Green Ideas for Fundraising and Community Building

image of book swap fundraiser at school
Image Credit: N Engineer

Tired of the usual school fundraiser? Want to build community? Consider these Green Initiatives that have worked well for my kids’ Montessori school.

When my kids started attending their Montessori school years ago, the fundraiser of choice involved wrapping paper sales and book fairs. Over the years, the school has dropped those in favor of methods more consistent with the philosophy and culture of the school.

I’m not here to rip on door-to-door sales of wrapping paper. I personally may opt for gift bags that I reuse year after year until they fall apart, but I understand the appeal. There’s certainly a useful lesson to be learned by the exercise of fundraiser sales. And if it yields the desired results for the school, then by all means, carry on. For that matter, if the book fairs are successful, then, of course, keep them. If I’m nearby, I’ll be sure to stop in, because I love book fairs; the fundraising aspect pushes away the usual guilt at buying too many books. I just want to highlight a few events that my school’s Parent Association has organized over the years. Maybe it can inspire other events.

Save Our Shoes

Each student is expected to keep a pair of shoes at school for indoor use only. Kids arrive each day, stash their wet or dirty boots, shoes, sandals, whatever in their cubby along with their coats, gloves, and hats, then don their inside shoes and proceed to the classroom to begin their day. The shoes should be comfortable and, ideally, usable for gym class. Since the Montessori classroom, especially in younger years, often has kids working on small rugs on the ground, keeping the classroom floor clean is paramount.

Nonetheless, for a parent, having to acquire yet another pair of shoes can be quite tedious. We all know well the expense and hassle of keeping our offspring shod. Especially when they outgrow them before they’ve worn out. And shoes for sports? Oh, those feel even more expensive if you consider the length of the season and the fact that many kids change their minds about pursuing a sport even before they outgrow or wear out the sport-specific gear.

For those very reasons, our school held a shoe swap at the start of the school year. Clear out your closets by donating your kids’ gently-used shoes to stock the sale, then pay just $5 for a pair of new-for-you shoes. Feel free to expand this to adult shoes, too (of course, since the school goes through eighth grade, many of the “big kid” shoes are actually adult sizes that the parents can peruse for themselves). It’s a great bargain, and all the money goes to the school.

The cost to put this event together is minimal, requiring more time than money. A few copies of signs placed strategically around the school is all the material needed, and that’s pretty darn minimal indeed. Or just notify folks via email or electronic newsletters. Mostly you need a few volunteers to collect shoes and to run the sale. The event took place, if I remember correctly, over two days during morning drop-off. As a fundraiser, it’s all profit. And all shoes remaining at the end of the sale period were donated locally.

Bike Swap

Another thing that kids outgrow is bikes. And a school community is a great place to find folks just a bit smaller than your kid (to pass your bike to) and just a bit bigger (to get a bike from). Bringing all these people together at one time in one place is what this event is all about.

Drop off your outgrown bike and earn one “Bike Buck” that you can then spend on another bike that does fit your child. Kids show up with their helmets and try out potential bikes before picking one of their fancy. In the past, a cop was invited to instruct kids on biking safety. More recently, it’s been held the same day as the school’s Great Kids Race, a popular event each May that draws a large audience.

The success of this event depends entirely on how many people participate. One year, we offloaded an outgrown bike, but without sufficient stock, were unable to replace it. That is, of course, a risk. One I was fine taking, as we were due to get another bike anyhow, and now had space in the garage for it. But if those situations are considered and addressed, this can be a successful event. This can certainly be configured as a fundraiser as well, I’m sure, but as there was a whole other event going on that day (which itself is a fundraiser), that was less of a focus.

Book Swap

The third, and final, community-building event that our school held was a Book Swap. People brought in any number of books that were then sorted and set on different tables around the room, and could then pick out that same number of books in exchange.

In a separate area, the middle school’s Power of the Pen team set up a table offering writing prompts to budding writers. Elsewhere, snacks were sold. And in the lounge, folks could sit and peruse their finds while waiting for family members to keep browsing. The atmosphere was relaxed. Setup was done the evening before, though people were still welcome to bring books the day of the event and set them on the appropriate tables.

The Middle School Micro-economy group sold blank cards that each of the students had designed, as well as soaps that they had made.

Fundraising vs. “Fun”raising

I’m not sure how much money was raised at the various events. Certainly, these events could be tweaked to focus on the fundraising aspects. As long as the organizers figure out the timing (holding the events over multiple days, with weather taken under consideration, to accommodate more participants), and determine what to do with the remaining inventory, these events can help in more intangible ways than a line item on a school budget. Events like these help to foster community by bringing the parents together and help families recycle their kids’ outgrown possessions. Merging these two benefits brings families together, as the giver of the shoes, or bike, or beloved book can leave with a sense of satisfaction watching the tiny new owner’s eyes widen in joy as they receive their gift.

That, at least, was what I always enjoyed most about these events. Turning in a stack of books that I had hoped my kids would read (but never did), I rejoice at finding that kid who had seemingly been waiting for the very book I donated.