Boosterthon Puts the “Fun” in Fundraising

All images by Boosterthon. Because I could not guarantee that every student has a media release form on file, I have not included any photos from the actual event held at my child’s school.

I Hate School Fundraisers

I hate school fundraisers with a passion. You see, I have three kids in school, from seventh grade all the way down to third grade. We’ve reluctantly participated in our share of school fundraisers over the years, and will likely face many more in the next decade or so to come. Each time we’ve done so, I’ve cringed. While I understand that fundraisers are a necessary evil for many public schools, I’d much rather cut a check at the beginning of the school year and never have someone tell my kids that if they’ll only sell X amount of stuff that no one wants, then they can have this cheap trinket and the school will make a percentage of those sales dollars… much less have to try to sell 3X as a family so each kid can have a cheap trinket that will get lost, broken, or trashed before the week is out.

This is coming from a guy who serves in key positions with a number of local fundraising organizations. Included in that mix is my role on my youngest daughter’s elementary school PTA board as the school Watch D.O.G.S. chairman. It has been my experience that I am not alone in my disdain for student fundraising, as reflected last fall when it came time to talk about fundraising options for the current school year. Oh, joy! Do we decide to sell this or to sell that?

This school year, a newer member of the PTA board suggested taking a different approach. Prior to moving to the district, her children had participated in a Boosterthon fun run at their previous school district. She mentioned that it had both gone over really well with everyone involved–students, families, and school staff–and saw better participation and results than a lot of more traditional (read: “sales”) fundraisers they had done in the past.

I was skeptical. “They do all the work and we get paid” has never played out that way for me in my fundraising experience. But, I kept my mouth shut. Anything that didn’t involve asking grandparents, neighbors, and co-workers to buy something (especially with Girl Scout cookie sales going on at that same time of year) was the lesser evil, in my opinion. Additionally, I wasn’t confident that the school’s administration and teachers would be cool with someone not connected to the school district coming in and telling them how this fundraisers was going to go and taking a portion of their instructional time. Principals and teachers tend to be Type-A personalities. Even if we moved forward as a PTA board, there was still a chance this would be murdered somewhere down the line.

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised with how well our first Boosterthon fun run went.

How Boosterthon Worked

Our PTA board leaders and building principal sat down with a Boosterthon representative and selected a date for the fun run, which in our case was Thursday, January 18, 2018. A pair of Boosterthon employees arrived on Monday, January 8 to begin setup. Over the next eight school days (which was interrupted by a holiday and multiple-day school closing due to winter weather), the pair got students pumped up for the run by sharing Boosterthon’s “Castle Quest” character-focused curriculum. Their presentations were high-energy (as a parent of a child with sensory processing issues, I was, yes, skeptical of the approach) and effective. From day one of the lead up to the fun run, my daughter was excited.

Just as importantly–if not more important–the teachers were excited as well.

Instructions were sent home that walked parents through using Boosterthon’s online tools to create a donation page for each child and share instantly on a number of major social media networks. Donors could choose to make a flat donation or a per-lap donation. Boosterthon caps the number of laps a child can receive credit for at 35, so per-lap donors can do a little math and keep their donation within their budget.

One of the great things about the Boosterthon fun run is that every student gets to run, regardless of donations received. With other fundraisers, students who don’t sell whatever have to watch while much coveted trash and trinkets are distributed to the top sellers among their classmates. Nothing like drilling the ol’, “Put that half-pint of milk down. Milk’s for closers.” mentality into them while they’re young, right? Everyone runs during the Boosterthon fun run, and all the laps are counted, even if they’re run for free.

On the day of the event, additional Boosterthon staff arrived and transformed our school gym into a track/rave/party room. String lights marked the inside and outside lanes of the track. Tents were erected and audio equipment set up in the infield. Parents were invited to come and cheer on their students, who arrived at the gym bearing their class-designed flag and entered through an inflatable tunnel. Once the rules were laid out, the students walked a half of a lap to get warmed up, the gym lights were turned off, and the kids were turned loose.

