In the United States, philanthropy forms part of the country’s DNA, a congenital relationship which goes back to colonialism, and is eminently private. Right from the start, the early settlers had to organize themselves without any governmental authority, so when they needed a church or school they collected the money and built it, thus giving rise to an original way of understanding the economy, society and also charity.

This relationship of the United States with fundraising — the Statue of Liberty itself was a pioneering case of a crowdfunding campaign in 1885! — explains why it is one of the world’s most philanthropic societies. This relationship is obviously based on a tax model which stimulates private donations, but it is also promoted in a practical manner — as I have been able to witness — from a very young age.

In this post, I share three experiences of fundraising seen in the United States, with primary school children as the main actors.

The ‘Bake Sale’: cakes with more than just sugar

One year ago, I posted the article “Keep the change: fundraising in American schools” starting from a case experienced in Los Angeles: the ‘Bake Sale’ — a cake sale for a charitable cause — which 6 to 8-year-old pupils organize each year at Glendale Montessori School. Some weeks ago I again experienced the same gastro-charity event, but now with a young girl directly involved in the action.

This year the choice of the cause was proposed by a Girl Scout group from the school which was already collaborating with Heal the Bay, an organization which has been working for over 30 years to clean the beaches of Los Angeles bay and promoting awareness-raising actions.

The fact that the beneficiary was a local organization made it easier for someone from Heal the Bay to be able to visit the school and give a talk to the pupils. The session was also open to parents. Apart from the benefits that tend to exist when someone from outside the school environment comes into the classroom, in this case the subsequent effects which spontaneously arose were interesting:

  • On the one hand, the incorporation of a promotional product aligned with the mission. During the talk, the member of the organization talked both about the importance of cleaning the beaches and, above all, about the changes of habits which can help to generate less waste. As an example, they showed the young children a shopping bag made from an old recycled T-shirt. The idea had such an impact that, on the next day, the group of pupils decided to reconvert old T-shirts into bags to also sell them on the day of the ‘Bake Sale’. All of the bags were of course sold.
  • On the other hand, the attracting of volunteers, one of the most genuine forms of philanthropy. At the end of the talk, the Girl Scouts team which was already collaborating with Heal the Bay took advantage of the occasion to recruit several volunteer families to go to clean the beaches. In the heat of the moment, the action was successful: 46 volunteers!

The ‘Bake Sale’ for Heal the Bay raised $1,003 and resulted in two volunteer actions to clean beaches valued at $1,158.72 — according to the latest analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2015, the economic impact of volunteer services was quantified as $184bn, estimating the value of volunteer work at an average of $24.14 per hour —.

Other intangible benefits for the school and for the group of pupils should also be taken into account, such as:

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

‘Book Bonanza’: a book sale for a cause

This year, the same school organized a charity event for the first time which also involved the smallest pupils, the three classes of boys and girls from 3 to 6 years old. On this occasion, a simpler action was chosen: a ‘Book Bonanza’, or in other words a charity book sale.

The benefits were donated to the Children’s Program of the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association), a programme which helps boys and girls to recover from cases of domestic violence.

The mechanics of the action was as follows: each pupil had to bring, from home, between one and three books which they wanted to make available for the event, and a box was placed at the school entrance to collect the books. For two weeks, each morning the young children saw how the stock was growing and, in turn, conversations were fostered on the reason for the action. This time to reach maturity was necessary to understand the most basic element: that they were doing it to help other boys and girls.

On ‘Book Bonanza’ day, each pupil — some 75 children between 3 and 6 years old — brought 1, 2 or 3 dollars to school. The older children from sixth grade were in charge of operating the tills and selling the books, helping the smallest to choose a book and to complete the transaction.

The event raised $200. This may seem a modest amount and the young children probably did not understand exactly what the YWCA does, but I can assure you that whenever they read the books bought in the ‘Book Bonanza’ they think about helping others: another drop of water in the ocean.

Charity birthdays: the gift is giving

The third example comes from outside the school sphere. From among the numerous birthday parties that were held over the school year, we were twice expressly requested not to bring presents, but rather to make a donation to a not-for-profit organization to which the family was connected.

A birthday party can be an occasion to give and to think of others, and not just to receive.

In the first case, they raised $204 for the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA (an organization which looks after mistreated and abandoned animals); on the second occasion, the guests brought some 10 kg of tinned food for a food bank.

It should be mentioned that this type of birthday celebration is not at all a trend. Indeed, in most of the parties the host ended up in the classical manner, with a table full of bags and parcels.

However, the first two cases caused an impact both on the parents — who necessarily thought about spoilt child syndrome — and on the young children, who saw that a birthday can be an occasion to give and to think of others, and not just to receive.

Just two drops in the ocean, but another two drops after all.


In the United States, like everywhere else, philanthropy is not always synonymous with altruism. We know that society is not perfect, and sometimes money is given to have better relations with certain sectors — donations to election campaigns would be a good example — or out of sheer vanity.

Even so, according to the latest Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2016 by Giving USA, in the US philanthropy generates $390,050,000 million: 72% comes from individual donors, ahead of foundations and corporations, a fact which corroborates its cultural component.

On the other hand, in Spain fundraising is experiencing growth although there are many challenges ahead in order to achieve a better position on the global generosity ranking, according to the study CAF World Giving Index 2017, in which it is in 71st place out of 139 countries analyzed (slightly better than the previous year’s 79th position out of 140).

Maybe initiatives such as those indicated, which encourage the practice of asking for money for altruistic reasons among young children can be replicable examples which, like drops which fall into the water, have a ripple effect, spreading in all directions with an increasingly broad scope.



This article was originally posted on LinkedIn on May 15th, 2018.