Selling Candy to Raise Funds for Schools

Each school year across the nation, students peddle products from candy bars to wrapping paper to raise money for their schools. Day to Day personal finance contributor Michelle Singletary talks with Madeleine Brand about the ups and downs of school fundraising.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

School is back in session, so you know fundraising will be too. Even if you do not have a school age child yourself, you'll soon be finding yourself shelling out for raffle tickets, magazine subscriptions, cookie dough, wrapping paper -a personal favorite of mine. the list does go on and it adds up to a billion dollars or more - billion with a B.

Here to talk about the joys and chores of fundraising, personal finance expert and regular DAY TO DAY contributor Michelle Singletary. Michelle, what do you look for in these fundraisers?

MICHELLE SINGLETARY: Well, you want to be sure that the parents understand and those who are buying the products or going to the events, why you're raising the money. Oftentimes, schools just get in the habit of having fundraisers and people don't really know what the money is being used for. So the most successful fundraisers are those where it's a purpose attached to it.

CHADWICK: And why does schools rely so heavily on these fundraisers? Where does the money go?

SINGLETARY: Well, lots of schools, particularly public schools, funding have been cut. State budgets are cut and the school budgets get cut. And lots of the money issues for good use - for band equipment, team uniforms, field trips, playground equipment, books, supplies. Many of the schools need this equipment and supplies badly, and so that's why they have so many fundraisers.

CHADWICK: But you know, when I think about the hours that go into preparation for all this, whether it's cookie sales or - I wonder, are they really getting a decent return on their dollar in terms of the effort expended and the funds raised?

SINGLETARY: Many times they're not. In fact, I call it back to school begging, and the begging that does not necessarily yield as much as it should for the schools. My own kids' school - I actually did the math once, and with all the selling and once you had to give money, you know, for the products that were being bought, the school netted like 10 to 20 cents per dollar raised as opposed to a hundred percent if people just write a check. And many schools are actually doing that. They're saying let's have a no fundraiser, where if every parent gave $20 or $30, we wouldn't have to have so many fundraisers.

CHADWICK: Have they come to a personal finance contributor like yourself and said Michelle, what should we do?

SINGLETARY: They do. They come and they say what can we do to raise enough money. Now, many schools have tried this and it didn't work. Somehow, some people still want overpriced candy and wrapping paper. But here's a thing, if you want a successful fundraising project, don't overburden people. Try to focus on one or two major fundraising events per year. And I think if you do that, you can eliminate fundraising fatigue that many parents including myself have.

CHADWICK: And probably double fundraising fatigue for you because if have they all these book fairs, they're probably saying mom, how about ten copies of Spend Well, Live Rich and Your Money and Your Man. Isn't that the title of your latest book?

Ms. SINGLETARY: Yes. That's true. But you know what, that's for a good purpose. I have three rugrats to send to college.

CHADWICK: Michelle Singletary writes the syndicated column The Color of Money. She's a regular guest on DAY TO DAY for discussions of personal finance and an author as well. Michelle, thank you.

Ms. SINGLETARY: You're welcome.

CHADWICK: And if you'd like Michelle to answer your money questions, you can write us. Go to our Web site, NPR.org. Click on the Contact Us link that's at the top of each page. And please include the name Michelle in the subject line.

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