The recipe for a healthy school budget? Fundraising


Families turn soup labels, credit cards, wrapping paper and magazines into field trips By Betsy Sanner and Alice Oglethorpe

Illustrations by Madeleine Avirov  

Magazine subscriptions, gift wrap sales and soup label collections have become the life blood of cash-strapped schools.

At Clarendon Hills Middle School, the Parent-Teacher Organization made $26,000 last year selling magazine subscriptions to friends and family at $15 a pop. And South Park Elementary School in Deerfield makes between $12,000 and $15,000 selling hundreds of rolls of wrapping paper each September. At Matteson and Sauk Elementary schools, cereal box tops and soup labels bring in a few hundred dollars-enough to help keep the kids in playground equipment.

Without the extra cash raised by committed volunteers, there would be fewer student field trips, dances, cultural programs and other educational enrichment programs.

At Clarendon Hills Middle School, PTO co-president Mary Ellen Selby says students there sold magazines to friends and family and it was not labor-intensive since students and adults did the selling individually. The PTO recruited a few volunteers willing to spend a few hours working on the turn-in dates during the three-week fundraising period.

The school received roughly a third of the total $75,000 sales. Lori Chana, the parent in charge of the magazine sales, says probably more than 4,000 magazines were ordered last year. Added together, those $15 subscriptions cover more than half the PTO's budget.

Even in relatively wealthy areas such as Highland Park District 112, which has almost one computer per child, the extra money provides educational extras, such as setting up an art committee, according to the school district's community relations specialist Linda Carlstone.

"It's not for books, it's not for basics," Carlstone says.

According to Carlstone, the money brought in from fundraising varies year-to-year based on the PTO president's efforts. Sometimes the neediest years do not result in the most money raised, she says.

At South Park Elementary School, students and adults sell hundreds of rolls of gift wrap each September, according to PTO president Joanne Burgess. This is the biggest fundraiser for the school and the least time consuming.

Burgess says fundraising has been on the upswing at South Park. "People are very dedicated to fundraising because it enriches children's education," she says. Fund raising provided $40,000 for improvements to the school's library this year after a new housing development brought in a lot of new students.

"If there are things that we want for the school, we have to fund raise," Burgess says.

Still, Burgess says she has seen a shift in how people respond to different types of fundraising appeals. Since people have less free time, they prefer ordering products to events they have to attend, she says.

Selby of Clarendon Hills agrees. "I think what we have found is there's just something in our society that people like to purchase things and like to get a product." She adds that she thinks people view their taxes as their contribution to the public schools, so people don't want to donate cash.

Although the bulk of this extra money comes from student-driven fundraisers, some large corporations also offer school support in return for purchasing products.

Ananci Shalabi, PTA president of Matteson and Sauk Elementary schools, says that in eight months last year, the two schools made $472 with General Mills Inc.'s Box Tops Program and about $200 worth of playground balls and jump ropes from Campbell Soup Co.'s Labels for Education.

The Box Tops for Education provides cash to schools that collect box tops from various products under the brand names General Mills, Betty Crocker, Yoplait, Pillsbury, Old El Paso and Green Giant. Each box top is worth 10 cents and schools can receive up to $20,000 a year. Since the program started in 1996, General Mills says it has donated $90 million to 77,000 schools across the country. The total for the 2003-2004 school year was $23 million from more than 230 million box tops.

Jeff Peterson, director of corporate promotion marketing, says creating the program was an easy decision for General Mills. Research shows the company's target consumer-families with children-care most about education.

"We partner, really, with our consumers," Peterson says. "If our consumers became interested in mopeds, we would do that."

Target Inc.'s school program uses the Target Visa card. One percent of all Target purchases and 0.5 percent of all non-Target purchases made with the Target Visa are donated to a school of the card owner's choice. At Olympia Field' Matteson Elementary, the Target program generated $80.58 during one month.

But companies such as Target and General Mills gets something else in return: an increase in loyalty to their brands.

And that's valuable to all the companies with these types of programs, says Northwestern University's Rob Kozinets, assistant professor of marketing at Kellogg School of Management. Corporations are "not making much off it, but they do it for good will and to show they care about kids and schools."

"We don't make any money from this program," says Katie Shields, of Campbell's. "We spend money."

But, she says, Campbell's enjoys a lot of consumer loyalty from the 35-year program. "Everyone remembers collecting labels as a kid. There are still older ladies who bring in labels to schools."


Betsy Sanner and Alice Oglethorpe, both of the Medill News Service, are students in Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism graduate program.


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