You’re ready to do anything when it comes to making sure that your kids get the very best education … but are you sure that you’re prepared to handle the wild-eyed members of the school fundraising committee?
From candy bar sales to silent auctions featuring private concerts, schools have devised all sorts of ways to pay for themselves—and it can be quite the overwhelming experience.
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When my daughter started preschool, the fundraising was intense. Most of the families were dual income, and they didn’t mind writing a few extra checks. My (broke) friends and I were totally put off by this, so we ended up joining the fundraising committee—something I swore that I’d never be caught dead doing. But we wanted to change the way things were done.
Whether you’re tasked with bringing in a certain dollar amount for your school’s committee or you’re just being hounded by hopeful neighbor kids, being on either end of the fundraising plea can leave you feeling beleaguered and hum-buggy in the extreme.
Here are some tips and tricks to navigate the murky waters of fundraising etiquette:
Dealing With the “Ask”
Many private schools let you know ahead of time that, in addition to tuition, you’ll be required to either fundraise or donate a certain amount, which is otherwise known as an “ask.”
1. Know What’s Expected
“They were pretty up-front about it,” says Maya Rose, the mother of a kindergartner in a San Francisco private school. “They said the donation was ‘strongly encouraged.’ I said to my husband, ‘Strongly encouraged means we don’t have to, right?’ He shook his head and said, ‘No, that means we’re writing the check.’ ”
There’s no penalty for not doing the requested fundraising, so if you’re impervious to guilt, you’re in luck. Of course, as your kid spends more years at school, you may find that you want the programs waiting for funds—and become a wild-eyed fundraiser yourself. Stranger things have happened.
2. Get a Tax Break
Public school fundraisers are often tax-deductible. The National PTA and many local PTOs are set up as non-profit organizations for this very purpose. So if your kid comes home with a catalog full of crappy stuff you’d rather not buy, ask questions. Those fundraising catalogs usually give a certain percent back to the schools, which is typically 20%. If your kid is being told to sell $100 worth of stuff, you may choose to write a check to the school for $20, and bypass the painful ordeal, still coming out ahead. Just make sure to ask for a receipt letter for your tax file.
If the club or organization isn’t a non-profit, your donation won’t be deductible. However, you might be able to justify your purchases as a business expense. For instance, you can deduct $25 per business gift given to clients. So if you’re comfortable sending out tubs of caramel popcorn as a holiday gift, go nuts. Get it?
Meanwhile, Stephanie Roth, a partner at Klein & Roth Consulting, which trains grassroots organizations in effective fundraising, says, “Private schools usually set up as a non-profit organization, so people who donate will get a tax benefit.” In fact, one inside source confirmed that some private schools deliberately set up their tuition schedule so that part of the tuition is essentially tax-deductible. It’s a back-end way of making private school slightly cheaper, which is why many families go with a direct donation at the end of the fiscal year.