well and doing good has the chance to raise a civic-minded generation beneath them. School fundraisers provide an excellent and supportive training ground to help teach students how to orient their efforts in a way that helps the community. It also teaches them to be grateful for the opportunities they have to give back to their school, so that their entire community can be a better place.

In talking with your student or child about why their school is sponsoring a fundraiser, you have the chance to discuss the significance of an opportunity to get an education, and how their efforts are a way to give back. By engaging in a school fundraiser, students have the chance to take ownership of their education and help open doors for their school and their future. They can begin to make connections at an early age, and understand how their hard work can benefit the community.

4. School Fundraisers Teach Communication and Networking Skills

School fundraising is also inextricably connected to a mastery of effective communication. From start to finish, a successful school fundraising program relies on good communication with students, faculty, parents and customers to express clear goals and a compelling mission and message.

Product fundraising has traditionally followed a “door-to-door” model, where students and their parents approach their local friends and neighbors about the products they’re selling. At its core, this approach is driven by an ability to communicate with adults in a persuasive and compelling way. School fundraising programs offer students the chance to practice these skills in a real world setting that can lay the foundation for communicating effectively with teachers, professors, bosses and clients.

To maximize on the learning potential of a school fundraiser, work with your student on developing an introductory speech that they’re comfortable with. Encourage them to use tools they learn in the classroom to write in the persuasive mode in response to the question, “Why should someone buy products from you?” Then, help your child pare down their speech to a quick, but effective pitch that will resonate with adults.

“Kids: The Manual” offers keen, no-nonsense advice about teaching your child how to have meaningful, mature engagement with adults without placing undue expectations on their development, comfort and confidence. In particular, teaching students to ask questions can be exceptionally beneficial in a fundraising setting, where developing rapport with potential customers can be of great value to sealing the deal.

Additionally, having your children overcome the fear of making asks and talking to those who are older and/or more experienced than they are has the added advantage of getting them comfortable with speaking up. Dr. Gail Gross unpacks the value of raising a child to be a self-advocate in The Huffington Post with practical tips that can help give them confidence before beginning their on-the-ground fundraising.

5. School Fundraisers Teach How to Handle Rejection

Fundraisers might hear “No” more than any other type of volunteer or professional. The very nature of the job assumes that most people will not be interested for one reason or another in supporting their cause. The same holds true for school fundraising, especially when families are tightening up their budgets.

From job interviews to dinner dates, we’ve all faced rejection at some point in our lives. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from these rejections, turn them into positive experiences, and stay oriented toward success (or perhaps redefine success entirely!).

Resilience is a particularly important skill to cultivate in children, as it helps them overcome the fear of trying new things and instills a sense of self-confidence. The American Psychological Association offers 10 tips for developing resilience in children and teens—all worth reading before diving into selling products.

Have a candid conversation with your child about what they can expect. Let them know that someone saying “No, thank you,” or even “I’m not interested” is not a reflection on their abilities or performance, but also remind them that it’s very possible they will hear “No” more than “Yes” on the fundraising trail.

Exposing children to these types of situations in grade school and having constructive conversations about the experience can help them cope effectively with more significant rejections later on in life. Through this exposure, they’ll find their personal ways of adapting or managing rejection, and hopefully realize areas of opportunity to persevere when they don’t get the result they were looking for.

Lead by Example and Conclude with Conversation

As noted above, students and groups often miss the chance to properly internalize and reflect on their experiences after engaging in a project, like a fundraiser. Parents and teachers alike should strive to carve out time to discuss outcomes and experiences after the fundraiser is over.

Children most often look up to their personal adult role models, be it a parent or someone else who plays a vital role in their life. It is important that these role models take the time to debrief with students and discuss the “takeaways” from the fundraising experience with them. Help them make connections between the challenge of fundraising and the skills it introduced them to. Ask them to tell you what was difficult or scary, as well as what was fun and rewarding. They’ll learn to think about their actions and activities in constructive ways with this method of discussion, and remember their fundraising journey as one of growth and development.

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