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  • Melanie Notaras

The 7 WORST fundraising ideas you should NEVER do at your school

Are you getting less traction with the same tired fundraiser again and again? If you’re scratching around for a new school fundraising idea, you’re not alone. But here are seven real school fundraisers we think you should NEVER try ...

1. Turning your Elementary School into an After-Hours Nightclub

Harambee Institute of Science and Technology, a K-8 charter school in Philadelphia, turned its cafeteria on the weekends into liquor-serving, smoke filled, dancing Club Damani … for 8 years! It managed to do this by a quirk of property rights – when the school bought the building in 2002 there was an existing liquor license attached. The nightclub ran until 2010 before it was shut down – and the license had expired back in 2008. The Principal reportedly paid a severe fine and ended up going to gaol for 3 years – not for running the nightclub, but for embezzlement of $88,000 in school funds. Fundraising Verdict (out of 10): Originality (8), Profitability (9), Stupidity (10).

2. Donkey Basketball/Donkey Baseball

It's supposed to be a game of unpredictable, dumb and innocent fun. Schools sell tickets to watch teams try and play basketball or baseball while riding a donkey (donkeys wear special booties to protect the baskeball court floor). It’s been a tradition in many American schools since the 1930s, with companies organising games or renting animals/equipment across at least 18 states. But PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) claims that it’s cruel. Donkeys aren’t strong enough to carry the weight of large teenagers and adults (the usual players), and feel confused and frightened by the shouting - and often pulling/bullying - environment they’re forced to be in. And did your school budget for a lawsuit? A participant in Illinois won $110,000 for injuries sustained during the game. In any case, is it a good look for a school charity to associate itself with an ass? Fundraising Verdict (out of 10): Originality (4), Profitability (5), Stupidity (8).

3. Hold a Gun Raffle

In 2014, Comeaux High (Louisiana, USA) needed to raise funds for its marching band, so it started a year-long raffle with a weekly prize draw …. with a gun as the weekly prize. The raffle was actually approved by the school but quickly drew the attention of the regional superintendent who shut it down – but not before the school had sold 50 tickets worth $2,500! The raffle was cancelled and the money refunded. Fundraising Verdict (out of 10): Originality (10), Profitability (10), Stupidity (100).

4. Cash-for-Grades

In 2009 a North Carolina middle school’s principal approved a fundraiser to give extra test marks to kids who paid. $20 bought 20 test points, which could be applied 10 marks each to two tests of the child’s choice – raising a failing D to a pass, or a B to an A. In Dissed Trust: America’s Crisis of Truth, Faith, and Freedom (2010), DeMersseman says, “Rather than admit the idea was wrong, or at least reflected poor judgement, the principal pointed out the expedient genius of the plan, "Last year they did chocolates, and it didn’t generate anything" [the principal] said, adding that it was wrong to think "one particular grade could change the entire focus of nine weeks."" Really? Isn't this called bribery? County administrators shut down the fundraiser and donations were returned. Fundraising Verdict: Originality (6), Profitability (10), Stupidity (9).

5. Smash a Car

A University of Delaware fraternity fundraiser in 2010 sold tickets to smash a car - $3 for one hit or $10 for 4 hits. Said David McNamara of Kappa Sigma, “It should be fun seeing a car get smashed for all of us.” The car was sourced from the wreckers and probably returned there. Let's see ... flying broken glass, metal fragments and swinging sledgehammers. Any injuries? We don’t know. Fundraising Verdict: Originality (3), Profitability (5), Stupidity (4).

6. Selling Trash Bags

I once read on an online forum about someone complaining that their school fundraiser required their kids to sell trash bags to their families. They had to buy a roll of 35 black trash bags for $15. BLACK. TRASH. BAGS. Useful, sure - but it surely ranks as the most uninspiring fundraiser ever. And what does that say about the school, hmm? Fundraising Verdict: Originality (10), Profitability (2), Stupidity (4).

7. Art auction where you allow proxy bidders

Lots of schools run art shows and auction off the kids' art. Cathedral School of St. John the Divine in Manhattan (USA) did that too in 2013 which resulted in a claims for damages against the school for $250,000. How? The parents of kindergartener Hudson Cornelius Heinemann couldn't attend the event so they asked the school to bid on his class art project for them "until they won" ... resulting in a winning bid of $50,000. They claimed a teacher intentionally drove up the bidding, which they expected to be about $3,000. Moral for schools: don't allow proxy bidding. Fundraising Verdict: Originality (1), Profitability (-10), Stupidity (6).


Not a fundraiser, but still a lesson to be learned ...

Don't give ridiculous fundraising prizes you don't mean -

Like Bethany Academy (in Minnesota, USA) which - very nobly - was raising funds to feed hungry local residents. As an incentive they offered the family who raised the most funds a chance to win a half year's free tuition - IF they could score a half-court basketball shot within 3 tries. Even for a professional basketball player the odds are incredibly tiny, but miraculously the Mum scored on the 3rd shot! There's no fee schedule on the school's website, but undoubtedly this school fundraising incentive left them several thousand dollars out of pocket. Fundraising Verdict: Originality (6), Profitability (-10), Stupidity (1).

NOW FOR A REALLY GREAT FUNDRAISING IDEA for primary, elementary and middle grade schools, try a My School Adventure fundraiser with our gamebook-style adventure novel customised to your school including 4 of your school’s teachers as characters and 22 different endings! Gets kids reading while you raise money in an ethical, fun and community positive way. Fundraising Verdict: Originality (10), Profitability (10), Learning Value (10), Ease (10), Risk (0), Cleverness (100).

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