Wednesday, March 2, 2011


My oldest son is in kindergarten, and two out of our three boys are playing T-ball this year, so I have begun a new chapter in my life. I now shake people down for money. The different organizations usually call it "fundraising,” but let’s be serious about what we’re doing. Extortion. Coercion. Racketeering. That’s more like it.

When you need to demand cash from people in the name of children’s sports and education, there are three main target groups, the first of which is your family. The grandparents are easy money. They’re good for whatever you’re selling. We don’t even ask anymore, we just put them down for ten of whatever it is. Now, when they call, they just ask how much they owe us this month.

Your brothers and sisters are a little harder to convince, however, since they are likely in the middle of their own fundraising activities and were just about to call you. In the end, you just trade money. The extended family is hit and miss, because a lot of them have stopped answering the phone.

Your next target group is your co-workers. This is where the term, “I gave at the office,” comes from. As with many events in your youth, you don't really understand the circle of life moments you're living until you are completing the circle many years later. When I was in my twenties and my bosses and older coworkers came to me with the Scholastic book fair order form, or the Girl Scout cookies, I always made sure to buy as much as I could after doing some quick math in my head to make sure I would have enough money left for beer. The reason I obliged their request was purely political, however. When your boss comes to you selling something for his cute little daughter, you say, “Yes.”

What I didn’t understand was that I was just prepaying to cover my turn, ten to twenty years down the road. School and sports fundraising at the office is really just a giant book/cookie/raffle ticket/magazine pyramid scheme. I bought your ticket into the club, now it’s your turn to buy mine.

The third target group is the neighbors. This market lets you use a different and very persuasive technique: Taking the kids with you. Who could say no to the cute little five-year-old with the big blue eyes explaining all about how they need to raise money to fulfill their lifelong dream of hitting a ball with a bat? Anyone who answers the door is toast. The problem is they have the option of pretending they’re not home. Make no mistake about it, when they see you coming with the kids, holding an order form, they know what’s about to go down.

“Daddy, didn’t we just see him come home? How come he’s not answering the door?”

“He must be in the shower, son. Let’s go. I’ll have a little chat with Bob later.”

“How come the curtains are moving?”

“Probably the cat. Let’s go to the next house, son. WE’LL COME BACK TOMORROW AT DINNER TIME SO WE’LL BE SURE TO AVOID MISSING BOB AGAIN!”

“How come you’re talking so loud, Dad?”

“Never mind.”

Going door to door in the neighborhood is a fun and enlightening experience. My sons have no idea how valuable an education in human behavior they are receiving simply by standing on someone else’s front porch, asking for money. There are three types of neighborhood buyers: The people who are buying your five-dollar raffle ticket because you brought the kids with you and they don't want to say no; the ones who are thrilled about the opportunity to help out and happily purchase a ticket; and the ones like me, who have simply resigned themselves to the fact that this is just part of having kids. We don’t bat an eye, we just hand over the cash.

If I didn’t need to take the boys with me as a sales tool and for their own education, I would approach it completely differently.

“Look, Bob, here's the deal. I need to sell twenty of these raffle tickets. You’re only on the hook for one. You won't win the big screen TV, or the $500 gift card, so let's not kid ourselves. We both know the odds. Just give me the five bucks you were going to spend on your latte tomorrow morning and I promise to buy whatever the hell your kid is going to be selling next week, OK? You and I both know your waistline could use a few less lattes anyway, partner. You’re welcome.”

It would really be a lot simpler if we just self-funded these things, but what would that teach the kids?

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. been there, done that (sorry, stumbled across your blog and couldn't help but comment). Best place to start with extortion for your kids' school, athletic, artistic or other pursuits is by hitting up anyone who has ever hit you up for same...
    Hope this helps and good luck.
    Oh, and don't ask me for money unless you want to help fund my one son's cadets or my other's speedskating.

  2. Let's just agree not to trade money. I'll focus on the people who owe me. Thanks for the tip! And, thanks for the comment. Always appreciated. Hope you keep reading!
    Good luck with your funding activities!

  3. this was great and so true! I'm so glad my kids are past the selling candy bars, giftwrap, etc. stage. Thanks for posting and making me laugh. :)

  4. Thanks for the kind words. Now, give me five bucks!