As volunteers, this is the only part in the process where we had to do any real work. Adult volunteers were lined up at the lap marker with Sharpies. Each runner had a sticker on his or her back, and as they completed a lap, they slowed down and their stickers were marked for the corresponding lap number. With so many kids running and with the number of volunteers we had, that meant that the runners got a chance to catch their collective breaths for a few seconds as they worked their way through the line. Periodically during the run, the Boosterthon DJ would slow it down and have the kids walk a couple of laps, which still counted toward their goal of 35 laps, in order to keep anyone from going all out and getting overheated.

Our school choose to have students run during their related arts hours, to minimize the impact on classroom instruction. Even with a two hour late start on the day of the event (remember that winter weather I told you about?), all students who were present were able to participate over the course of that single-day event.

What Were the Results?

That’s all great, you say. The PTA and volunteers didn’t have to do too much. You didn’t have to go out and sell a bunch of stuff that nobody wants or needs. Everyone got to participate and no one brought home a cheap squeeze toy or one of those sticky things you throw at the wall that “walks” down and ends up covered in pet hair. Good for you. How much money did the fun run raise for your school?

The goal for our school was to raise enough money to cover Boosterthon’s take (around $2,000 or so, for setting up, promoting, handling the donations, and hosting the event… your school’s cost may differ) and net the school $10,000 to cover the final costs for the greenhouse project. Was that a realistic goal? We didn’t know, but the Boosterthon folks suggested that for a school with our enrollment numbers, it wasn’t unrealistic. It all came down to donor participation.

Because we had a holiday and two days of school closing due to weather, Boosterthon extended our donation deadline by a few additional days. As I type this article, we have raised nearly $15,000 from the event, exceeding our goal by around 30%. With enrollment around 640 students, that’s a per-student average between $20 and $25 (which doesn’t tell the whole story, when about 40% of the student population qualifies for free or reduced lunches). To say that this event was successful beyond anything even the least skeptical among us could have hoped for is an understatement.


That evening, our PTA held our annual Winterfest, which was scheduled to serve as a wrap up for the fun run activities. Parents shared with me and others that they were thrilled with this fundraiser, even without knowing the final numbers. The overwhelming sentiment was that parents and students very much enjoyed the idea of the kids getting character instruction and running laps during the school day over the thought of having to sell a whole lot of something in order to reach some unattainable goal to get an upgraded piece-of-junk prize, then being upset when they didn’t sell that crazy amount in order to get what cost pennies if ordered in bulk from Oriental Trading or some such source.

Barring some unforeseen change, we expect to bring Boosterthon back again next school year.

If you are tired of your child being used to move product for a company not connected with your school or community in order for your school to get a relatively small piece of the pie, you might consider attending a PTA meeting–or, gasp!, joining the PTA and volunteering–and suggesting that your child’s school take a look at Boosterthon.

Disclaimer: This article is based on my experience with Boosterthon. Boosterthon in no way asked for nor advocated for this review.

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21 thoughts on “Boosterthon Puts the “Fun” in Fundraising

  1. I am also a dad that serves on the PTA for my daughter’s school. My first year there, we had sold “product”, and no one liked the process. We switched to boosterthon the next year and liked most of the process. The school administration and teachers had a few issues with their in school process, but our biggest problem was the “cut” that Boosterthon takes, usually 40% to 60%. After a couple of years with Boosterthon, we switched to a different company that is more DIY, but we now keep around 92% of the funds that come in. It does require some effort by the volunteers\PTA, but if you have people willing to help, you can really keep a significant amount more. We netted almost double the first year from what we did with Boosterthon. It also allowed us to address some schedule issues and other concerns of the school administration. I am not affiliated in any way with this group other than a customer.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. No one option will fit every school, and there are a number of fundraising options available based on your school administration, staff, and volunteer needs.

  2. When the PTA voted in favor of Boosterthon, may we assume they didn’t take into account NPTA’s position on using children to make the “ask”?

