It’s not illegal if you give ’em a shiny lanyard…

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Mornin’ all.

Welp, it happened.

I can’t say I’m surprised. I’ve been around long enough to sense it in the air; a heavy, oppressive yet nearly undefinable foreboding. Still, with everything going on right now, I have to admit that it caught me a bit off guard.

It sits there on the printer, no bigger than a common magazine. And yet somehow, it looms.

Yes, folks. A new school year has begun and that means it’s….school fundraiser time.

*collective groan*

To you parents out there who groaned, I assume you either groaned in commiseration or groaned because your kids haven’t brought The Packet home yet and I just reminded you it’s coming. If it’s the latter, I’m sorry. But, isn’t it better that it comes from a friend?

Fundraisers. I know they have to happen. Schools are massively underfunded and they need every penny they can get. It’s not the fundraising concept I’m opposed to at all. I get it, I’m on board. I clip the Box Tops for Education and soup labels. I kick in a couple bucks to add to the begging bowl at community events. I send my kids to school all kitted out so they use as few of the schools’ supplies as possible. I do my part. I KNOW schools need to raise extra money.

However, there are two problems I have with these classic take-home fundraisers: what they sell and how little they actually earn for the school.

See the basic gist of this scheme is this: A company makes/purchases massive amounts of super cheap items. Crap. Junk you’d never really want unless your kid is staring at you with a hope in his eyes that makes you buy out of guilt. After they get the pile of garbage, they need a way to sell it. It would be too much work and take too much effort to set up a store, and it’s really a hassle to waste a Saturday behind the table of a flea market. Why put in the time and effort when it’s much easier to tap into the millions of child laborers we have available in this country?

“Bethie! No child laborers. Bad, bad Bethie.”

Hey, don’t turn that wagging finger at me. I’m not the one roping little children into shilling dollar store crap for absurd prices to strangers. I’m firmly against child labor.

…unless it’s my own kids and the laundry pile has gotten too high.

So they’ve got all this junk, and want the little kids of the nation to sell it for them while they rake in the cash. Seems like a rock solid business plan! Now, how to get the kids to actually do this? And be excited enough not to just take the money and run off to Tahiti?

Enter the Prizes.

The company who wants to pimp this shit comes into a school and gathers the kiddies for an assembly. Right there, it’s already pretty much a done deal. Who doesn’t want to get out of class for awhile? They’ve already won the adoration of their future salespeople. But then, just to make absolutely certain they’ve sealed the deal, they they whip out and dangle the Prizes.

“OOooo…prizes…”

Having a flashback to your own childhood fundraisers, are you? It’s okay. I’ll give you a minute to remember the disco ball you could never win.

The Prizes are awarded for selling. Basic commission, only instead of giving actual useful money, they give the kids…more dollar store crap! You sell one thing, you get a lanyard. It’s neon, though, so you know it’s a good one. You sell five things, you get a lanyard AND an eraser! …and on and on. You sell enough and you can amass about five whole dollars worth of junk.

Ah, but it doesn’t actually end there. At the very end of the presentation, once the kids are already dreaming of the lanyard, the eraser, AND the super bouncy ball, then, then they bring out the big guns, the top tier Prizes, ones there’s no way in hell they actually have to hand out. These are real, legitimate Prizes, things like a tv, or a game console, or a tablet… And you only have to sell 500 items to get one. What kid WOULDN’T come home jumping with excitement at the prospect of getting themselves a new tv without having to spend ANY money at all?

Let me tell you from experience, poor kids jump even higher. *sigh*

This year the packet my son brought home is by a fundraising company called Genevieve’s. I think they’re based in Massachusetts, though their company website is insanely light on info. They are members of AFRDS (Association of Fund-Raising Distributors & Suppliers….yes, that’s a thing), which we’ll talk about later. I guess they’re legit. No one gets the AFRDS stamp without being on the up and up! …right?

So what are they selling? Let’s flip open the booklet and have a look.

…Oh. It’s multiple catalogs. O…kay… I don’t know why they do this. Seems a bit confusing. And all of them are on super high gloss, full color, card stock thick paper. Glad to know that not a penny of the funds my kid will work his ass off to earn will go to waste! Hm. I suppose we go for the big one first.

Gak! Two more catalogs fell out. Good god, why don’t they just put it all in one?? I gave it another shake and that seems to be all the surprises, so let’s open ‘er up and have a look.

Oh, this is a pleasant surprise! It says right on the cover of the main catalog that over half their items are under $10. Indeed, the first item IS under $10. It’s a $9 set of window clings for Christmas. It includes one small snowman that looks like it was drawn and cut out by a blind monkey, 9 letters that spell out “Let it snow,” also in hideous writing, and a handful of colored dots. Uh, pass.

Reindeer gift tags for $8. Oops, sorry. “Elegant Reindeer Gift Tags.” My bad. I wouldn’t want you to think they weren’t elegant. There are ten of them in the set for $8. Guess elegance is pricey.

Maybe I’ll skip through the Christmas stuff. Surely there’s something in the kitchen gadgets I like.

