All posts by jeff

I’ve Been Thinking About… Candy Bar Fundraisers

I’ve Been Thinking About… Candy Bar Fundraisers

OK – I’ll admit it… I’ve been around a while and candy bar fundraisers have been a part of childhood since I was a kid – at least the past fifty years – yep – fifty years plus!

Now, perhaps in the midst of all that is going on in our society today, maybe this topic is of lesser importance, but if you stay with me for a bit, I think there’s an important point or two to consider, especially for parents. Here’s what got me thinking…

A few days ago, Dee and I were out on an errand and while I was driving, she came across a Facebook post from someone that neither of us knows. You don’t know them either, so please don’t wonder who it might be. The post was a photo of a box of candy bars and the following statement:

Our sweet (name withheld) is selling chocolate bars for a school fundraiser! $1 a bar! His goal is 3 boxes to win the biggest prize! Stop by (withheld) and grab yourself a few!

A rite of passage – candy bar fundraisers
“Get yours today!”

On the surface, there’s really nothing wrong with this little encouragement. Most people appreciate the opportunity to support a cause and chocolate is a favorite after all. But when well-meaning parents take the sales initiative, I wonder if they miss an opportunity to build some important life-lessons into the lives of their children.

During the summer of 1969 my family lived on the island of Okinawa and I was in Boy Scouts. Troop 123 was quite active with plenty of opportunity to participate in a variety of community service projects, along with the usual outdoor activities. One project was a candy bar fundraiser! And get this. No prizes were offered. It was done for the good of the troop and nothing more.

I wanted to take part, so my dad took me to Naha Air Force Base (he served in the Air Force) on several occasions to allow me the opportunity to sell my supply of chocolate candy bars. While he was in the store, I stood outside to politely approach people and ask if they would like to buy a candy bar. Sure it was a little awkward for me, but I learned some early lessons about sales technique and how to interact with others. It was a great experience!

Forward a few years to my sophomore year at North Syracuse High School. I was a member of the wrestling team, and once again, I had the opportunity to sell candy bars. This time to raise money to help fund the purchase of a team jacket, which I very much wanted. I went all over with my boxes of candy bars and managed to sell a good number. One elderly woman said she would take five and I thought it was the sale of the year! And once again, I grew in my ability to sell and to work with people.

My experiences were typical for the day and my parents made it clear. If I wanted to sell candy bars, then I would have to do it… entirely on my own. And I’m thankful that’s the way it was done, since the experience taught me to have a work ethic, how to interact with people, and I learned some basic salesmanship.

Girls always wear their boyfriends’ jackets, right?
Oh wait – This jacket predates our relationship, but Dee wears it well!

Now let’s fast forward to when our son Brandon was in elementary school. Times had changed and it was no longer a good idea for a child to run off selling items door-to-door by themselves. Some parents in those days were more than willing to take their kids’ candy bars to the office to sell entire boxes without their children having to do anything to help in the project.

Dee and I decided that if Brandon wanted to participate in fundraising events through his school, then he would have to do the work. Whether it was candy bars, magazines, or other gift items, he would need to put forth the effort required. When he wanted to ask relatives to buy something, he made the phone calls. If it was neighborhood sales, he had to ring the doorbell and do the talking. I would drive him to selected neighborhoods and sit in the car as he went to each door. I instructed him to never enter a home and I always kept him in clear sight. But he did the selling, not I.

Brandon was very successful in these efforts. Prizes were offered and he won some of them, including two limousine-chauffeured lunches in third and fourth grades. More importantly – much more importantly – he also learned principles of polite interaction with people (especially adults), the importance of doing good work, being committed to a cause, and basic salesmanship. These lessons were highly valuable and of great importance as part of his personal growth and maturity.

Well, another twenty years have gone by and candy bar fundraisers are not what they used to be. Beyond the minor concern of smaller candy bars and larger prices, the more important issue seems to be muddled and perhaps lost altogether. It’s easy – I believe too easy – for mom and dad to simply take the box of candy to the office, put up a sign, and sell the candy on behalf of their children. See the note above from the well-meaning Facebook parent.

Candy Bar Fundraising:
Far too often this is the ill-considered approach in 2019

My intention here is not to criticize, but to encourage a better emphasis. Because mom and dad often have taken over the fundraising responsibility, the children lose the opportunity to acquire the important life lessons that I and my son learned through the candy bar fundraiser sales experience. If mom and dad do everything for their children, how will they learn these valuable relational skills?

In addition, I suggest that we emphasize some higher motivation. Instead of selling candy bars to “win the biggest prize”, let us teach our children about proper motivation and the importance of commitment to a worthy cause.

Candy bar fundraisers have been around for a very long time and there’s really nothing objectionable about them. But let’s return to the concept of using these events to educate and build maturity into our children. These principles are much more important than the actual fundraising event, no matter how worthy the cause.

© Jeffery J. Michaels / Plain English Publications 2019
(Quotations allowed with attribution to this blog)