    “Children should not be the primary means of soliciting within fundraising activities.” Quoting 2016–2017 National PTA Official Back-to-School / PTA Fundraising Quick Reference Guide Official Back-to-School Kit

    1. Your assumption is incorrect. Children did not make the “ask”. All of the solicitation is done online via social media. Our elementary school does not serve children aged 13 and older. None of the students participating in the event are old enough to have social media accounts, per Facebook and Twitter’s account rules. The “ask” falls solely on the parents to share on social media, not on the kids.

      1. OK. Next questions: was the in-classroom presentation similar to this one? (8-minute video published by Booster Enterprises with annotations added by another person later.)

        Were parents polled to compare Boosterthon with a no-fuss? Our school dropped Boosterthon due to parents concerns and went on to meet the financial goals with a well-publicized no-fuss. They polled again last spring and Boosterthon was voted down. (YMMV)

        1. I wasn’t in the classroom when Boosterthon representatives went through their curriculum with the students, and as I mentioned, the curriculum wasn’t fully administered to the students due to school cancellations from winter weather, so I can’t attest to whether what was portrayed in the video was anything like what the students experienced.

          I will say that based on nothing more than the text overlay in the video and the tone of your questions that it’s clear that you have some sort of ax to grind against Boosterthon. I am not affiliated with Boosterthon, so I suggest you take up your specific concerns with them. You can find links to their website throughout the original piece.

          Based on discussions with building administration, teachers, parents, students, and PTA members after the event, the overwhelming feedback was that the event and everything that goes into it was a success four school. I understand that other schools may not have had the same experience.

          1. Turning to a debate over whether or not I have an “ax to grind” wouldn’t be productive. I’m open to hearing both sides (tho’ what you choose to believe is up to you). I’m hoping you are too. I’m glad you got positive anecdontal feedback. But an actual poll comparing Boosterthon to no-fuss may give a better picture, if you’re open to it, of where the PTA membership stands.

          2. Therein, I believe, lies the disconnect. This post is about my experience with Boosterthon compared to the other fundraisers my family has participated in. There is no “both sides”. There is no invitation to debate all of the merits of all of the possible fundraising options, nor am I asking what my child’s PTA might have done differently.

          3. OK, understood. But if anybody is looking for balance – for a discussion of concerns some parents have about Boosterthons: about the pressure applied to children, about being blind-sided by Booster’s “take”, about the possibility of losing money when a fun run company goes bankrupt (a PTO lost $24K to FundRunners), about the security of the database of children’s fundraising activities (Booster has inadvertently revealed its database password online), you know where to find me. 😉

            Meanwhile, it’s hoped that readers not dismiss the idea of polling the membership based on what they may think of me.

    2. My experiences with Boosterthon have been similar to Donald’s. The PTA was not forthcoming with the fact that they had to write Boosterthon a check for $2,000 to retain them, and then on top of that Boosterthon got to keep 48% of what was donated. The Boosterthon staff were very intrusive, cutting into instructional time with their constant presentations, “pep talks”, and to give out prizes.

      I’m confused as to why Joey Mills says that students “do not make the ask”, because that is certainly going on in Boosterthon in my child’s school. Kids are expected to bring in pledges, no two ways about it. Whether they solicit them directly, or have to rely on their parents to do so, the problem is still there. Boosterthon relies heavily on mentor and peer pressure to incentivize students to bring in more and more pledges throughout the two-week fundraising period. Students are told not to let their class down in amount of pledges gathered, which make the class eligible for class parties, extra recess, etc. Toys and other trinkets are very publicly awarded to individual students who meet the periodic quotas for number of pledges brought in. It is very clear to all the students which students are meeting quotas, and which are “letting down” their class.

      My wife works for the district as a school psychologist. A colleague of hers was observing a student who came from a very impoverished household during Boosterthon. His parents could not afford to pledge money for Boosterthon, and it stands to reason he lived in a neighborhood or apartment complex with neighbors under similar financial hardship. Expecting low-income parents to be able to cough up the money or hit up their similarly financially-pinched associates is ridiculous He was extremely distressed by his lack of ability to bring in pledges, and my wife’s colleageue was so moved by this that she gave his teacher $20 of her own money and asked the teacher to tell him that someone had anonymously donated it.

