- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 18, 2004

Michelle Harvey, a Takoma Park resident, spends up to 10 hours a week raising money for her children’s public schools, Montgomery Blair High School and Piney Branch Elementary School. “It’s a way to be involved in the schools, and I think it’s the right thing to do,” Ms. Harvey says. “We have so much, and this is a way to give back a little.”

‘Tis the season for school fund-raising. Ms. Harvey is not alone in spending time and money to pay for school trips, ice-cream socials and equipment at her children’s schools. According to a 2003 National PTA poll, 96.5 percent of parents take part in school fund-raisers.

The poll asked 22,000 parents nationwide in December 2003 about their fund-raising activities. The poll also showed that parents raise an average of $17,000 per year for their children’s schools and that most parents think the need to raise funds will increase in coming years.

“Parents used to be asked to raise money once a year. Now they’re being asked every other week,” says Linda Hodge, National PTA president. “The question is, if you’re a first-grade parent, do you really want to be doing this for the next 12 years?”

The U.S. Department of Education, which has information on per-student costs in different school systems ($12,102 in the District, $8,692 in Maryland and $7,496 in Virginia for the 2001-02, school year, the latest year for which numbers are available) could not confirm per-parent fund-raising amounts.

Ms. Harvey says parents’ inclination to raise funds probably depends on where the money is spent.

“In our case, the money pays for extras — scholarships, movie nights, school trips,” she says, “but in other areas of Montgomery County, like Wheaton, and in the District, I am not sure that’s the case.”

Kristen Hartke, whose 8-year-old daughter goes to Watkins Elementary School in Southeast, says she knows firsthand that’s not the case.

“They ran out of toilet paper in April, so some of the money we raised paid for toilet paper,” Ms. Hartke says.

Ms. Hodge says fund-raising paying for necessities is a troubling trend.

“About 79 percent of parents we talked to said they’re asked to fund things that used to be covered by the school budget — transportation, copying paper, toilet paper,” she says.

According to the National PTA’s estimates, public schools are underfunded by about $9 billion dollars annually.

The U.S. Department of Education would not comment on that number.

“And I don’t care how many volunteers you have, you’re not going to raise that kind of money,” she says.

Making a difference

Ms. Hartke says the basics should be covered by the school system but she can’t wait for that to happen. Her child is in school now, and she wants immediate improvement, she says.

“It would be great if the money went toward something that’s extra-special,” she says, “but the truth is, we have to meet basic needs first.”

Raising money for toilet paper could be an uphill battle, but Ms. Hartke says parents at Watkins Elementary School love the school and teachers so much they’re willing to do whatever it takes to make daily operations go smoothly.

Watkins Elementary School is part of the Capitol Hill Cluster School, a campus of three public schools all located on Capitol Hill. Among them is Peabody Elementary School, at which John Burst teaches pre-kindergarten and kindergarten.

Mr. Burst says some of the money parents raise goes toward — besides toilet paper — part-time music and movement instructors. Not only is this good for the children, he says, but it gives him and other teachers time for planning and phone calls they otherwise would have to do after hours.

“Parents do a great job. Thanks to their involvement, we have things we wouldn’t otherwise have,” Mr. Burst says.

Coco Provance is a parent at Peabody who spends five to 20 hours a week on fund-raising, including soliciting parents for donations — in-kind and monetary.

“Parents know that this money is imperative to the quality of education that their children receive, and I have never had a parent say anything to me that was less than supportive,” Ms. Provance says.

Not all parents, however, have the financial ability to help schools by buying wrapping paper and cookies or bidding on silent auctions.

However, “help” comes in different guises, says Ms. Hodge, who recommends that financially strapped parents assist teachers in the classroom or chaperon on school trips.

“There are a variety of ways to be involved in your child’s life,” Ms. Hodge says. “As the class sizes are going up, it’s great for teachers to have a volunteer in the classroom.”

She also recommends that parents write to policy-makers about what budget cuts do to their specific schools. Another way to help can be to assist teachers in marking papers, she says.

Vivian Scretchen, a single mother of four children in Silver Spring, says her way of helping is through volunteering.

“Sometimes, if I can’t afford something, I can contribute with my time,” Ms. Scretchen says. “I’ve gone on trips with the kids and teachers to downtown D.C., to places like the National Air and Space Museum.”

Keys to success

Whether parents help their children’s school through volunteering their time or money — or maybe both — they want to see positive results of their contribution, says Katherine Murray, co-author of “Fundraising for Dummies.”

