The 6 Rules of School Fundraising Etiquette


fundraiserYou’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.

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.’”

RELATED: Mompetition: Hitting Moms Where It Hurts

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.

  • Frugal mom

    When my kids were in public school I suggested the school try using a pledge system and see if it worked out better than the sales. I had figured out that if the parents donated an average of $1 per month per child the school would get more money than they were w/ their 3 annual fundraisers. I would have pledged and given $5 per month per kid (to make up for families who didn’t contribute anything) just to a) quit interrupting my child’s classroom time, b) quit lining the pockets of the corporations selling the crap to the school c) role model for my child making good financial choices.

    I figured that they could ask for pledges, “reward” families by promising that if goals were met fundraisers would not be held. Our PTA didn’t like the idea but yours might

    • Sarah

      That’s a great idea, Frugal Mom! Any kind of annual giving campaign or letter works wonders! I wrote about it in my book, A Mom’s Guide to School Fundraising last year. Schools have already been making more money with my help. You can check it out here:

      • Matthew Tuttle

        Stop spamming us with your stupid book.

  • joeginese

    If you are looking to raise funds for your school, I highly recommend this site:

    I’ve used it as an administrator. It allows for the students involved in a project to tell their stories and connect with the donors.

    Highly recommended. Check it out!

  • Alisha Closson

    I’ve had issues actually recieving the items I purchased from school fundraisers so I only buy from family. When my kids start school (my oldest starts preschool next fall) I will also purchase from their friends.

    • Sarah

      All the buying of stuff can be so annoying, Alisha. I totally feel your pain! If you need any help with fundraising, My book, A Mom’s Guide to School Fundraising has helped LOTS of PTA’s raise more money than ever before. You can see more info at

  • Kay

    School fundraising always annoyed me tremendously, I had three kids of my own, why would I harass other parents who also had children to care for. I usually found a way to buy all the “product” my kids had to sell and distribute them as gifts for family members. Two birds with the same stone, money donated and gifts sent. I know not everyone can afford this but most can if they are buying from other kids, just buy from your own and be done with it.

    • Sarah

      I don’t like the products the kids have to sell either. I find t frustrating that in an age when childhood obesity is at its highest, we shouldn’t be allowing our kids to sell candy bars and cookie dough. There is a better way!

  • Leo the Yardie Chick

    I don’t have a child but…hmmmm….these are some good ideas regarding fund-raising nonetheless.

  • Juliet Perry

    What a depressing article. Schools are so pathetically underfunded, the only way to provide any kind of “enhancements” is to fundraise. Schools can’t do it, so PTA/PTO/Booster Clubs have to do it. The truly sad part is the lack of participation of the families whose kids are being served. Instead of seeing this as a imposition by “those” parents, look at it as an opportunity to give just a little back to your school’s community. Don’t like the way “they” are doing it? Then get involved and find a better way!

  • Rainie Flores

    I personally think it is alright to support school fundraising projects as long as they are for a worthy cause. I think that the more parents take part in fundraising activities, the greater chance of success rate will be which will in turn benefit everyone.


    • Sarah

      Rainie, there are lots of ways to fundraise without selling products. One way that my school came across was It’s an awareness raiser for students and helps people on a global level. I didn’t include it in my book, A Mom’s Guide to School Fundraising because I discovered it after my book published. For more info on my book, go to

  • Emma Mercer

    I don’t see anything wrong with schools coming up with fundraising activities. These are fundraising activities with a purpose and most of these fundraising events are for a worthy cause.


  • ShopBidGive

    Fundraising is definitely getting harder for schools. PTAs/PTOs/Booster Clubs should try to do something different than the typical catalog sales. Hold a family event, movie night, game night, a carnival, an online auction. Continuing to do the same fundraiser year after year gets old, and causes that anti fundraising feeling.

  • Sarah Barrett

    In my book, A Mom’s Guide to School Fundraising, I talk about many different ways to raise money for the schools. There are some great new ways that can not only bring in some money, but build your school community as well. I am working with schools across the country to raise more money and get more. States are definitely cutting back where education is concerned, and we need to stick with it if we want our kids to get a well rounded education!

  • BigFundraisingIdeas

    I wanted to correct you on one thing. Under the ‘Get a Tax Break’ section you mentioned, and I quote, “Those fundraising catalogs usually give a certain percent back to the schools, which is typically 20%.” The normal profit given is 40%, not 20%.

    Clay Boggess