      My wife was at an elementary school testing a child for special education eligibility in the school’s multipurpose room, when a Boosterthon employee in his early 20s came into the room with one or two children and told my wife to vacate the room so he could use it. This Boosterthon employee was by himself with these children, out of sight of the teacher or any other school staff. I’m a volunteer Odyssey of the Mind coach for a team at my school, background checked and took the required youth protection training, which I would be violating if I had done what the Boosterthon employee did.

      1. I said that students “do not make the ask” because that is how it was/is handled in my child’s school. I say “is” because we’re in the middle of our 2nd year with Boosterthon as I type this. I can’t speak to how your wife’s district or building chose to interact with the Boosterthon program and staff. Our building made it very clear to the Boosterthon folks exactly what was/is expected and what will & will not be tolerated. Credit our building administration for that. Additionally, the deal our PTA worked out only required a small, flat fee being paid to Boosterthon. So, again, I can’t speak to what other districts, buildings, and PTAs do, only the experiences we’ve had with the program.

          1. I don’t have the PTA’s price sheet from this year or last year (I don’t have anything from last year saved and I’m not a part of the board this year), but I’ll ask this year’s PTA board president to see whether they have something available–even if it’s the contract with the pricing, assuming that’s public info I can access and share–that I can post.

        1. > assuming that’s public info I can access

          Well based on what I saw from my PTA a few years ago, there’s nothing in the contract – or any other document – which obligates the PTA to keep anything confidential.

          As a less-desirable alternative, your PTA’s IRS form 990 should be, by law, publicly available. That probably shows lines items for how much the Boosterthon took in vs paid out.

  3. It’s very difficult to believe that your PTA was able to negotiate with Boosterthon to charge only the flat $2000 fee. Are you certain that is correct, or is the PTA perhaps being less than upfront about the financial aspects of this fundraiser? From what I’ve seen, it seems that Boosterthon generally charges the base $2000 fee PLUS about 48% of the income. Our school is doing Boosterthon this year, and in our case (as other commenters have described), the children are very much being pressured to bring in money. It’s sleazy and quite the opposite of anything that could sincerely be called “character education.”

    1. All information in the post is accurate and truthful. As stated in response to other comments here, when the principal and PTA offers initially met with Boosterthon representatives, it was made clear that pressuring the students to bring in money would make the deal a non-starter (with the district having a 40% free/reduced lunch population) and that the PTA would only pay the flat fee. I don’t doubt that if a school agrees to an “off the rack” package that their results will be different and not tailored to the school’s wants and needs.

      1. I think I see the disconnect here. Most people use the “Live” version of Boosterthon. It sounds like you got one of the other versions: “Event”, “You” or “Pledge Pro” instead…? All would be clear if you could get ahold of that price sheet you were going to ask the PTA about 10 months ago.

        Speaking of which…

        Please ask your PTA to take the Transparency Challenge: during Boosterthon’s 50 State Challenge, I’ll send in a flat $30 donation if they post the Boosterthon price sheet to their Facebook timeline.

        1. I really don’t think you do see the disconnect, Donald.

          The disconnect is that I have no interest in being a part of whatever agenda you have against Boosterthon. I have verified what took place during the 2017-18 school year with that year’s PTA board both at the time I researched the specifics for the above article and I confirmed with said PTA board after the fact when questions were asked here in the comments. I’m not going to continue to waste my time nor anyone else’s just so Donald Harvey can not believe me/them again.

          My child has moved up from the elementary school in question. I don’t know whether that acting PTA board is continuing to use Boosterthon this school year or not. In any case, I’m not going to ask them to disclose any communications they may or may not have with Boosterthon or any other fundraising organization in exchange for your $30 donation so that you can continue to pursue your campaign.

          Sorry, Donald, but you’re not going to get anywhere with this and I’m no longer going to respond to comments here regarding the accuracy or integrity of the article.

      2. I think I see the disconnect here. Most people use the “Live” version of Boosterthon. It sounds like you got one of the other versions: “Event”, “You” or “Pledge Pro” instead…? All would be clear if you could get ahold of that price sheet you were going to ask the PTA about 10 months ago.

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