Category Archives: Fundraising

For “Giving Tuesday,” Can I Give Back All My Free Address Labels?

Black Friday – the biggest shopping day of the year for the brick & mortar establishments – is followed three days later by Cyber Monday – the most popular online shopping day. And since you already have your credit cards out and are floating on that high that only comes from the combination of spending a lot of money and getting a really great deal, some brilliant philanthropists (and of course some savvy marketers) came up with today’s Giving Tuesday. They figure that we have one day for giving thanks and two for getting deals, so why not balance it out and create another day for giving back? And by “giving back,” they don’t mean the return line at Wal-Mart after you’ve developed buyer’s remorse.

I think Giving Tuesday is a great idea and I hope it catches on like wildfire. Especially for those people who don’t really think about charities until the end of the year tax write-off, I think it’s a wonderful way to initiate the recognition of worthy charities and hopefully start instilling a desire to help those in need, without expecting a fancy meal and a door prize in return.

Even though I completely encourage Giving Tuesday, today won’t necessarily be a special day for me. I try to be a giver year-round, not just on some new cyber-Hallmark holiday akin to Secretary’s Day. My kids will probably joke that I like to give them crap (although they wouldn’t actually the word “crap” or I’d really give them crap), but I wouldn’t hesitate a second to donate a kidney, a lung, or even half a brain if I could spare it. I enjoy volunteering my time in the community, and I even get a kick out of donating blood. And I don’t do it for the free carbs and a sticker.

I’ve never had a garage sale. I prefer to donate my gently-used items to charities, although one organization that I’ll just call Charity-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named came to pick up my bags of goods one day and instead left a note that said “Landfills are expensive.” Apparently the jacket good enough for me to wear the day before was unfit for a homeless person living in a box on a freeway offramp.

Ever since I started making enough money to eat something more extravagant than air-popped popcorn and off-brand macaroni and cheese, I’ve been giving to charities. Whether it was a Girl Scout selling over-priced cookies outside the market, a friend participating in a walk, jog, run or jump-a-thon, or some tear-jerker infomercial, my checkbook was always out. In the early 1990’s I was doing quite well financially and probably donated to 40 different charities annually. I’d send $25 to anything that came in the mail and more if the request was solicited by a friend.

But for the past few years we have been in financial dire straits, and I now have to be more choosey about charities.

The problem is, like pesky gum on your shoe that you just can’t scrape off, I seem to be in these charity databases for life. To them I’m still a potential donor left over from previous flush years, and I still might have sympathy and disposable income left to burn.

They don’t just send a form letter. What really irks me are the gilt-ridden gifts I don’t need or ask for that are smuggled along with the letter. I receive glossy photos of a malnourished child in Africa, a sad-eyed pup that’s about to be euthanized, or baby seals stuck in muck. They send calendars filled with 12 months of those plighted children, puppies, and baby seals. I get incredibly cheap-looking Christmas or greeting cards that I just pass on to some other charity. And if I had a dime for every time I got a dime from the March of Dimes… wait! I do have a lot of dimes!

Even though they may be attempting to stretch that donated dollar as tightly as possible by paying bargain basement prices on these presents, I’m concerned that they might be manufacturing these gifts in 3rd World Countries with the same horrible conditions they’re hoping to wipe out from the lives of plighted children, puppies, and baby seals.

But the most prevalent gifts are the ubiquitous address labels. I have probably received a billion of them in a variety of “Miss,” “Ms.” and “Mrs.,” “Cathy” or “Catherine,” and even some with the married names I never took.

Even though I didn’t ask for them, I’ll keep the labels and these days I probably won’t end up donating to their charity. I used to feel guilty about it, but it’s not like anyone else has any use for them. I can’t fill up a donation box of “Cathy Flynn – Valley Village, CA” labels for Charity-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and hope that Mr. Homeless Man in a Box can find them constructive, with the exception of using them to tape up leaky holes in his habitat.

I like to use the labels for as my contact information on charity raffle tickets rather than handwrite the same lines 100 times. The money may not be going to the optimistic organization that printed and mailed those address labels, but at least it’s still going to a good cause.

