The setting is a school playground where a cake sale is organized for a charity; there is emotion among the pupils participating and general enthusiasm. It is time to pick up the children, and what could be better than a solution to the problem of the afternoon snack. Transcribed and translated, the dialogue between a seven-year-old boy and me was something like this:

— I’ll take two cakes.

— That’s four dollars.

I give him a $10 note.

— Do you want the change or would you like to add it to the donation?

What a master, I think.

— Keep the change, of course!

Have you ever wondered what happens in a school when they decide to hold a fundraising campaign?

In this post, I explain the benefits that fundraising can have in schools, starting from a true case experienced first-hand. I don’t mean how to refine sales techniques — for which this boy demonstrated that he had an innate gift — but rather, much more importantly, how to encourage values such as altruism and teamwork.

The ‘Bake Sale’, a tradition for a cause

At the Glendale Montessori School, the pupils from 6 to 8 years old prepare a ‘Bake Sale’, a cake sale to help a charity. The method is very popular in the United States and it is not difficult to find recipe books in any bookshop to ensure that a ‘Bake Sale’ turns out well (it would appear that chocolate chip cookies are essential). Maybe one of the most institutionalized is that of the Girl Scouts, who have been selling biscuits to relatives, friends and at the doors of supermarkets for 100 years in favour of the values of scouting.

The ‘Bake Sale’ is one of the most awaited events of the school calendar

Returning to schools, here the tradition began more than 10 years ago with the proposal by a teacher who, highly concerned about tropical deforestation, proposed a research project to her pupils on the Amazon. At the same time, she also offered them the possibility of supporting the cause by holding a ‘Bake Sale’, a small fundraising action with which the pupils are familiar and which they could manage from beginning to end. The surprise was that the fundraising was accompanied by other benefits for the pupils and for the school, and they therefore decided to repeat the event each year and to open it up to other causes, thus enriching the process.

At present, the ‘Bake Sale’ is one of the most awaited events of the school calendar which the young fundraisers hold during the second term. The project is studied in a crosscutting manner, reinforcing academic aspects, and consists of two phases: choice of the cause and preparation of the event.

Choice of the cause

The first phase of the ‘Bake Sale’, the one which takes the most time to prepare, is the initial brainstorming to choose a cause. Over several weeks, the boys and girls share their ideas in class and talk about problems in their community, topical issues, humanitarian disasters, the environment, human rights, health, etc.

Last year, for example, the young children decided to raise funds for a refuge for abandoned animals in their city, but topical events took first place. During the actual week of the ‘Bake Sale’, an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale shook Ecuador with a result of 272 dead, 2,527 injured and hundreds of homes destroyed. The pupils then agreed to send the funds to the Red Cross in Ecuador in order to help those affected.

This year, on the other hand, they voted to devote their efforts to “The Deworm The World Initiative”. This Evidence Action programme aims to eradicate the problems suffered by 870 million children in the world due to intestinal parasites (or helminths). These infections, endemic in some of the planet’s poorest countries, threaten the health of the youngest and, consequently, their education and long-term productivity. The treatment is as simple as administering a pill, which only costs $0.50 a year, and which the NGO administers en masse with the complicity of the governments through the network of school infrastructures. It is a profitable and scalable project which last year treated 190 million children in India, Kenya, Ethiopia, Vietnam and Nigeria.

The choice of the cause is a process involving a rich debate and investigation — which the teachers take advantage of to work on curricular aspects such as geography, history, natural and social science, reading comprehension, writing and oral expression — which raises the awareness of the pupils about the problems of their environment. This awareness is not just passive, but rather is accompanied by “what can we do to help?”

“Our children learned that children in other parts of the world aren’t as fortunate as they are and that there are ways to help them.”
–  Teacher at Glendale Montessori School

Preparation of the event

The second phase of the process consists of preparing the event: what shall we sell? How shall we prepare it? What value shall we give it? How much money do we think that we can raise? How do we arrange it? How do we communicate it?

The young people had to look for recipes, create a menu, share out the shopping list, bring the kitchen utensils to class, measure the ingredients, mix all the ingredients — then some parents were in charge of baking the cakes at home —, clean the space, etc. When the day arrived, they were also in charge of setting up tables in the playground, putting up posters, labelling the products, preparing the cash box and taking turns to give information on the ‘Bake Sale’ at the school gate. This last point is crucial because the school pick-up tends to be a time of great haste and the fish has to be sold in just half an hour.

The boys and girls therefore had to be well prepared, to give explanations about the cause that they were supporting (I can bear witness to this) and to give information about the composition of the cakes, to be familiar with the notes and coins to give the change and, for the boldest among them, to obtain an immediate increase in the donation.

“It was extremely important for children to learn how to work cooperatively in a group, how to lead and how to follow taking responsibility over the decisions”.
–  Teacher at Glendale Montessori School

Results and impact

This year’s ‘Bake Sale’ raised $868 for “The Deworm The World Initiative”, equivalent to the administration of 1,736 deworming tablets for the same number of boys and girls. Despite the fact that the results may seem modest given the size of the problem, the fundraising campaign also had a positive effect on the school, both in relation to the behaviour of the young children and to the learning arising from an initiative of this kind, which we could list as follows:

  • Encouragement of altruism
  • Teamwork and cooperation
  • Commitment to a goal
  • Planning, pro-activeness and empathy
  • Cross-disciplinary work on the academic syllabus

I have not found any studies which demonstrate the long-term effect of fundraising on schools, but I think I am right in saying that in their adult life these boys and girls will be a little more willing to support charitable and general interest causes or, at least, they will be aware that, in the face of the world’s problems, we can and must act. Which is no small feat.


In the United States, fundraising forms part of many aspects of public life and is part of the DNA of the civic education of its citizens. Young people hear about fundraising at school from a very young age. Indeed, one of the surprising things when looking for a school in the United States — at least from a European point of view — is that the majority of schools and their websites inform you about the school’s fundraising plans and the degree of involvement of the mothers and fathers. I’m not just talking about private schools but also, especially, state schools. Because of the underfunding of education and federal cuts (something usual and of concern in so many countries), state schools have to resort to raising private funds to finance programmes related to art, science, the promotion of reading, teacher training, cultural outings, grants, etc.

Although, thanks to fundraising, many young people have access to an enriched educational programme, the same dynamics increases inequalities between the state schools depending on the district’s per capita income. Thus, in some well-off areas of big cities like Chicago or New York, the parents manage private foundations — with good tax incentives — which can raise millions of dollars to improve the programmes and facilities, finance sports teams, supply computers for each pupil or invite outside speakers (these elite state schools are known as “public privates”), while in other rural or more disadvantaged areas they only manage to raise a few thousand dollars to cover a gap in funding. If you are interested in this subject, I would recommend the article How Rich Parents Can Exacerbate School Inequality, by Laura McKenna (The Atlantic, 28 January 2016).


Despite the controversy, this almost congenital relationship of Americans with asking for money has encouraged a more philanthropic society and, in relation to schools, has also led to pleasant surprises such as the case set out. When the aims are purely altruistic, there can be many short and long-term benefits.

Fundraising in Spain is experiencing rapid growth although there is still a long way to go to reach a better position on the global generosity ranking according to the study CAF World Giving Index 2016, where it is in 79th place out of the 140 countries analyzed. Maybe it is not a bad idea to encourage philanthropy in schools, daring to ask for more and making donations.




This article was originally posted on LinkedIn on July 12th, 2017.