*flip flip* *finger lick* *flip*

Ah, here we are. Kitchen stuff. Plastic toast press, to imprint “Good Morning” on your bread before you toast it, $10. Yikes. That’s a bit high for a couple inches of cheap plastic. Boiled egg slicer. $12?! Orange juicer, the star-shaped kind you just mash an orange on…$17!?! Are they out of their friggin’ minds?! $18 for a terracotta baking dish with lid. Hm, okay, that actually doesn’t sound too bad…until you realize it’s a banana baking dish, only large enough to fit “one medium banana” inside.

The wrapping paper is $9/roll. Nine bucks. The chocolates are $9/5 oz. Five little ounces!! And we won’t even get into how much the “salsa pitcher” costs…or how ass ugly it looks…or how stupid of an idea a pitcher for salsa is in the first place. I have a pitcher for my salsa. It’s called the jar and it comes free with every purchase.

The main catalog is a bust. Let’s look at some of the inserts. One is titled “The Essentials Collection”. When you see “Essential” on anything being sold, you instantly know two things: it’s overpriced, and it’s not, in any way, essential. This catalog lives up to those ideas in spades. It’s filled with hand creams that cost $21.95, candles that cost $24.95, and…I guess it’s jewelry(?) for $29.95. See, in this one, they round down by five cents to let you know you’re really getting a good bargain.

The next is a chocolate catalog. Mmmm. Chocolate. Let’s flip it open and…

HOLY MOTHER OF…$15 for NINE ounces of “banana cream filled monkeys”. I quit this one already. *tosses catalog aside*

“Genevieve’s Gourmet”. Uh oh. Do we even dare crack this puppy open? Screw it. We’ve come this far down the rabbit hole. Might as well see it through.

“Well? Come on, Bethie! What’s inside?”

Things. Delicious, tasty things. There are coffee cakes and danishes. There are cookies and brownies and chowders. There are cinnamon buns and honey buns and whoopie pies as far as the eye can see.

“Oooh! Yay!”

…and you only have to take out a second mortgage to pay for them.

“Okay, yes, Bethie, it’s expensive. But that’s because the school gets so much.”

Does it? Does it really? Okay, Mr. Smartypants. Show me how much the school gets. Go to the website, and find where Genevieve’s lists its stats.

That’s right, you can’t. Genevieve’s fundraising company does not offer any information at all about how much of the proceeds actually make it into the school coffers. In fact, they list the top three reasons why your non-profit should choose Genevieve’s for your fundraising needs. They are, “Your local and knowledgeable sales rep!”, “Unique brand names your supporters know and trust!”, and “Promotions! Some even with entertainment centers you frequent.” Um…so…NOT to make money for the school?

If I owned a fundraising company that really did leave a good cut for the school, I’d broadcast that loud and proud. Wouldn’t you? Yet nowhere on Genevieve’s website does it say what my school will get from the hard work my kid puts in.

Which brings me to my real problem with these types of fundraisers: how little the school actually gets.

I mentioned the AFRDS (again, it’s real. I cannot make this shit up.). Since Genevieve’s site had nothing about what kind of a check they’ll cut the school, I went to the AFRDS website to see what their guidelines are for members. The are, after all, an official Association. Oooh. And they do not, in fact, allow just any fundraising company to join. They claim to have strict ethical guidelines. Sounds promising!

In their FAQ, they have the very question listed that I wanted to ask. “What percent of fundraising sales should organizations receive?”

This is their answer, pulled verbatim from the AFRDS website:

“Percentages of sales offered to non-profit groups vary widely depending on the type of products being sold and the services offered by the fundraising company. Too often, fundraising coordinators equate financial success directly with the percentage of gross sales that their group will keep. Rather, volunteers should be focused on how the combination of product quality, company services, and percent of profit to be received will all work together to help the organization meet its total fundraising goal.”

Have you ever heard a more bullshitty bullshit answer? First they blame the non-profit organization for actually expecting to make some money for their group (the nerve of those non-profits!) and then they say the “fundraising” companies should work their smarm and intentionally evade what is an utterly reasonable question…the ONLY question a non-profit should have for the company.

The AFRDS claims they are ethical. Roll that one around for a minute. They “ethically” tell their representatives to do all but lie to a non-profit organization about how little money they’ll make if they send their minor children out for two weeks to pound the pavement selling dollar store quality garbage to strangers while they dream of hyped-up neon lanyards. Those are the proud ethics of this noble association.

I tell you what. I’m not going to buy anything from this catalog, or the million others that fell out when I opened it. Instead, I’m starting my own association. “Bethie’s Association for Donations And School Support”. Or, as we like to call it, BADASS.

Any members of BADASS simply need to send $5 into the school of their choice. And that’s it. The school will receive 100% of the profits, your children will remain children and not overworked, unpaid child laborers. You won’t flood your community with dollar store garbage and guilt, and you won’t have to hold a crying kid when the neon lanyard he busted chops to get breaks within a day.

BADASS. Make it happen.

Thus concludes a rather lengthy Musing for Tuesday, September 9, 2014. Sorry, folks. I tend to get wordy when I’m all het up.

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