Even in the best of times, funding for needs and programs of schools is largely inadequate — so much so that the idea of holding a bake sale to make up for the needs not addressed in municipal budgets has become proverbial. And now with a pandemic that has closed schools and made the typical “bake sales” fundraisers difficult or impossible to hold, schools and the groups that support them through fundraising are facing new challenges — and, in some cases, new opportunities — in closing school funding gaps.
A problem for prom
When Devin Chubb was elected Associated Student Body President of Patrick Henry High School’s junior class, he and his fellow class officers faced a challenge none of their predecessors had ever faced before. Normally, junior class ASB officers plan and host a Winter Formal — the proceeds from which go into a bank for the following year’s senior graduation events like prom. But with gatherings and large events like dances cancelled, Chubb had to come up with a different way to raise money.
“I realized that [Winter Formal] was not going to be able to be a thing, and if we do go back next year, we need this money in order to have a good senior year,” he said. “The week I was elected in, the first week of ASB, I started looking around at more direct to consumer where there is no in-person, you work with a company online that’s all shipped to people’s houses.”
The junior ASB at Henry has now held three online fundraisers: A holiday decorations (wreaths, etc.) that raised around $600; a holiday shop (candles, snacks, jewelry, etc.) that raised around $400; and an ongoing holiday meals sale that ships out hams and turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas that ends Jan. 1.
“That one has done pretty well so far, we’ve got like $400 and we still got a month to go,” Chubb said, adding that there is also now an online merchandise store that raises money for all of Henry’s classes. “So everything is just switched now, geared to all online since we can’t really do anything at all in-person.”
The online fundraisers help, but will unlikely make up for the kind of money an in-person event like Winter Formal brings in.
“Winter Formal is generally a pretty big fundraiser,” said ASB advisor Autumn Flores, adding that the annual dance held in the early months of the spring semester usually raises between $5,000 and $10,000, depending on the size of the junior class.
Also missing from the junior class fundraising are the weekly frozen yogurt sales and on-campus T-shirt sales, which by this time of year would have raised around $2,000. Still, Flores commended Chubb’s initiative, especially since other classes are even further behind in the fundraising they normally see by this time of year.
“The junior class has been kind of an outlier in that Devin has been incredibly motivated — not that my other officers aren’t motivated, they are — but he’s been very big on fundraisers,” Flores said.
Patrick Henry’s senior class is the most behind because it has lost not only its on-campus T-shirt sales and frozen yogurt sales, it has also lost its two main funding sources — last year’s Winter Formal and the annual Senior Alley where seniors purchase parking spaces they can paint and personalize.
“That’s also a pretty big revenue generator for our senior class, usually between $8,000 and $10,000 from that particular fundraiser,” Flores said, adding that all these kinds of fundraisers go toward making prom night and other graduation events affordable for all of Henry’s students. “Last year, had we had prom, their tickets would have been $3 or, at most, $5.”
So how will senior prom and other grad events be funded when those events are allowed to continue? The short answer is there is no answer yet.
“I have a feeling that some of the things that we might look could mean there may be a year where things are done more modestly,” Flores said. “Normally, we’d have prom at a hotel or a venue. We might be looking at old school hosting our prom in the middle of our quad with outside lights and creating our own venue here.
“To be honest, my seniors probably wouldn’t care as long as they got a prom, but those are the kinds of concession we might be looking at,” she added.
In the meantime, Chubb and his fellow ASB officers are doing what they can in promoting their online fundraisers through alumni social media pages and whatever else will help them get the word out.
“Now with [our fundraising] being all online and these companies ship all over the country, I’ve gotten some sales from like Texas, Maine — all over,” he said, adding that the best way to support his and all the other classes at Henry is by following the school’s ASB Instagram page — @pathenryasb — which lists all current events and fundraisers.
High school associated students aren’t the only groups that have had to make changes in fundraising during the pandemic. PTAs from middle and elementary schools are also replacing their in-person fundraisers with online ones.
“We lost potential major funding from our biggest fundraiser of the entire year because most of it is straight up profit,” said Hardy Elementary School principal Laura Alluin. “We have a large Jog-a-thon scheduled in March or April and that’s our largest fundraiser of the entire school year. Obviously we weren’t able to do that.”
Although Hardy didn’t hold a fundraiser last spring to replace Jog-a-thon, it didn’t really need to because those funds are usually used for school activities like field trips, which were cancelled.
