A mom and daughter duo did the math on a school fundraiser selling products door-to-door and turned an economics lesson into a real-life epiphany.

By Kristi Pahr
September 16, 2019
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On top of the struggle of keeping kids on a school schedule, getting homework done, and shuffling extracurriculars, there's one thing we all dread more than the morning grumps and forgotten lunch boxes combined: the school fundraiser. When fundraiser time comes around, you know you're in for complicated order forms, kitschy products, and the constant push to "Sell more! Get prizes!"

One mom, posting in the r/Parenting subreddit, decided to use the school fundraiser to give her daughter a little economics lesson. "My daughter was super excited about this, mainly because of the prizes," explained the mom, posting under Reddit username Hypeipemommie. "But I had my concerns. I told her she could participate only if she sat down with me and did the math to know what she was getting into. As one should at the start of any new business venture. She agreed."

So the pair broke out the calculators and a spreadsheet and went to work crunching numbers and compiling data. "We found statistics on how long it takes to make a successful door-to-door sale. She also asked some of her older school friends how long it took them to make the average sale," explained the mom."Then, we did some research on how much the company takes, compared to how much goes to the school. Shockingly, about 48%. Then we figured how many points are made per dollar of sales. And found a way to equate points to USD by finding the prizes sold online, and coming up with an approximate dollar value of a point." What they discovered left a definite bad taste in their mouths.

Turns out, as approximately no parent will be surprised to hear, this kind of school fundraiser is...uh, kinda scammy.

The duo based their calculations on the number of points students earn per sale and the dollar value of points earned: "If she raised $100, we estimated the school would get $52, the company would get $44 and her prize would be about $4 worth. She thought that was unfair the school wasn't getting more even though that's what the fundraiser was for. And that her 'pay' would be so little."

The mom left participation in the fundraiser up to the daughter (now that she had the data), and the daughter not only declined to participate but also took the spreadsheet to school to show her friends.

A few days later, the mom heard from her daughter's teacher. Apparently there was a spreadsheet floating around the class criticizing the fundraiser and providing links to the various prizes on Amazon—and the administration wasn't thrilled. Wanting to support her daughter but unsure how to proceed with being called to the principal's office, the mom took to Reddit for some advice from fellow parents and they did not disappoint.

Redditor Linuxhiker said, "OP is a good parent and teaching the value of time is important. My response to the school would be, 'As educators, you should be educated in the cost/benefit analysis you are asking my child to participate in.' And remember, it isn't just your child's time, it is yours as well."

"Good for you for teaching your child to use critical thinking skills to follow the money," said Chivil61. "Those fundraisers are BS. Kids are forced to guilt adults into purchasing low-quality, overpriced crap, to benefit a corporate fundraiser. (We had these as a kid, and I'm so glad my kids' schools don't use these.) At the meeting, I would focus on the fact that you simply showed your daughter to take a critical look at how these fundraisers operate. You did not encourage her to dissuade others from participating. You could suggest that this is a wonderful opportunity for students to brainstorm other fundraising activities that are more efficient, don't require parents to buy a bunch of crap, and don't funnel money to some fundraising company."

Hopefully, mom doesn't get detention for creating dissension in the ranks by teaching her daughter basing economics and the valuable life lesson that her time and effort have value.

If you're wondering about the economics or scam-potential of your child's school fundraiser, follow these tips from the Better Business Bureau to weed out sketchy operations:

  • Check out a selling organization on the Better Business Bureau's website.
  • Find out what percentage of a sale goes directly to the school.
  • Never make out a check or credit card payment to an individual, only a school or business.
  • If something feels wrong (or emotionally manipulative), trust your gut and steer clear.
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