“Give parents good feedback about what’s going on, keep them updated and involved and make sure you show them appreciation,” Mrs. Murray says.

To have good results to report back to volunteering parents, the person who spearheads the fund-raising effort has to approach fund-raising in a methodical way, she says.

First, the person responsible for fund-raising has to have a fund-raising plan. This plan should outline how to communicate with volunteers and donors, what product to sell, what the goals are, what the expected costs are and whether to focus on one big event or try to do several smaller ones to reach the annual fund-raising goal.

It’s also important to find out from the school system whether any tax or other laws apply to money raised at school fund-raisers, she says.

It may sound complicated, but approaching school fund-raising in a semiprofessional manner pays off, says Ms. Hartke, who has worked on fund-raisers for the Capitol Hill Cluster School for several years.

A couple of years ago, Ms. Hartke became the co-chairwoman of the Capitol Hill Classic, a 10K race whose proceeds benefit the Cluster School.

“The race made about $15,000 every year, and I wanted to take it to the next level,” she says. “We knew we had to revamp the whole thing and think about it in a more businesslike way.”

Ms. Hartke says she talked to professional race directors to find out how to better accommodate runners and sponsors. They told her that runners want different designs on their T-shirts each year and that donors want their names to be displayed prominently on the T-shirts, among other things, she says.

She also learned that she needed 2,000 runners to cover the cost of the race (about $50,000) and that the real proceeds would have to come from donors, such as local bankers and real estate agents.

After a lot of tweaking — and working about 40 hours a week for six months on the effort — she and other organizers were able to raise $42,000 at this year’s race.

“It was exhausting — I am not doing it this year — but the camaraderie is great, and it’s fun.”

Another way to approach fund-raising is to portion it out over the school year, Ms. Harvey says. She sells T-shirts and sweat shirts at such events as the children’s ice-cream socials, and she will be selling coffee and doughnuts at Piney Branch on Election Day when the school serves as a polling place.

“We try to think of opportunistic things like that — assorted smaller efforts in addition to the big fund-raisers,” Ms. Harvey says.

After the fund-raising season is over, it’s important to sit down with all the volunteers and discuss what worked and what didn’t in order to improve the next year’s efforts, Mrs. Murray says.

“It’s a good time to reflect on it when things are still fresh in everyone’s mind,” she says.

Aside from the satisfaction of having raised money, many parents say that volunteering at fund-raisers helps them get to know other parents and teachers at the school.

“You might make some friends, which can be a very good thing once your children reach high school and you have to make that call asking, ‘Have you seen my son?”’ Mrs. Murray says, half-jokingly.

More info:

Books —

• “Beyond the Bake Sale: The Ultimate School Fund-Raising Book,” by Jean C. Joachim, St. Martin’s Press, 2003. This book is a step-by-step guide on how to raise money for schools. It includes topics such as how to set up a fund-raising team, find national organizations that will give the school a cut from the sales, run a pledge drive and get parents to volunteer.

• “Everything Fundraising: Create a Strategy, Plan Events, Increase Visibility, and Raise the Money You Need,” by Rich Mintzer and Samuel Friedman, Adams Media Corp., 2003. This book offers a practical guide on such matters as how to set goals, create a plan and attract volunteers.

• “Fundraising for Dummies,” by John Mutz, Katherine Nelson and Katherine Murray; Wiley, John & Sons Inc., 2000. This book shows how to raise money for nonprofit endeavors, from Little League to big foundations while putting the “fun” in fund-raising.

Associations —

• National Parent Teacher Association, 330 N. Wabash Ave., Suite 2100, Chicago, IL 60611. Phone: 800/307-4782. Web site: www.pta.org. This national nonprofit group is the largest volunteer child-advocacy organization in the country. It offers several articles and books on the topic of school fund-raisers. Some of the information is available on the group’s Web site.

• The Education Commission of the States (ECS), 700 Broadway, Suite 1200, Denver, CO 80203. Phone: 303/299-3600. Web site: www.ecs.org. This nonprofit, nonpartisan organization involved in promoting and sharing education policy offers articles on fund-raising, including tax and other laws that apply to certain school fund-raisers.

Online —

• FundRaising.com, based in Cedarburg, Wis., sells fund-raising products and gives tips on how to create a successful fund-raiser on its Web site (www.fundraising.com).

• Easy Fundraising Ideas, based in Arlington, Texas, also sells fund-raising products and provides fund-raising suggestions on its Web site (www.easy-fundraising-ideas.com).

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