Popcorn and cookies and magazines…oh my!
If you have school-aged children, you are probably bombarded every fall with fundraisers. For my kids, it’s usually a fundraiser for each of their respective schools, one for each of their school’s PTAs, and then, of course, one for each extracurricular group they are involved in. I currently have one Cub Scout, one Girl Scout, and one Boy Scout. It just so happens that none of them are playing any sports this fall. Otherwise, I’m sure we would have one for that, too.
The level of organization varies substantially with each of these fundraisers and the level of expected parent involvement varies, too. I have to come to realize, though, that I really appreciate those fundraisers that are designed not only to raise money but also to teach the kids important skills.
The Girl Scouts actually discourages referring to these activities as fundraisers and encourages calling them money-earning activities. The distinction is not lost on me. When the girls participate, they are working hard to earn funds for their own troop and council programs.
Lessons painfully learned as a child
Watching my kids embrace and/or hide from their various fundraisers has been interesting to me. I’ll be honest. I absolutely hated doing fundraisers as a kid. I was painfully shy and not really motivated by the prizes they offered. It always felt like a chore to me. That said, two of my three kids have really embraced the fundraising and get excited by both a chance to talk to people they don’t usually talk to (I have some chatterboxes!) and by the chance to win prizes. Fortunately, my family, friends, and neighbors have been incredibly supportive of their endeavors. While I never really enjoyed fundraising as a kid, I will admit that I learned many of my first lessons as an entrepreneur when I was participating in them.
My First Entrepreneurial Lessons
So, what could possibly be learned from selling candy bars and other things that nobody needs?
I think one of the most important things that I learned doing fundraising as a child is how to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals. Goals were often set based on the prizes that I could earn but the prize levels were also based on what was reasonable. Each fundraiser ran for a specific period of time so my goals were always time-bound. They were also relevant to me because they were based on prizes I wanted to earn.
Asking for the sale:
Asking people to buy things has never come naturally for me. It was a very difficult lesson for me to learn. That said, like anything else, the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Now, watch my 6-year-old and it’s a whole different ballgame. You may have his story about finding an angel investor for his lemonade stand last summer. Last weekend, we were selling Cub Scout popcorn at a station outside of Giant Eagle, a local grocery store. As one of the customers walked past him, he told her that she should buy some popcorn. He did more than that, though. He told her that she should buy the tin he was holding (which happened to be the most expensive item on the table). Well, you know what? She did. He said it politely, firmly and with confidence. I’m sure his 4-foot stature and adorable smile didn’t hurt either.
My daughter, who was selling chocolates, nuts, and magazines for Girl Scouts was very clear on the prizes she wanted to earn for her fall fundraiser. She quickly realized the more she people she asked, the more sales she would achieve. So, she just kept asking day after day. She took her order form to school and to family functions. Nobody likes to be told, “no” but she really does seem to have embraced that every “no” got her closer to another “yes.” I have to admit I was really proud of the way she persevered. My daughter is nine years old and this was the first fundraiser where I saw her get so focused and keep working toward her goal.
To be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be fairly independent. There are lots of gurus out there who will tell you how to do this, that or the other but at the end of the day, you have to do the work. If you are an entrepreneur, nobody is going to achieve your goals for you. This is probably both my favorite part of fundraising with my kids and the biggest challenge for me all wrapped into one.
For the most part, my kids are pretty independent, especially with just a little bit of encouragement. Sometimes they don’t follow through on things, though. It’s very frustrating to watch as an observer but I think it’s also an important lesson for them to learn. The reality is that there are lots of adults who don’t follow through on things either. After a couple of reminders, I have to remind myself that knowing what it feels like not to achieve goals and/or missing out on opportunities is an important lesson, too.
I know lots of parents who essentially do the fundraisers for their kids. That, or they buy a bunch of stuff from the fundraisers so their kids will reach the prize they are trying to achieve. I’ll be honest and say I think they are selling their kids short. As a child, I always wished my mom would do my fundraisers for me like I saw other people’s parent do. If she had, I’m not so sure I would have had the confidence and skills to go into business for myself.
Participating in fundraisers at an early age taught me that I could achieve the goals I set for myself. It taught me that it was worth it. I learned hard skills like counting money and giving change. I also learned soft skills like taking risks and how to talk to others. While I don’t think I will ever look forward to being bombarded by fundraisers every fall, I do enjoy watching the success of my children. Who knows? Maybe they will take these lessons to heart and grow up to be entrepreneurs one day.
I would love to hear about what you learned from fundraising either as a child or as a parent. Share your stories in the comments.