Two weeks ago I donated about 20 bags of clothing to the Superstorm Sandy victims, and then gave literally a truckload of household items to our local public middle school during their Goodwill drive. We have a monthly credit card payment to our public elementary school as well as my local public radio station since I’d be a complete thief to listen to NPR as often as I do without paying something for it. And since I don’t really know today how I’m going to pay for those credit card charges next month, I’m praying that even if I’m a contributor this year, it won’t tip me over the financial cliff so far that I’ll be one of those charity recipients next year.

I guess the bright side is – if we lose the house I won’t need to worry about what to do with all those return address labels. I doubt those charities will be able to find me at my new home next door to the Homeless Guy in a Box.

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Filed under Anxiety, Debt, Financial Insecurity, Fundraising, Humor, Public Schools, Volunteering

Why Can’t the Real World Be Like Our Little Restaurant Fundraisers?

Mrs. Walker with kindergartners

Like other schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, our local elementary school has been hit hard by budget cuts. Just last month Colfax Charter Elementary’s School Site Council voted to allocate an additional $68,000 to pay for five classroom aides, office staff, and our librarian – funds that in the past were paid for by the district, but are now paid for by the parents.

Besides an impressive 2011 API score of 910, Colfax is attractive to the families of Valley Village for its commitment to the arts, green program, and technology – all which are principally paid for by parent-run fundraisers.

Today it takes a lot more than bake sales to raise that kind of cash. Our annual giving campaign is in full swing, aiming to raise at least the $600 per child it takes to keep the school’s programs afloat. An outdoor movie night, holiday boutique and the upcoming Turkey Trot fundraiser will also hopefully make a dent in our stretched budget.

Last Tuesday we had a double-header, or what I called The Freeway Series minus the freeway. Green Apple China Bistro and Cold Stone Creamery are located in the same Studio City strip mall across from each other, and they both agreed to donate a percentage of their sales back to Colfax.

Teachers and our principal scooping ice cream

On our end, we did a little bit of advertising. We put flyers in all the kids’ backpacks, posted signs around the school entrances, advertised the day on our marquee, added the event to our weekly email blast to all the Colfax families, and made the announcement at our Monday morning assembly.

Green Apple and Cold Stone gave us a percentage of all sales for the day, and as an added incentive, the teachers were invited to scoop ice cream in 15-minute shifts.

Cold Stone line out the door 1

A good bake sale can bring in a hundred dollars, maybe even two. It takes a lot of manpower to make and sell the baked goods, a lot of dough in eggs and flour, and a lot of waste from unsold merchandise. Still, a hundred or two is a boost that can pay for some art supplies or repair a computer.

Yet in one day, these combined restaurant fundraisers brought our school nearly $1000! There was a steady line of customers streaming out the door for two solid hours at Cold Stone, and because the teachers volunteered, they didn’t need to pay for extra bodies during the busy hours.

Teachers scooping ice cream

It’s quite the win-win for all of us. Colfax gains a big wad of money, and the only expense was about $20 in copies for the flyers. The restaurants get a nice tax write-off, and a little bit of free advertising. They also get increased business for the day, and hopefully new loyal customers who will return again and again to thank the businesses that support their local school. The parents get a delicious meal and dessert, and didn’t have to pay a penny more than they normally would if they were going out to dinner. The kids have a great time seeing their teachers outside of school and giving them their order for a change. There’s a strong sense of community as the families have an opportunity to socialize.

Cold Stone line out the door 2

Don’t you think this could be a lesson for the rest of our ailing nation? Why don’t the big businesses give back to their community? Not just a tax write off, but something like 20 – 25%. Like the teachers, the community leaders should volunteer some of their time to mingle with their constituents and get their hands a little dirty (with ice cream, not with whatever muck dirty politicians swim in). The citizens will love those big businesses even more for helping them out and they will in turn become more loyal customers. The real winners will be the kids who get to reap the benefits of better school and a stronger community. And everyone has a good time in the process.

In a perfect world…

But until then, I’ll be buying my ice cream from Cold Stone and my Chinese food from Green Apple. And so will my kids. And then maybe even their kids.

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Filed under Financial Insecurity, Fundraising, Humor, Parenting, Public Education, Public Schools, Volunteering