By Janis McMath, Editor-in-Chief
The majority of students have contributed to a school fundraiser in some way—whether it was through purchasing something, raising funds, or volunteering. Fundraisers are great way for a school to get better resources for students, and they can bring a community together. With examples like Ontario’s schools raising half a billion in 2013, it’s clear that these education-driven fundraisers are nothing to sneeze at. But the big bags of money come with problems.
Schools sometimes collaborate with companies that essentially sell an effective method to fundraise with. The company will take a share of the earnings made from the students—and sometimes the business will take a bigger cut of the profits than the school will. It feels wrong that some percentage of money raised for a school by students should go to a middleman. And while the argument that a school can raise more money with a capable company than they can on their own is a strong counterpoint, it is important to consider that there are many ethical issues introduced when bringing business into schools—and the school’s priority should be ethics over wealth.
For example, an issue that comes up when schools collaborate with fundraising businesses is that money is being made for a private company through the efforts of children. Many fundraisers are structured so that children must go out and get pledges in exchange for glamourous prizes (which are a fraction of the cost of what the students bring in, of course). I understand that many of these fundraisers are raising money for worthy causes and that justifies it for some—but the method is also a little questionable as it takes advantage of the excited psyche of a child that is eager for toys. And while students are making money for their school, which is a positive, they are also technically making money for a business; is it ethical to make money off the work of children—even if they are primarily working to help their school?
Many fundraisers raise money by selling products directly to the children and parents—and this style of fundraising comes with its own host of problems. These are, in a way, commercials handed directly to students and their families; is it ethical to allow obligatory commercials in education, even if they are for a good cause? And, as an article written by “A Group of Concerned Citizens of the Strathcona Community” for The Georgia Straight points out, these fundraising events exploit the fact that children will want whatever is being sold to them—and this creates a social pressure for poorer families to contribute.
The culture of shame doesn’t help the case for fundraisers either. Asking students to fundraise often also obligates the parents into making a time commitment, as they often must aid the child in raising money—and this is extremely inconsiderate of the fact that some families will not have time to give. Yet, in my experience, it is an unwritten rule that students should go out fundraise; parents that donate an amount instead of doing the door-to-door work are met with disapproval. And, if a business is making a cut off the fundraising, it is fair to view fundraising as an obligation (especially if one doesn’t want to contribute to that company’s success)?
As famous business mogul Kevin O’Leary said on Shark Tank, “the DNA of a school is not to provide commerce.” Teaching is commonly seen an altruistic venture for many—so bringing business into the ecosystem comes with many important ethical questions to consider before we further normalize the growing business of fundraising in schools.