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Reading, 'Riting and 'Rithmatic: Lessons Found in Fundraising
by the AFRDS

Innovative teachers turn fundraising programs into learning opportunities

When fourth and fifth graders from a Florida elementary school wanted to raise money for a Christmas charity project, their teacher saw it as an opportunity to illustrate real life lessons in citizenship and business management.

Armed with cardboard boxes carrying ornaments, gifts and baked goods, Bill Snydor's 22 students went to each classroom in the school to sell their homemade wares, making change, keeping track of inventory and recording their progress daily on a chart of expenses, sales and profits. In two weeks, the Broward County students sold 1,700 items earning $1,200 for the Kids in Distress program.

On the other side of the country, California teachers Bonnie McKenna and Sue DeHart shared a dream for a living science lab. So, with the support of their principal, they teamed up to create a student-run business on campus selling giant cookies one day a week after lunch.

From the two classes, they formed three committees - finance, sales and advertising - dividing responsibilities accordingly. Once the students raised $550 on their own, they made a formal business presentation to the local Rotary Club which agreed to match the funds and donate their time and energy to build the science lab. The lab now includes two large raised planters, a drainage system, 16 tons of dirt and gravel and business-savvy students all in a row.

Every fall, school doors open and fundraising programs begin. It's as certain now as fish sticks on Friday used to be. Teachers everywhere are doling out fundraising materials along with homework assignments during the first weeks of school.

"When I had this dream of teaching math, I never thought I was going to have to fundraise in order to do it," 8th grade Algebra teacher Judy Arnemann recently told a group of parents during an open house. But, like Snydor, McKenna and DeHart, Arnemann sees the life-lessons offered through fundraising.

"We want every one of our 8th graders to be able to participate in the class field trip this year," so her students take turns giving up lunch time and recess to sell school decals, popcorn, pickles and soft drinks. Under her supervision, they do everything from popping the popcorn and collecting decal orders to counting the money and delivering the decals. "They quickly figure out how hard you have to work to make money."

Rather than view fundraising as an administrative annoyance, these teachers see it as an opportunity to create a new learning model for students, as well as a means to an end. Over the years, innovative teachers have created lessons in and around school fundraising sales to reinforce basic curriculum requirements.

In the April 1996 issue of Today's Catholic Teacher, education writer Rita Delude teamed up with Daniel Burpee, a field representative for a national fundraising company and former educator, to develop a lesson plan inspired by some of these fundraising lessons. With permission from the magazine's publisher, we've summarized the article here - including a few new suggestions from others experienced in fundraising.

Use this lesson plan to jump-start those teachers who are interested and willing to expand the inevitable fundraising drive into a learning tool.

A Fundraising Lesson Plan

Experts suggest recruiting teachers early to the fundraising process, so they can begin planning one or more learning units centered on the campaign.

Teachers can begin by sending home a note to parents explaining that students will be talking more about this year's fundraiser - not because there's a push to sell more items but instead because the teachers are using it as a chance to bring real-world learning experiences into the classroom. Point out the benefits students will gain from reinforcing oral and written communication skills and math concepts during this period. Ask parents to come into the classroom and discuss their careers. For example, careers in marketing, advertising, writing, design and manufacturing all have direct applications to the business of fundraising.

Once parents are informed, teachers can focus on classroom logistics by dividing students into business teams based on their strengths. Each team should include a strong writer; a good speaker; a mathematician and an organizer, suggest Delude and Burpee.

Develop Planning Skills

Illustrate organizational skills throughout the unit by having students plan and set classroom goals. For example, if the classroom will receive a portion of the proceeds, have each team brainstorm about how the money can be spent. If appropriate, students can also develop a plan for how the school might use the remaining proceeds for presentation to the school administration or parent group responsible for the fundraiser.

Offer Oratory Opportunities

Delude and Burpee also suggest a few ideas for developing oral presentation skills:

  • Have each team create a sales presentation or a skit to simulate a kick-off meeting. If a sales representative visits the school to talk about the fundraising activity, discuss the similarities and differences the representative used to make his or her presentation appealing.

  • If there is a particularly strong group of presenters, consider including these students in school-wide kick-off plans.

  • Have teams create a sales pitch to present to their family and friends. If time allows, students could even create jingles or commercials.

    Important Note: Remind students that they should only speak to parents, relatives and close neighbors whom they have permission to approach. Stress the importance of adult supervision.

Team-Up Writing and Art Units

Creative teachers often combine student academic goals with art, music and other disciplines. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Ask each team to create an advertising campaign that might include bulletin board displays, posters for the hallways, parent flyers, lunchroom tabletents, PA announcements and slogans for the school's outdoor reader board.

  • Have students create letters to parents explaining how the money from this fundraising campaign will be spent. Swapping letters among the different business teams offer opportunities for peer editing.

  • After the campaign is over, students can compose thank-you letters to the parent volunteers who organized the event, as well as individual supporters who purchased items to help make it a success.

Add a Mathematics Component

Product fundraising drives are good opportunities to incorporate a number of math lessons, according to Delude and Burpee. They offer these ideas:

  • Allow students to tally the classroom's daily or weekly sales - by item and dollar amount.

  • Compare the classroom's progress to the overall goal for the school.

  • By dividing the number of students by each total, younger students will have an opportunity to perform simple division.

  • Older students can develop basic statistical concepts of mean and median using real-life calculations.

  • To reinforce weights and measures concepts, have students determine the weight of each box of candies or individual candy bars. Then multiply by total items that were sold to determine the total sales in ounces, pounds, tons.

  • If the case of a brochure sale, have students take the total price of all the various items sold in a brochure and divide by the number of items for sale to determine the average price of products sold.

  • Ask each team to create a graph for charting sales by team and/or class. Or develop a graph to chart what items were the top-sellers (e.g., candy vs. gift wrap vs. gift items in a brochure sale; or sports magazines vs. news vs. general interests magazines, etc.).

  • Most fundraising items are paid for in the form of check. For older students, provide a unit on checks and check writing. Younger students can practice counting change and discussing money amounts.

Career Options

End the unit by asking teams to develop a list of possible careers that might be connected to a fundraising campaign. (e.g., advertising, marketing, accounting, distribution, packaging, manufacturing, writing and publishing). Invite a guest to come and speak to your class and make comparisons between what the students are learning and what happens in the world of work.

These are just a few suggestions for stimulating a learning environment around a school fundraiser. A creative teacher who is motivated to support the fundraiser will have many innovative ideas for teaching valuable lessons centered on the one or two weeks of a fundraising campaign.

Even though these are the same skills one might teach at any other time of the year, lessons have a heightened sense of reality when students can relate them to an event that impacts their lives. The value of a properly handled fundraising campaign can go far beyond the obvious financial reward.

References: PTA Today, May/June 1994; Miami Herald, December 19, 1995; and excerpts with permission from Today's Catholic Teacher, April 1996.

About the Author:

This article is from the Fall 2000 issue of the Fundraising Edge, an online publication of the Association of Fund-Raising Distributors and Suppliers, and is reprinted with permission. Visit their web site at for more information and a look at the complete issues of the Fundraising Edge.

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