Originally published in 1999.
When I was a kid, it seemed as if there was a fundraiser at my school every other week. If I wasn’t selling candy bars, I was selling wrapping paper or magazine subscriptions. My dad didn’t want to impose on his co-workers with the school fundraiser items, so I had to hoof around the surrounding neighborhoods and try to get rid of my inventory.
I guess I was probably seven or eight when I started canvassing the neighborhoods to help out my school. At first, it was a little scary to walk up to all of those strangers. I wasn’t afraid of the actual people, but sort of afraid of the second when they would open the door and I would have to give them my spiel. I guess it was more of a fear of rejection, since I usually generated a paltry five percent conversion rate.
Over the years, school fundraising had not evolved a whole lot. On Saturday, September 27, 1997, Eddie Werner, an 11-year-old from Jackson Township, NJ, was selling candy door-to-door for a PTA-sponsored fund-raiser. He was killed by one of his neighbors/customers.
Brave New Fundraising World
All of a sudden, school fundraising had become dangerous. The schools were still in need of fundraising, but parents around the country suddenly became very wary of the door-to-door technique. Enter affiliate marketing.
Last year, a whole new industry within an industry was born with the marriage of affiliate marketing and school fundraising: online school fundraising. Door-to-door sales, along with car washes, box top drives, and bake sales have long been the fundraisers of choice for K-12 schools. But a recent explosion of online school fundraising companies has changed the rules of the game.
In the span of a year, a dozen online fundraising companies have emerged to compete for the lucrative family market. When a parent makes a purchase from a participating merchant, a percentage of the sale is given to the school. The middleman Net agencies take a cut of the action, but they also negotiate special arrangements for the schools (affiliates), so the online fundraising process can be a lucrative arrangement for little effort for the K-12 schools.
Similar to the traditional affiliate program, parents must log on to the school-support site and choose the school they want to support. From there, links lead to participating merchants.
In an online Parents Teachers Association (PTA) fundraising chat, Grace Preston, National PTA Region 4 Director, stated that the “National PTA opposes the use of children as salesmen.” With the door-to-door method being frowned upon around the country, online school fundraising companies are breaking into the market at an ideal time.
First in the class
YourSchoolShop.com, a subsidiary of GreaterGood.com Inc., was the first company to offer online shopping to benefit schools. Since incorporating in March 1998 with a site launch in August of 1998, YourSchoolShop.com Inc, (now GreaterGood.com Inc.) has developed proprietary technology to make shopping on behalf of a school easy and rewarding.
In addition to developing technology to make it very easy for a shopper to benefit a school, YourSchoolShop.com has tested and refined school marketing support.
School marketing support includes dedicated school account managers, a password protected marketing center with marketing tools for schools, and a provision of printed materials such as bookmarks, flyers and posters that schools may order free of charge to promote the program.
“For schools that want more than a custom-shopping village, we also offer a service where participating schools can receive a free Web site,” said Sheri Pewitt, Marketing Director of YourSchoolShop.com.
“The school can then post its Calendar of Events, Staff Directory, Mission Statement, School Profile, Announcements, and much more. Schools can easily update their Web site information right over the Internet without needing a technical background,” continued Pewitt.
Revolutionizing the Mom & Pop market
Schoolpop.com, founded in January 1999 with a site launch in May 1999, was a pioneer in the online school fundraising arena. With more than 15,000 registered schools in all 50 states and 175+ merchants, Schoolpop.com bills themselves as the biggest online school fundraising company.
When asked where the concept for Schoolpop.com originated, Rea Callender, Founder of Schoolpop.com noted that “At Schoolpop.com, we recognized the real need K-12 schools have for supplemental funding as well as the need for more efficient methods of raising those funds. Schoolpop.com simplifies the process of fundraising for everyone involved, making it an easy, direct, hassle-free way to support local schools.”
In addition to online support, Schoolpop.com employs full-time “school coordinators” to work with each registered school to ensure that fundraising efforts run as smoothly and successfully as possible. Schoolpop.com also helps the school’s fundraising administrator through turnkey marketing programs accessible through a password-protected Web site. Materials include program calendars, newsletters, seasonal flyers, and press release templates, as well as tips for running a successful online fundraising campaign.
From school board to drawing board
ShopForSchool.com was founded in March 1999 and the site launched in August 1999 by Chief Executive Officer Gary Blackford, and President Tim Walsh. Walsh is on a school board in Minnesota, so he had intimate experience with the trials and tribulations on school fundraising.
According to Jennifer Kohn of ShopForSchool.com, “Tim Walsh had been trying to come up with fundraising ideas when he woke up in the middle of the night with a great idea. So he registered the domain and wrote a business plan. ShopForSchool.com was born.”
ShopForSchool.com is currently working with 4,000 schools in 50 states, and 75 merchants, though they plan to add approximately 75 more merchants. Merchants available through ShopForSchool.com are carefully reviewed to ensure that they only offer family-safe products.
A local account manager, who is available to answer questions and help promote the program in the community, serves schools that partner with ShopForSchool.com. Additionally, ShopForSchool.com supplies schools with seven annual promotional kits, including flyers and posters. Account managers are on-hand at school meetings and events to help parents learn how to shop online and raise money for their school at the same time.
GOTSchool (Great Online Tools for Schools) Fundraising launched in mid-November 1999 and they have already partnered with more than 150 merchants. While their statistics on the number of schools they are working with are confidential, GOTSchool Fundraising is very forthcoming with the aspect of their site that differentiates them from their competitors.
“Our goal is two-fold â€“ one is to make each school’s fundraising as successful as possible. Second â€“ to offer the best possible online shopping experience to the community and members,” said Joanne Gosselin, Director of Fundraising for GOTSchool.
“We aim to offer a great online fundraising solution, as well as ideas for offline solutions, such as our grant section, where we provide information to schools about all of the government and private grants available,” continued Gosselin.
While the online school fundraising can certainly serve to infuse some revenue into a school, the new school affiliates are realizing that it’s not quite time to abandon the time-tested offline fundraisers.
“I honestly think the online fundraisers will not replace traditional school fundraising,” stated Annekee Brahver-Keely, president of the Parents Teachers Organization (PTO) at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Teaneck, NJ.
Brahver-Keely is working with ShopForSchool.com, and she anticipates that the commission check from holiday sales will be good, because a large number of parents told her that they had tried out the new fundraiser.
Is online school fundraising a supermodel?
The online school fundraising affiliate model is still in it’s infancy stage, so I think we can expect to see a great deal of evolution in the coming year. The players in this space have not been around for a full academic year, so there is still a learning curve for the integrating of affiliate programs and K-12 schools.
However, the third-party companies, that are facilitating the relationship between affiliates and merchants, have been utilizing a sophisticated approach to help their schools to merchandise the fundraisers.
The commitment to customer service, with teams of “school coordinators” and account managers, combined with promotional kits and attendance at school meetings and events, will certainly help this niche capture an appreciable piece of the estimated $4 billion in school fundraiser sales annually.
Maybe we can all learn something from the educators.