Funding the Future


A defensive lineman came knocking at the door. He asked for money. So I gave him some.
This enterprising young man introduced himself as an eighth-grade member of the Timberwolves high school football team. He explained they needed a new scoreboard and were seeking donations. From his strapping demeanor, I quickly surmised they’ve scored so many points over time that they burned out the last of their lightbulbs.
I liked the cut of his jib. He had gone to practice at 7:30 that morning, spent three hours of grunt-and-groan, and here he was in late afternoon pounding the pavement for the team. He also delivers our weekly Shopper.
Door-to-door sales can be a rough gig for a kid. I remember a hockey dad from my peewee days who masterminded a scheme for us little players to sell a truckload of plastic toothpick dispensers he’d come across. Now there’s a commodity that’d upend Wall Street. Seven cents wholesale going for two bucks retail. The dispensers looked like a miniature rocket ship on a base. In theory, pressing down on the contraption’s spring-loaded cone would force a small rod inside upward and push a toothpick through a hole for a convenient grab. In reality, its success ratio was about one in every 10 and only when stuffed with toothpicks. We were supposed to make money off these things.
Today’s youth fundraisers seem to have become more sophisticated and creative. They go beyond raffles that I’m not sure anyone ever wins and Halloween candy that everyone gives away. Donors get more for it. The soft canvas grocery bags from the high school trap-shooting team are sturdy enough to carry canned food or a half-dozen sleeves of clay pigeons. The scoreboard donation included discounts to area restaurants and merchants that we actually frequent. Throughout the years, we’ve had some delightful cheese and sausage platters. However, I do confess that the quality of fundraiser pizzas can vary. We’ve found some are more flavorful if the cardboard tray is eaten intact.
As such, I asked for more information about my investment before committing to the scoreboard. My guy’s description left me agog. Based on funds raised, they could customize options that were “optimized to enhance the spectator experience.” It was nothing short of a Jumbotron.
I discovered that lightbulbs have gone the way of leather helmets. They’ve been replaced with high-tech, 10-millimeter, pixel-pitch LEDs. Video capabilities come with players saluting the crowd during roster introductions, replays of bonehead officiating and a Kiss-Cam that can capture images of real-time activities below the bleachers. Even fans in the concession line are able to keep up with on-field action through satellite screens positioned above the stand. All this just to tally the score and track the time to do it.
Since I can remember, my donations policy has been based on budget—first come, first donated. If someone stops by with a later request for the same cause, I regretfully have to decline. Girl Scout cookies can be the one exception. I’ll dip into grocery funds and scour beneath truck mats for loose change to go the extra box that’ll feed my addiction.
I like when kids participate in the sales directly because it extends past the financial gain for the cause. Point systems are sometimes established to offer kids motivation for tops in sales or tiered incentives for selling to whatever level they can achieve. Direct participation is also filled with indirect life-lessons. It teaches kids goal-setting, the value of rejection and articulating a spoken presentation that doesn’t sound like they’ve got a sled dog bootie Velcroed around their tongue.
A fifth-grade girl came to our house with the same card of coupons as the defensive end. I assumed she was helping the scoreboard effort. But she presented a couple of twists that my donations policy didn’t account for. She was raising funds for a class fieldtrip to an environmental center. So, while the donor benefits were identical, the cause was different.
She filled me in about the trip and her educational interests. In getting to know her, I asked where she lived within the school district. “I live over in,” she began, then her voice double-clutched. After the hesitation, she blurted the name of the local low-rent housing complex, followed with a quick, “But we’re moving into a house next month.”
Especially in a small town, kids have to rely on the same contributors rather than cultivating new markets. I’ve begun reassessing my donations policy.


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