Dear (Redacted) Elementary School,
Listen, I get it. It’s tough being a public school. Money is tight, and you are looking for ways to cover the bases without resorting to starting a mandatory “sewing” club that is “sponsored” by Nike, if you catch my drift. So that leaves fundraising.
Here’s the secret, though: If you want to make the moolah, you need to put on your pinstripe suits, slick back your hair and make like Michael Corleone. With my plan, you can forget about your money problems. Or is it forguddahaboud your money problems? I’m new to this mob thing and don’t know if Jersey-centric pronunciations are required.
“What can I put you down for?” Along with “invasive examination” and “all-day seminar,” those are some of the most uncomfortable words you can hear. There is no “fun” in fundraising. (Nope, don’t say it. I can see it, too. I stand by my first assessment.)
The best fundraiser continues to be Girl Scout Cookies: four or five bucks a box, and the Samoas are amazing. I can only order one or two boxes and tell my co-worker I better not buy more because I’m watching my figure, and they have to take that explanation with an absolute straight face and solemn nod just to make sure the sale goes through.
Also, the cookies come to me at work, meaning if I happen to accidentally polish them off throughout the day, my family never knew cookies were even a possibility. (You have to open them to try them, then once they are opened you have to finish the first row for the sake of uniformity, and once you start in on the second row, your OCD demands the row be cleanly finished. Now the box is half-gone, and your wife will know you ate half a box of cookies, so you better just finish the evidence off and share a couple with your co-worker so you feel better about yourself. Or so I’ve heard.)
Instead of cookies, though, I am inundated on a constant basis by a new school fundraising sales pitch by my kids. It’s like living with three out-of-work hustlers who are hitting all the angles, trying to see which grift sticks.
There’s been cookie dough, which inevitably gets put into the freezer and forgotten about and later counted as food storage. There are relay runs, where I pledge some money for every lap they run. (Of course, when I thought they were running laps, I was thinking laps like take-a-lap-around-a-football-field laps, not lean-your-shoulder-to-the-left-and-run-in-a-small-circle-like-Curly-realizing-his pants-were-on-fire laps.)
There was even a kitchen sink effort, where you sent home magazines filled with a hodgepodge of random, overpriced items such as gift wrap or large containers of buttered popcorn — something that is only truly edible within five minutes of it being popped. I looked the magazine over and realized it was like a redneck SkyMall magazine, with the same strange stuff you don’t really want to buy, just financially adjusted downward a bit.
I suppose this is better than when I was a kid. Back then, it was all about magazines all the time. “Dad, would you like a subscription to Field and Stream or Popular Mechanics?” Seeing as how Dad fished about as often as Halley’s Comet passed by, he was unmoved by the sales pitch. Maybe if I could have sold Ensign and New Era subscriptions, I would have cleaned up.
At the end of the day, the kids are pushing these things for one reason, and it ain’t to help the school buy the new set of encyclopedias that teachers try to get them to use instead of Wikipedia. The kids want the prizes — no — they need the prizes. Every fundraiser has a glossy sheet of what your kid is going to get if Mom and Dad just pony up. Get dad to spend $20? You get a fuzzy thing that goes on your pencil.
Did you raise $50? Assorted colors of small LED lights for your fingers, which come in handy when … um … I guess when you need just enough light to illuminate your knuckles but absolutely nothing else. “Dad, I absolutely have to have these knuckle lights. No, not the exact same ones they are selling at the dollar store. These lights from the fundraiser.”
Five hundred dollars tends to get you a giant stuffed animal, and the $5,000 range gets you an inexpensive laptop you most definitely don’t need because you most assuredly already have a great laptop because you’re the guy who just gave five large to your kid’s fundraiser. For that kind of cash, instead of a laptop, they should have all the kids in the school wear a T-shirt with your face on it all day and spend an hour each writing epic poems describing your largesse. (I might pay big cash for that.)
This all brings me to my foolproof fundraising idea. I really don’t want to deal with the onslaught of fundraisers this year. With three kids in elementary school, it doesn’t make it three times worse; it’s more like to the power of three times worse.
What the schools should do is go to all the parents at the beginning of the year and make them an offer they can’t refuse. You offer them “protection” from fundraisers. Just like a couple of goombahs walking into the corner store, you walk into back-to-school night and say, “Oh, it would be a crying shame if little Jimmy didn’t feel like you loved him enough to buy really expensive fundraiser fudge so he could earn a silly pen that changes colors. That freakin’ pen means the world to Jimmy.
“Oh, we’re just getting started. How difficult do you think it is to get kids excited about winning stupid stuff? And it’s going to be like that all year. All year. Every. Stinkin’. Month. Unless …
“Perhaps we could offer you some protection. If you give us $200 cash tonight, no questions asked, every time we do a fundraiser, we tell Jimmy, ‘Don’t even ask your parents — you already won!’ and we will hand him that silly pen right then and there and tell him, ‘Thank your mom and dad. They must really love you more than the other parents whose kids in your class didn’t get the silly pen.’”
Who doesn’t go for that seductive pitch? Not even one mention of a fundraiser by your kids for the entire year. And you look like a hero to your kid, who still gets the prizes. Maybe even throw in a box of cookies for Dad as a thank you. Just have those cookies shipped to my work address. Trust me, it’s better for everyone that way.
Sincerely, A Tired Father
Pete Thunell lives in Las Vegas with his wife and four kids and works as an attorney. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.