- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 18, 2004

Some parents love school fund-raisers. Others are less keen on them. For these two sides to work productively together, fund-raising etiquette is essential, says Ann Marie Sabath, author of several business etiquette books.

“Most people are willing to help, but you have to give them options and use tact and diplomacy when you approach them,” Ms. Sabath says.

Not everyone wants to sell or buy cookies and other foods, but it’s important to get these people involved in other ways, she says.

“Instead of plaguing someone who’s on a low-carb diet with popcorn or cookies, give them another option,” says Ms. Sabath, whose books include “Business Etiquette: 101 Ways to Conduct Business With Charm and Savvy.”

“Maybe they can donate the cookies to an orphanage … or just write a check.”

Michelle Harvey, a parent in Takoma Park, says the schools with which she is involved give parents many options.

“You can have it diverted to the food bank or some other charity. You just check off on the form what group you want to donate to,” says Ms. Harvey, who is an active fund-raiser at her children’s schools — Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring and Piney Branch Elementary School in Takoma Park.

Tapping into people’s time is another aspect of fund-raising that should be done with tact and consideration to achieve success, says Katherine Murray, co-author of “Fundraising for Dummies.”

“It’s important to keep in mind that parents — moms in particular — are so pulled already,” Mrs. Murray says. “Be considerate and be specific about the amount of time you need from them.”

If someone, for example, says he or she can volunteer on a fund-raiser for two hours, respect that time and commitment and don’t ask for more, she says.

When asking people — or corporations — to donate time or money, it’s better to do so in a letter or e-mail than by phone or in person. That way, they will have more time and less pressure to consider the solicitation, Ms. Sabath says.

If the person receiving the solicitation for time or money decides to decline the request, there are good ways to say no without ruffling too many feathers, she adds.

“You could say, ‘Thank you for asking, but I think I am going to take a rain check on that. October is a really busy month for me,’” she suggests. “And then figure out what you can do and say, ‘But, here’s what I can do to support the fund-raiser.’”

Ms. Sabath says she would avoid the term “no.” It’s harsh, and it’s possible to get the point across without using it, she says.

However, there will always be a group of parents who are not interested in devoting time or money to school fund-raisers, Mrs. Murray says.

“You have to accept that. It’s not your job to change them,” she says.

Trying to strong-arm someone into helping out time-wise or financially will only backfire, Mrs. Murray says. “They will just feel resentful.”

Finally, perhaps the most important piece of fund-raising etiquette is showing appreciation for parents who are involved in the fund-raising effort.

“Be sure to let them know that the success wouldn’t have happened without them,” she says.

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