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Fundraisers that make the grade for Chicago area schools and organizations

These days schools are faced with dozens of options for raising funds. Students can sell candy bars or magazine subscriptions, frozen cookie dough or wrapping paper. But educators say the most successful fundraisers not only raise money, but also help their students learn and serve others.

For 36 years, the American Heart Association has helped hundreds of schools raise money while sharing with kids the importance of heart health through its hugely popular Jump Rope for Heart program, says Kelly Poskonka, vice president of the youth market for greater Chicagoland for the American Heart Association.

“A history of tradition is a key reason why this fundraiser works,” she says. “It is a cause that touches home with a lot of people and is known in almost every household. When schools start this program, they do it for years.”

Not only do students raise money through jumping rope, an educational component is provided for classroom use, she says.

“It doesn’t require anything outside of the school day and works right into the physical education curriculum,” she says.

One of the most successful schools with the Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser has been Pleasant Ridge in Glenview, which raised $65,262 for Jump Rope for Heart during the 2013-14 school year. It was the fourth-ranked school in the nation out of more than 33,000 schools that participated and number one in Illinois.

“Even though there’s a donation tied to it, first and foremost it’s about educating the schools and community on heart health, being physically active, having fun and helping others,” she says. “At Pleasant Ridge, it has become a tradition that has built momentum over the years.”

At the Science& Arts Academy in Des Plaines, fundraisers are used to introduce concepts including empathy, compassion and kindness as part of the Social Emotional Learning Program, says Carolyn Manley, school counselor for the school.

Fundraising programs include a trick-or-treat fundraiser for UNICEF, a “Cut for a Cause” fundraiser to support those living with cancer and an Earth Day fundraiser for the World Wildlife Fund, as well as Jump Rope for Heart.

“While students learn about themselves and their relationship to the larger community and the world, they are often exposed to issues of concern, such as homelessness, poverty and hunger,” she says. “We encourage students to become passionate about causes and explore ways that they can take action and impact the larger community. Thus, students have been enabled to take ownership over fundraising efforts by creating proposals and leading fundraising projects to benefit causes of their choice.”

The school also sells gift cards to support the school’s Family School Association. Cathy Morrison, dean of communications at Lake Forest Academy, says a successful relationship within their community is key to raising money for the school.

“First and foremost, every gift, from every member of our community in any amount, large or small, matters,” she says. “We frequently hear from alumni who feel LFA changed their lives and they want to give back to show their appreciation and ensure the next generation of students has access to the transformative experience they had.”

Donors can give through the annual giving program called the Academy Fund, and the school also has used fundraisers including matching gifts and peer-to-peer fundraising.

“For all donors, fundraising is a way of ‘paying it forward,’” she says.

Catholic schools are well known for their fundraising, from carnivals to raffle tickets to candy bars, says Lynn Fredrick, advancement consultant for the Office of Catholic Schools, Archdiocese of Chicago.

Schools are launching advancement programs to help relieve the fundraising pressure and are holding annual events that remain a family tradition long after their child has left the school.

Popular annual events include auctions, dinners, races and even haunted houses.

“These programs are a staple for most parish schools in the archdiocese and they are necessary because the tuition that parents pay does not cover the full cost of the education their children receive,” she says. “The resulting gap must be covered by support from the parish, perhaps from outside funding sources, and by fundraising programs.”

Part of Making the Grade, a special advertising education guide.

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