Back-to-School Fundraising Tips That Don’t Involve Selling Candy Bars

Geek that I am, I always reveled at back-to-school time. The thrill of new clothes, fresh books and supplies, new teachers, classes and friends. I still fantasize that I might one day yet find my way into academia, perfectly content to live life within the order and hefty vacation schedule of the academic calendar.

But for now, back-to-school time has it’s own special resonance. As the mother of two elementary school-aged children, THANK GOD is the sentiment that immediately comes to mind. Having spent the summer unemployed for the first time in years, I spent an inordinate amount of time with my kids hitting the beach (“Do we have to go the beach again?”), parks and other Los Angeles cultural attractions.

My children attend public school in Los Angeles. (The discomfort this fact has caused my well-heeled colleagues in the past has never been lost on me. The lean back of the head, with a breathy, “Ohhh!” which tries to feign positivity when it is clear they are thinking a combination of, “Poor things,” and “Animals!”) We live in a cool, dynamic community that deserves good schools for all — we certainly pay more than enough property tax for it. A growing groundswell of inspired bourgeois parents are turning the frustration of having limited options around and are instead galvanized to volunteer and pitch in to help raise the educational standard of our schools. Because busing kids across town to charter school can’t be the answer for everyone.

So, what Back-to-School really means to legions of parents is Back-to-FUNDRAISING. It is indeed galling that we fundraise to pay for what were basics in this state back in the 70’s – arts education and supplies, P.E., library, computers, teacher’s aides, field trips, etc. But public school is no longer free, at least if we want it to have the attributes (let alone the bells and whistles) the private schools do.

We need to streamline our fundraising efforts so we can A) avoid donation fatigue and B) get what we need for our kids, without turning them (and us) into hawkers selling candy, wrapping paper and other crap.

Here are some ideas and efforts our community is focusing on:

Grant Writing & Branding
If we spend more time researching and writing grants, and less time walking door-to-door selling junk, we’ll have opportunity for more meaningful volunteer work or family time. There has been talk of corporate advertising on campuses and at this point having a sign saying “This school is brought to you by Target” sounds pretty good.

Fundraising Events – Exploit Community Resources
School carnivals are ubiquitous (and a nightmare to orchestrate), but they bring in the bucks. Since we live in the entertainment capital of the world, I’m interested in starting a film festival or charity concert to engage some of the local talent in supporting their local schools –- while inspiring the general public to buy tickets.

Annual Fund
Times are tough so the goal at our school is for 100% family participation in donating to the Annual Fund. For some folks that means forgoing a meal of fast food, for others it means donating the equivalent of a month of pre-school tuition per child ($750 – $1000 each). Yep, it hurts but again, the public school we want is no longer free (unless perhaps Proposition 13 ever gets repealed).

As a nation it will take nothing less than the driving, passionate love we have for our children to create change in our schools. What are innovative ideas your school has done to fundraise?

Liberty Bradford is an artist, educator and social justice advocate. Her website, launched in July, 2011.

About the Author

author image

Liberty Bradford is an artist, educator and social justice advocate. Her website, is launching in July 2011.

Read more from Liberty Bradford

Sign Up for's Weekly Must-Read

More Posts from Architects of Change