Do you dread the sight of your daughter lugging home order forms for every imaginable sport and club she belongs to? From cookies to wrapping paper to flower bulbs, it seems like the only way these groups raise money today is by sending out an army of little salespeople.
When my oldest son was in Cub Scouts, I finally decided I couldn’t force him to march through the neighborhood one more time selling stuff (especially since three other Scouts lived on the same block, which meant it was a race to see who got to which neighbor!). I was a leader in the local pack, so I suggested something different: Instead of selling the meaningless clutter the fundraising companies foisted upon us, let’s raise money doing something related to scouting.
This was in the mid 2000s, and I noticed that many people had been flying the same American flag since September 11, 2001. This looked like an opportunity. I went online and found a company that makes flags and bought a carton of them (144 flags) at about $4 each, if I recall correctly. Then on one selected Saturday our boys walked in small groups throughout our part of town and sold the flags door to door for $10 each. I think we sold almost the entire carton of flags, which meant we made a good part of our annual budget in that one day.
Here’s what made the sale special: We also offered to take any tattered flags and retire them in an official Boy Scouts of America flag retirement ceremony that evening in a local park. We collected about 50 old flags that deserved proper retirement, and burned them that evening in a solemn and beautiful ceremony, complete with readings and taps. We were all moved by the event. This fundraiser thus became much more than kids slogging down the street selling stuff nobody wanted. It became a memorable event that provided a genuine service to the public.
I have been involved in fundraising for a few other organizations since then, and I’ve tried to keep that same basic principle: Do something that genuinely befits the organization, not just something that anyone could do. A flag retirement ceremony befits a Cub Scout pack, so this fundraiser worked.
Here are some other ideas that would fit that principle:
If your group is a sports team, especially a higher-level team, consider a day-long training camp on the sport for beginners. You could charge $20 per person, and if 50 kids showed up you’d raise $1,000. Parents would love to have their future hall-of-famers spend a Saturday with the big kids, and the little ones would learn the basics from older boys and girls they look up to. It would double as a team-building event for the group, because they would have to plan the day, promote it, and operate it smoothly and safely.
If your group is an academic-related club, such as a math or science club, adopt the same idea but make it a tutoring program. You could spread this out over the school year — once every other week club members could provide math tutoring or writing assistance to younger students for a few dollars per person.
If your group is in the musical arts, perform! Recitals can be painfully boring, let’s be honest, and no one other than family is going to pay to attend. Instead of a recital, teach your group a handful of popular tunes and take to the streets. Busking, as street music performance is called, can be a reasonably lucrative endeavor. Find a busy corner or shopping mall, put out a bucket for tips, and perform the favorites. Many people who would not be caught dead in a kiddie recital will stop and listen for a few minutes and drop a dollar in the bucket. This works especially well during the holidays. The kids will get a great thrill seeing that first dollar flutter into the bucket — they’ve become professional performers! (Check with your local municipality or chamber of commerce first to see if you need permission before you set up.)
If your group doesn’t fit into any of the above categories, but they’re young and energetic, consider a work day. Go door to door seeking yard chores the children can do for money. In the fall this could naturally include raking leaves; in winter, shoveling snow; in spring, planting flowers; in summer, mowing grass. Obviously the level of work depends on the age and skills of your group, but the bottom line is everyone will get some exercise and make a few dollars.
Maybe none of the above ideas fit your group, but that doesn’t mean you need to resort to selling candy or other junk people don’t need. Put on your thinking cap, consider your group’s mission and special talents, and dream up a fundraiser that will help the community and play to your group’s strengths.