Hardy was also able to carry on with other fundraisers it usually holds — although now moved online — with mixed success. The school continued its Family Dining Days that partners with local restaurants — Corbin’s Q, Woodstock’s Pizza, Chipotle, etc. — that offer a percentage of a night’s sales to the school. The Dining Days had varying degrees of success as restaurants at different times could only offer pick-up and not in-person dining.
The Hardy Dads Club also carried on its usual Christmas tree and greenery sales, with online ordering and payment for the first time.
“I heard it was not as successful as the past two years — there was a rock star family who was very successful who now graduated — but more profitable than the first two years we did it,” Alluin said.
What was successful for Hardy was the online Raise Craze event — a “kindness-a-thon” held as an experiment to replace Jog-a-thon.
“The kids make pledges online saying, ‘I’m going to three acts of kindness.’ … Then they advertised to their friends, families and neighbors and sent out the links that say, ‘Will you pledge money for each act of kindness that I complete?’ And then they had to go back and take photos and write explanations of the kinds of kindness that they did. And the money came rolling in,” Alluin said. The school hit its goal of $5,000 in only two weeks and ended up with over $6,500. “It was a windfall for us and we had no idea how it was going to go.”
Although the Raize Craze brought in much needed funds for Hardy, there was one event that was cancelled where the loss was more than just money.
In the fall, Hardy usually hosts a giant carnival in October that is open to the entire community that involved the Dads Club and other volunteers, including fraternities and sororities from SDSU.
“It’s a deep community connection event and, yes, we make some money, but we put so much money into it that it’s not a huge profit for us,” Alluin said, adding that though the carnival usually raises only about $2,000, the intangibles like new students’ parents meeting the community and the PTA being able to meet and recruit them for membership or help was lost this year.
“And it’s just a fun tradition for us,” she said. “I was like surprisingly emotionally sad about the fact that we couldn’t have it. There was this huge loss to not have it, even though when it’s happening it’s like a major stress and so much hard work.”
Future fundraising plans at Hardy include replacing Jog-a-thon with a Dance-a-thon that can be held socially-distanced with children dancing in hoops safely separated.
Cuts to programs
Not every school has seen the successes that Hardy had with its Raize Craze event. At Phoebe Hearst Elementary, a Move-a-thon event to replace its own Jog-a-thon has so far only raised $32,000 of its $50,000 goal, said Phoebe Hearst PTA president Amara Berg. The PTA extended the end date to the fundraiser in hopes of getting a few additional donations.
“It looks like we’ll be ending that fundraiser at about 57% of our goal. We were able to adjust the net amount and cut some costs that would have normally been associated with running the event which we didn’t have this year so that helped our bottom line,” Berg said.
Even with cutting down some overhead costs of holding the Jog-a-thon event, the deficit in funds raised has meant cuts to programs at Phoebe Hearst.
“We have already cut some items from our budget such as reducing teacher mini-grants, which is money the teachers can use to buy much needed school supplies,” Berg said. “We’re hoping to keep most of our remaining items such as ArtCorps which is an interactive art program for kids. As of now, those items will stay and we will be rolling over less than the desired for next year, but still meeting our minimum goal.”
The school still has other fundraising opportunities for the year including Dine-in events (which Berg pointed out will likely be “dine-outs”) that are similar to Hardy’s Family Dining Days; and a box tops fundraiser where students collect tops of cereal boxes for rebate money from cereal companies.
“We’re hopeful we can meet our goals on those or we may have to look at more cuts in the spring,” Berg added.
And like Hardy, the lack of events is not just about money for the schools.
“It’s a rough time for PTA, and fundraising efforts in general, as we don’t get the same face to face time with parents we normally do — that social interaction is everything and it also helps parents and kids feel more connected,” Berg said. “We did host some non-official off campus events at Lake Murray, but it’s not the same as greeting parents at the gates when they drop off kids and speaking to them in person at the rallies.”
Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, Berg said she is “extremely proud” of her PTA team this year that was able to still provide an “awesome fall” for Phoebe Hearst students.
“We held a Pumpkin Carving contest; the school foundation held a Halloween Parade, and we consistently showed up for supply drop offs and every chance we could get to see our parents and students,” she said.
And although fundraising for these special events and programs is important, Berg pointed out that it is not the most important issue schools, students and parents are facing right now.
“As the PTA president, I can tell you I’ve received a lot of notes and calls from parents eager to get their kids back to school and concerned with the timeline of that possibility. Not one of them has been concerned about our low fundraising,” she said. “I don’t think raising money for the school is high on parents minds right now, but instead they just want their kids back in school. Sadly, I can’t give them the answers they want because I’m in the same boat they are.”
—Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.