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Those endless fundraisers! Good causes can upset family finances, lifestyles

Mary Ellen Prentice knows fundraising.

With six children, ages 6 to 21, there isn't a season of the year when the Amherst family isn't selling something to raise money for some worthy cause.

Usually it's for one of the children's school or club sport teams, like softball, baseball, soccer, volleyball, cheerleading or football. But it could be for a band or orchestra trip, or the PTA, Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, or the National Honor Society, or -- you get the picture.

Prentice put together a list of what family members have sold, purchased or donated recently.

"Holy cow!" she said. "It's an extremely long list of what we've done over the past several years."

They've collected empty bottles, washed cars and sold hot dogs, raffle tickets, candy bars, Dine-A-Mate Books, T-Shirts, Entertainment books, Anderson coupon books, visors, Zap-A-Snacks, oranges, grapefruit, candles, Easter candy, chicken barbecues, plants, pancakes, cookies, popcorn and magazines.

Some of the fundraisers come annually. Sometimes they take place concurrently. Sometimes two of the children will be selling the same items at the same time.

Now Prentice's husband, Jim, is helping to raise money for an all-purpose athletic field at Sweet Home Central High School.

"It seems like everybody has things to sell," she said.

According to the Association of Fundraising Distributors and Suppliers, schools and other nonprofit groups raise $1.7 billion every year by selling products. As the economy weakens, the need for fundraising could increase, according to the association.

"It's our feeling that schools, families and the fundraising industry overall would be better off if we ran fewer fundraisers, but ran them more efficiently," said Jon Krueger, a spokesman for the association.

Many families won't argue with that philosophy.

Schools also are concerned about the amount of fundraising, and many have policies that restrict the number going on at one time.

At Sweet Home Central, fundraisers must be approved by the building principal and the superintendent. That allows a calendar to be established so there are no conflicts or fundraisers occurring at the same time in the same building, said district spokesman Donald Feldmann.

The Prentices usually allow their children to ask close relatives and neighbors to purchase items.

Fundraisers usually have goals for each student, and if grandma and the neighbor down the street don't buy enough, that often leaves mom and dad to pick up the slack -- or the candy bar.

But the family budget doesn't always have enough for all the fundraisers, so families have developed some strategies:

* Some parents just say "no," and tell schools their children do not raise money.

* Others ask how much each child is expected to raise, and contribute that amount directly to the school or organization.

* Others do not participate unless they want the product being sold.

* Or they offer a standard reply to a solicitation: "It's not in our budget."

Raising money seems to go better when there is a specific reason for the fundraising.

"We encourage groups to set specific goals and run goal-specific programs," said Krueger of the fundraising distributors and suppliers.

Everyone has a favorite fundraiser, and some seem to work better than others.

"The one I will not do if my kids come home with it is the wrapping paper one," Prentice said. "I hate hounding people to buy things and I can't ask them to buy $10 rolls of wrapping paper."

According to Fundraiser Insight.org, the most popular product fundraiser is the candy bar, followed by cookie dough, scratch card, magazines, beef jerky, brochure or catalog, and lollipops.

In a perfect world, children would learn all aspects of fundraising. They would help pick the goal, they would choose the items to sell, they would solicit donations, keep track of the money, deliver the products and reap the benefits of the proceeds.

But in the real world, parents ask co-workers and aunts and uncles to buy items -- and then return the favor.

"It just seems like it's a fundraising crazed world out there, everywhere you look," Prentice said.

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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