The Demands (or not) of Fundraising

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We have had several high school students at Bethany Lutheran Church who were involved in one thing or another, and as a result had to do annual fundraising. It reminds me of the fundraising I had to do in my high school career for my extracurricular activities of choice. I’m afraid my neighbors and relatives may have learned to associate my call with a request for more money. It was just another a chore for me, but my parents probably felt the constant cycle of fundraising more acutely than I did.

Fundraising Thermometer
You’ve seen these before, right?

A Christian elementary school also has a constant need for funding. There are salaries to pay, supplies and utilities to provide, and facility maintenance. Beyond that, if the school is in a growth mode, it will require funding for expansion and promotion. Many private schools meet funding needs partly by requiring all students and their families to be involved in fundraising. The system works, and where it’s especially successful, the tuition rate can be lower.

Over the last year, as Columbia Lutheran School transitioned from a plan into a reality, I’ve spoken to several parents and prospective parents with strong thoughts about fundraising. Almost all of them are opposed to mandatory fundraising, because of the strong-armed demands on the family’s time. They don’t necessarily have a problem in principle with the idea of fundraising, only with mandatory participation in fundraising. They want to be able to say “no, not this time,” without paying a penalty to make up the difference.

There’s another problem with mandatory fundraising to support ongoing operational school expenses. It gives a false impression about the cost of school operation, and about the amount contributed by parents. It artificially reduces the billed tuition to a point where it no longer reflects the actual expenses of the school. The tuition seems to be lower, but when families factor their time, inconvenience, and donations (or even penalties) contributed through the fundraising program, the cost of the school may be even higher than if they had simply paid an actual-cost tuition. Mandatory fundraising tends to hide the true cost.

At Columbia Lutheran School, we do have fundraising, but not mandatory fundraising. The fundraising is coordinated by the Boosters, an organization of volunteers that operates separately from the school. Some fundraising money can be designated for tuition assistance, which helps families that need lower tuition expenses. Other fundraising money goes to special needs, like capital improvements or expansion. Parents, grandparents, and others are welcome to volunteer with the Boosters, but their participation is not required.

Tuition assistance is allocated according to the need of participating students. Those who wish to receive assistance complete a financial aid questionnaire with a third-party service called TADS, which provides the school with an objective measure of the need. Additional tuition assistance may be designated through donations directed toward a specific student. In that case, one fifth of the donation will be redirected for general tuition assistance. Through these assistance mechanisms, CLS students can still receive help with tuition, but without mandatory fundraising. In fact, participation in tuition assistance is also optional. A number of current families have elected not to receive tuition assistance, preferring to pay the full tuition directly, with zero fundraising. That may sound expensive to some, but to many, it makes a lot of sense.

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