Rethinking the School Bake Sale: Is This Fundraising Sweetheart Really the Best Way to Bring in Dollars?
|August 28, 2012||Posted by Stacy under Fundraisers|
School doesn’t kick off for another week for my kiddos, but I know it already has for many of yours. And even from here, I can almost detect the irresistible scent of frosted cupcakes and fudgy brownies emanating from the bake sale table. Ahhhh yes, the school bake sale: It’s an age-old tradition that countless schools rely upon to raise funds for student programs and activities. We all know that they aren’t exactly healthy. But kids love them–and if they’re an effective way to raise money, then why not, right?
I recently posted an item on my Facebook page asking whether we should do away with bakes sales. Parents who responded generally seemed in favor of them (or maybe I should say not outwardly opposed). At least bake sale treats could be considered “real food” (unlike soda pop and factory-made packaged snacks), one mom reasoned. And as one father pointed out, they can be a good learning opp for our kids–assuming that they would be involved in baking and selling the goodies, that is.
One of the greatest arguments for school bake sales, however, is that they bring in the dough. According to a member of the Parents Auxiliary at my son’s elementary school, a single bake sale can pull in as much as $400. That revenue is really needed to pay for field trips and needed programs, she added.
O.K., but there’s just one problem: Once you add up the cost of the ingredients and the labor involved, school bake sales may not be such an effective fundraising tool, according to school food advocate Dana Woldow of PEACHSF.
To prove her point, Woldow, who has been fighting for better vittles in the San Francisco School District since 2002, recently did a little investigative work, which she wrote about in Beyond Chron, San Francisco’s Alternate Online Daily. She started by carefully calculating the price of preparing one batch of Nestle Toll House chocolate-chip cookies. Then, she considered all the time and labor put in by parents who must shop, bake and clean up; create and distribute advertising posters and flyers; and help run the bake sale table. What she discovered may surprise you.
First, the cookie ingredients, which she scouted out at a Safeway supermarket. The total cost came to $7.25. Here’s the exact breakdown:
2¼ cups of flour: $0.38
2 sticks of butter: $1.65
3/4 cup of granulated sugar: $0.28
3/4 cup of packed brown sugar: $0.57
1 tsp. of vanilla: $0.36
2 eggs: $0.50
1 tsp. of salt: $0.01
1 tsp. of baking soda: $0.01
12 oz. bag of Nestle’s morsels: $3.49
Then there’s the parents’ labor, which she calculated at $7.25 per hour–the Federal minimum wage (though many parents would value their own time much higher, Woldow notes). The time required to bake the cookies and clean up? About an hour–or more if the parents have been asked to bring in the goodies individually packaged, she surmises. Then there’s the time spent creating and distributing flyers and/or posters advertising the sale (an hour or two?). And on Bake Sale Day, some parents would have to be on hand to receive the baked goods from other families, set up tables, sell the goodies, and clean up afterward (all told, about 4 to 5 hours). At $7.25 per hour, she estimates the value of this donated labor at about $70 to $100.
Now, consider the fact that one batch produces about 30 cookies. Priced at 50 cents each, they would bring in $15, or “exactly the cost of the ingredients and labor to make and wrap them,” Woldow notes. Since most parents end up giving their kids $1 or so to purchase the treats, that’s even more money being shelled out.
Bottom line: Bake sales just aren’t the cash cow that they’re thought to be–and they only contribute to the problem of our kids eating too many sugary treats. So what could schools do to raise money instead? Well, there are lots of options, from car washes to blood-pressure checks. The Center for Science in the Public Interest offers a helpful list of ideas (read more here), as does the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (find them here). I personally like the thought of selling things that families actually might use and enjoy, like Halloween pumpkins, holiday wreaths, or a crate of apples.
Or, how about a “no bake” sale, Woldow proposes. In other words, instead of asking busy families to shop, bake and sell, ask them to donate the money that they would have spent preparing the goodies; that they would have given to their child to buy treats; and the money value of their time. As she explains:
“At an elementary school of 350 students, probably only about 30 to40 families are going to send in anything for the bake sale, but those 30 to 40 families will each contribute goodies and time valued at between $15 to $30, depending on how much they bake and whether or not they also volunteer to help sell the goodies. Even just 30 families each sending in $15 (the cost to make 30 cookies) would yield $450; if only half of the remaining families sent in a $1 contribution for each of their kids (in lieu of buying from a bake sale), that would bring the total to over $600, and no one would have to shop, bake, or sell. Not to mention the fact that the kids would not be consuming a bunch of sugary calories they don’t need in the name of ‘helping’ the school. ”
As far as kids missing a learning opportunity, I think they would learn just as much by pedaling something healthier than baked goods. No, they wouldn’t experience the thrill of purchasing a sweet at school. And they wouldn’t get to help measure, pour and stir (or lick the spoon) all for a good cause. But think about the time that their already overtaxed, stressed-out parents would save!
“Everyone is busy these days, most parents work, and often it is difficult to find the time to help out at school, even when we want to,” Woldow notes. “Every time a parent donates even an hour to a school fundraiser, that is an hour that is not available to be donated to another, possibly more lucrative, fundraiser. It is also an hour that is then not available to help support the school at home—by reading to the kids, or helping them with their homework or with a major art or science project.”
It’s food for thought, anyway. In the end, it all may be a moot point. Right now, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in the process of determining new national standards for “competitive foods” in schools. Competitive foods include all foods and beverages sold outside of the federal school meal program. So there’s a chance that school bake sales could become a thing of the past. Or, maybe not. Either way, why not explore other options for raising dollars?!? With a little creativity, parents and schools most certainly can come up with better ways to raise those badly needed dollars for our kids.
How do you feel about school bakes sales? Do you think schools should keep this long-standing tradition? Or look for other ways to bring in cash?