From alligators to mac and cheese, PTOs add creativity to fundraising

Community support remains key to schools' financial health, but fundraising disparities can raise questions about equity
By: | October 4, 2019 RaStudio

Traditional bake sales are taking a back seat to more creative tactics as PTOs across the country launch fundraising activities with the start of the new school year.

• In Marietta, Pennsylvania, the Donegal Intermediate School PTO was one of several local organizations that raised money from a mac-and-cheese competition among area restaurants, according to Lancaster Online.

• In Southern New Jersey, the Belmar Elementary School PTO raised money with a $10 discount card that can be used at 18 businesses in the town, TapInto reports. The card, which replaces a 50-50 raffle, provides discounts and rebates at the businesses.

• Elsewhere in South Jersey, the Bunker Hill Middle School PTO in Washington Township is raising money by engraving brick pavers for a new school courtyard. For $20, donors can engrave a brick with up to three lines of text, according to a report in

• In Geneva, Illinois, the Harrison Street Elementary School PTO arranged to bring an eight-foot alligator to a school assembly as part of its fundraising drive, the Kane County Chronicle reported.

• And in Medina, Ohio, Principal Brian Condit of Ella Canavan Elementary School recently fulfilled a promise to sleep for a night on the school’s roof if students raised $10,000 for the PTO. The students managed to raise $16,000, according to Fox 8-TV.

More from DA: Growing fundraising gap raises school equity questions

But PTO fundraising can pose challenges for school districts, particularly in cities dealing with gentrification, according to a recent report in The Washington Post. When white, affluent families enter minority and lower-income neighborhoods they often take over leadership roles in the local PTO and create friction in the community, according to researchers quoted by the Post. For instance, when affluent parents arrived at one Washington, D.C., school, they pushed for a costlier after-school program that alienated low-income families who couldn’t afford it, the researchers said.

In addition, aggressive fundraising by PTOs can widen disparities between affluent and economically challenged schools and districts, DA has reported. “No question, philanthropic capacity makes a difference,” Beth Gazley, an associate professor at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, told DA. “Administrators in a district with high philanthropic capacity will say, ‘Thank goodness we have local community members who will fill in the gap.’ They just end up with a better school and more stuff. But the other school districts say, ‘What in the world happened to publicly funded education?’”

Also from DA: How to establish financial boundaries for PTAs and other groups

PTO fundraising can also pose financial risks for school districts, DA reported earlier this year. Districts should clarify that outside-group fundraising is not managed by the school, James Sullivan, a former inspector general for the Chicago Board of Education, told DA. “Let the booster club or PTA stand alone with its own leadership, bank account and corporate structure, and bear the burden of existing outside the school structure,” he said.

Resource: PTO fundraising guidelines