Grandparents are an easy mark. That’s the first thing kids learn when they start raising money to support their schools, teams, or clubs. Your grandchildren know how much you want to help them, so when the solicitations come in for their latest batch of fundraisers — even if you don’t need another roll of gift wrap, a basket of soft soap, or a gross of candy bars — how can you say no?
“You don’t,” says Diane Fond, 64, a grandmother of four in Los Angeles. “You never say no to a grandchild.” That may be why Fond says she has “more wrapping paper than anyone in Los Angeles — and and my oldest grandchild is only six!” She believes that she should buy from all the kids equally, and she always gives $25 to each grandchild who comes to her with a cause, so those outlays can add up quickly.
Needed now more than ever
Fundraisers — for schools, religious schools, scouting groups, clubs, and teams — are a necessary evil. Children’s programs are perennially underfunded, and in a recession, these programs are facing budget cuts and relying on families more than ever. “Fundraisers are important for what some call the ‘extras,’ but I call the ‘essentials,’ like playgrounds, field trips, library books, and music programs,” says Tim Sullivan, founder and president of PTO Today, the national media resource for school-parent groups. “Many of the things that were once part of the school budget are almost entirely funded by fundraising efforts now,” he says, “and as a result you often get donor burnout.”
So how does a grandparent escape? “Move to Florida,” Sullivan jokes. “But they’ll probably find you there.” He suggests setting a personal fundraising budget and telling the kids just what you’ll cough up for the year. Grandchildren can then figure out how to disperse the money, and get a hands-on lesson in budgeting and setting priorities.
Jeffrey Gertler, 66, of New City, N.Y., has his wallet open and ready for his six grandchildren, who live in Maryland and New Jersey. He’s happy to support the fundraisers of his friends’ grandkids as well. (Note to grandkids: Call Jeffrey.) “We can always find something on the list to buy,” he says. “If we don’t use it, we give it away. It hasn’t gotten overwhelming. I just think it’s something you have to do to show the children you support their school and the effort they are putting into raising money to help out.”
Mort Esan, 72, of Plantation, Fla., is more selective. His three grandchildren live out of state, and one is an infant, so he isn’t flooded with requests — yet. And, though he usually contributes, he’s not afraid to pass once in a while. “I know that’s what comes with the territory; it’s a grandparent’s mission to support their grandkids one way or another,” he says, but “if it’s something I have no use or desire for, or it comes too close to the last one, I’ll be a bad guy and won’t write a check.”
A captive audience
Former principal Bert Lax of Jericho, N.Y., has seen fundraisers from both sides of the pitch letter. “When you’re in the school looking out, it’s a wonderful way to generate important income for the children and the school,” he says. “But if you’re the person being hit on, there’s a kind of a mixed feeling about it, of being captive.”
Lax contributes when his six grandchildren call, especially when they’re selling something interactive. “I always buy the tulip and daffodil bulbs they sell,” he says. “We plant them together and have a shared experience. And if they sell magazines for kids that [I] can read to them, then I’m all for it.”
When he was principal at a Queens, N.Y., elementary school, Lax sometimes drew a line on fundraisers. For example, he says he refused to let school clubs sell chocolates. “It went against everything we were trying to teach in the classroom about good nutritional habits.”
Even if grandparents are lucky enough not to have to take on pounds of unwanted (well, unneeded) chocolate, does the fundraising ever end? “It doesn’t,” Fond says. “I see a future of lots more stuff that I don’t really need. There will be more grandchildren and more school fundraisers. Then will come Sunday school, Brownies, and Boy Scouts and their cookies and calendars, and who knows what else.” But, Fond says, she’ll support it all with a smile — as long as the kids ask nicely.