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Simple Fundraising Ideas? One Woman’s Crazy, Adventurous Quest in Search of Ideas For Fundraisers


When I began my parenting journey several years ago, I didn’t realize that I was also embarking on a never-ending search for simple fundraising ideas. Truly, I had no idea that one of the primary responsibilities as a parent would be continually drumming up ideas for fundraisers.

Even after I had resigned myself to the fact that fundraising would be a regular part of my life, I still had no idea that it would be such an adventure.

You see I’ve got three kids in school selling everything from pies to pizza. We’re involved in drama, soccer, basketball AND I sit on a hockey board that is solely self-funded by–you guessed it–fundraisers.

I’m trading commodities with friends, “I’ll take that pie and trade you cookie dough…good we’re even.” My family members won’t even answer their phone anymore, afraid they’ll be buying more things they don’t need.

We’ve done ’em all!

Let’s see, there are the gift-wrap/specialty item/trinket sales. If you ask me, these types of fundraisers are overused and overpriced. Every time I turn around my child has yet another catalog! In this economy when I can buy wrapping paper for $1.00 at the local dollar store, why would I want a roll of wrapping paper that costs me $9.00? (So what if it is better quality, it just gets ripped off the gift anyway.) I would actually rather write the school a check then try to sell this stuff.

Of course, we’re so tired of selling stuff anyway, so half the time, I just place a good sized order for my own family (reluctantly, of course).

Case in point: My daughter recently came home and mentioned that the “The Cookie Dough Guy” said that if they wanted enough money for their field trip to the Boston Museum, they were “encouraged” to sell at least two tubs of cookie dough (for $14.00 each!). I spent $28.00 on two itty bitty tubs of cookie dough. I could have gone to BJ’s, bought a BIG tub of Tollhouse Cookie dough for $6.99 AND bought my daughter’s admission into the museum for less than that! Why didn’t they just ask for the money for the field trip? It’s absurd!

And, how about those booths at craft fairs or festivals?

Okay, so if you’re ever asked to “man a booth for a couple of hours” be very wary. Our organization signed up for a booth at our community’s Summerfest in June. I signed on for the early shift (I’d get my shift over with and enjoy a fun filled afternoon with my family). Yeh, first mistake. Funny how your “replacements” never seem to show up to actually replace you. So, there I was, 6 hours later “manning the booth”. If that wasn’t annoying enough, suddenly, the skies grew dark, the wind kicked up and we were in the middle of one of those horrific thunder and lightning storms. Everything was blowing wildly; the canopy was about to take flight. And the rain was coming down in droves. Needless to say, we earned very little money that day. (Even putting the
“severe thunderstorm factor” aside, the event was not very profitable because even though there was a lot of traffic, there was also a lot of competition.)

Oh and let’s not forget one of my favorite “simple” fundraising ideas, pizza kits and pies.

Okay, yes they are pretty decent sellers, but the logistics of the whole thing are crazy. First of all, you need to arrange an EXACT delivery time with the company because they need to keep the goods frozen. Then, you need to let everyone know when that EXACT delivery date is and pray that they actually come to pick up their products. And, when they don’t . . .well, let’s just say, it was a darn good thing I had a spare freezer in my basement to store some of those overly large boxes! And, don’t get me started on how I had to make a bazillion phone calls to those people who failed to show up at our EXACT delivery time.

But, my all time favorite adventure was “The Bottle Drive”. The most basic of simple fundraising ideas. You collect, basically, people’s trash and exchange it for money. Piece of cake.

That’s what we thought too. The conversation went something like this: “We’ll have a bottle drive!” “Yes!” “On New Year’s Day.” “Great idea!” “All those New Year’s Eve parties! We’ll make a ton of money!”

It became an obsession. I’m in the grocery store and I run into Mike. He says, “Hey, we’re having a New Year’s Eve party, you and John should stop by.” Great, I’m thinking. Give his address to one of the drivers to pick up their bottles in the morning. I get so swept up in it, that I actually find myself eavesdropping to find out where everyone is going to celebrate.

So it’s New Year’s Day and with maps in hand and addresses of all those parties that happened the night before, we jumped into our trucks and headed out. Did I mention we live in Maine? We had been hit with several December storms and today we were in for a Nor’easter, as they are so endearingly called. (In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, this basically means that the snow falls in unassuming small crystals at a moderate but relentless pace until you suddenly realize that you are completely socked in.) That wasn’t going to deter us though . . . no worries, just bundle up and get an early start.

Here’s a curious concept…an early start on New Year’s Day. Okay, so not everyone spent New Year’s Eve like me — in their pj’s, snuggled up next to the woodstove, going to bed early so we could get an early start in the morning for the bottle drive. At 9:00 a.m., if you had a party, you are NOT likely to be moving around, much less cleaning your house. So, many doors went unanswered.

Finally, one neighborhood proved to be promising until we saw…the Boy Scouts. We couldn’t believe it. They were having a bottle drive as well! (It’s amazing how fast a bunch of not-so-thrilled-to-be-up-this-early-on-a-weekend teenage hockey players can actually move when they are trying to outrun the Boy Scouts.)

My friend and I decided, enough of this door-to-door stuff, we’ll hit up the local restaurants and pubs. We hit the mother load at our local Thatcher’s. We rock! Our hopes were high. Then, we hear, “Sorry, you need to talk to the manager and they aren’t working on New Year’s Day” or “We have lots of bottles in our shed out back but unfortunately the plow guy hasn’t plowed us out from the last storm. Come see us in the spring.”

Okay, this was getting discouraging. We traded cell phone calls and met at regular intervals at the local redemption center. The snow was coming down faster than the plows could get the roads clear and we realized that it was getting too dangerous to have vehicles on the road. With an army of twelve trucks, we headed back to the redemption center only to discover it had closed due to the weather!

Now what do we do?

“Bring them to my garage” (What, who said that? Me? Note to self: you are far too accommodating.) Of course everyone thinks that is a great idea!

Before I know it, my garage is full of stale smelling beer bottles, my hands are sticky and cold, I’m exhausted, my husband is ready to divorce me AND my car is now outside covered by 18 inches of heavy, wet snow because there isn’t enough room in my garage!

Over the course of the next week, my husband and I bagged up the bottles and made several trips to the redemption center. Woo Hoo! We made $350 for 15 people, spending a cold, snowy day, driving all over town. There has got to be a simpler way to fundraise!

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