How School Fundraising is Impacted by Health Policies

Money or Health – Which comes first? Should schools cut the candy fundraising addiction? Perhaps a better question is, can they? According to PTO Today, schools raise more than $1.5 billion annually. At the top of the sales list are candy, catalogs (which contain candy) and gift wrap. To add fuel to the fire, schools need the money. In 2015, Chicago Public Schools alone faced a $1.1 billion deficit, albeit an extreme example.


health policy and school fundraising


Yet overweight adolescents are an ever-increasing concern. Despite more stringent health policies, according to The State of Obesity, childhood obesity rates have remained at around 17 percent for the past decade. School districts continue to enforce stricter policies about what their students consume, at least while they’re at school. These policies have brought about changes to cafeteria food, restrictions on vending machines, and even limits on what moms can bring to celebrate their child’s birthday.

Some feel that these guidelines have helped, while others don’t think they’ve made a significant difference at all. Many attribute the problem more to children not getting enough exercise in general along with lifestyle patterns developed outside of the school environment. Regardless, the effects are widespread. So how have these stricter health policies impacted school fundraisers in general?

Effects on candy fundraising

The impact has been felt to some degree on peer to peer selling where students can no longer sell those affordable 50¢ lollipops and $1.00 candy bars to their classmates during school hours. These products have historically enjoyed huge success as students found it easier to sell these affordable items to their motivated classmates, who readily have pocket change to pay for them.

But have the restrictions impacted candy sales? The annual sales generated by confectionary products would suggest not. School fundraiser groups have made the necessary adjustments. As a result, attempts have been made to remove fundraisers like candy bars completely from the community at large; however, this attempt has been met with opposition.

What about brochure fundraisers?

What effects have the school health policies had on brochure (catalog) fundraisers that contain items like chocolate, candy, cookie dough, and dessert products? It’s important to note that there is one major difference between point of sale fundraising and selling out of a brochure. Most brochure items are sold off campus to family members, neighbors, and at parent work places. Therefore, the health initiatives have not had the same effect on these programs. Another distinction can be made in that with a brochure, students are only taking orders, not exchanging actual products for money. Thus, the same on campus restrictions don’t necessarily apply. But since brochure items are typically more expensive, selling is more limited to staff and teachers.

However, this doesn’t mean that requests for more healthy alternatives have not been made. Many people feel that even though cookie dough sales have proven to be highly profitable, these products are sending a mixed message to the community about proper nutrition.

Despite stricter policies, historically successful fundraisers like cookie dough are still in high demand. It turns out that these policies have had little to no impact on these types of fundraisers. In fact, frozen food, which also contains cookie dough and desserts, has seen strong growth compared to other types of brochure programs. People buy from them because they’re perceived to be convenient for today’s fast-paced, convenience-driven society. Just microwave and serve.

Alternative fundraising solutions

Healthy alternatives do exist. But the question remains, can they take market share away from confectionary sales? offers a unique option to schools where the sponsor registers their group and a custom online and mobile market is created. Buyers can then purchase home-grown product, thus supporting the local business community as well.
Fundraising companies have tried offering items like low-fat cookie dough, gluten-free desserts and sugar-free chocolate, thus feeding off the demand for “healthier sweets”. Yet these products have performed poorly. As a result, most have stopped offering them altogether, or only use them as “sales hooks.”

Some schools have moved away from doing food fundraisers altogether. For example, one non-food alternative that works well in the secondary school market are discount card fundraisers. Discount card programs provide value by saving people money whenever they frequent their favorite local establishments. Cards typically sell for $10.00 which makes them less affordable to students; however, there are still plenty of adults who will readily purchase them. And since they can be personalized, sponsors can request that healthier food establishments be placed on their card to help promote better eating alternatives.

Health awareness and fitness fundraisers

The increased demand to curbing obesity and offer healthier foods has given rise to other forms of fundraising, like student fun runs. Not only is there a health benefit, but the opportunity to promote awareness and lifestyle changes as well. Companies that sell these programs promote a healthier way to fundraise by helping students understand that eating healthy combined with regular exercise gains lifelong benefits.

And according to Healthy Eating Research there is a shift taking place. Lindsey Turner, PhD, says, “Many schools have found successful replacements for junk food fundraisers, with substantial revenues generated from these healthier strategies.”
So, what’s the long-term prognosis? Many still feel that the power to regulate what students eat and how they exercise should not be in the hands of the policy makers. Like most things, in the end, decisions are driven by money. If a school had to choose between a highly profitable candy bar or cookie dough fundraiser, or take a chance on a healthier alternative, they just might be forced to choose the former. Whether this is right or wrong, that needs to be left for another discussion. But as healthier options and additional fundraising solutions become more prevalent, the shift towards these products will most likely continue into the foreseeable future.

Author: Clay Boggess has been designing fundraising programs for schools and various nonprofit organizations throughout the US since 1999. He works with administrators, teachers, as well as outside support entities such as PTA’s and PTO’s. Clay is a Senior Consultant at Big Fundraising Ideas.

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