Saturday, September 5, 2009

Teaching Children to Beg

Last week my neighbor's daughter came over selling cookie dough for her volleyball team. I gave her a donation but told her to keep the dough (we have a child who wouldn't be able to indulge so there's no point having it in the house).

We chatted for a moment and she told me that a couple of weekends prior they'd been told they were to sell MATTRESSES for a fundraiser. Mattresses?

Soon, the local high school band is going out for Tag Day. The kids are assigned particular neighborhoods and are required to go out to canvass for donations. In return, donors receive an invitation to a band concert.

Today as I drove through a neighboring town on the way to an appointment there were young football players at every corner soliciting donations. Just like the firefighters do for MDA -- but these were kids about ages 10-11 at very busy intersections.

Let me say, these are all good causes. And my kid will be in the high school band in a couple of years, and my kids have participated in sports and been in schools where there were aggressive fundraising events. I’ve perpetuated this problem by giving donations or buying products, so I admit my complicity right up front.

But I’m starting to rethink this. I am troubled with the level of fundraising we're demanding of our kids. In every walk of life -- school, sports and church, we're asking them to go ask people for money. I worry that we are teaching them some really negative things in this:

  • That it’s okay to participate in an activity that you can’t afford
  • That it’s okay to ask people for money for luxuries, not necessities
  • That it’s okay to expect money to flow in without any work being required

If the junior sports players were soliciting for scholarships for players who can’t afford to participate, that might be different. But they’re soliciting for equipment, field rentals, insurance, etc. Shouldn’t the registration fees cover that? If they don’t, do we need to scale back on our expectations? One shouldn’t aspire to running an NFL-standard organization on Little League budgets.

Our Boy Scouts earn credits for their camp fees by selling mulch. They do ask for orders, but they’re asking people who would do it anyway to purchase something from the Scouts rather than the local garden center. And on mulch delivery day the Scouts work really hard as they shift, tote and reposition bags for people. We told our son that if he didn’t participate, he wouldn’t go to camp – we weren’t paying for it. I've asked our Scout troop to designate a scholarship fund for guys who are having trouble participating in campouts, etc. because of the costs involved and to be aware of which boys tend to not sign-up consistently. Is it because they have other commitments or because they can't afford it but don't want to tell anyone...

If there’s no work required in exchange for a donation, what kind of work ethic do we teach?

Once the money comes in, are we also showing them how to be good stewards of that money? Do the leaders of the organizations go over, in a simplified manner, how the money is allocated so the participants are vested in the outcome?

How can we blame kids if they think that money grows on trees and it’s okay to live beyond your means? Isn’t that what the society teaches them?

There was a recent Washington Post story about some long time Redskins fans who entered into contracts for season tickets, or box seats, but when the economy soured tried to negate the contract. The Washington Redskins organization sued the people for performance of the contract. The tenor of the article was that, these unfortunate long-time fans were being screwed by this big organization, despite years of loyal fanship. This morning's Post says that the team has decided not to pursue the judgment they got against a "grandmother" that was profiled in the original story. Hooray for the sensationalist media undermining another LEGAL position.

What's the message? That a contract you enter into when money is good is something you can get out of when money is bad? Especially if you enlist the help of the media? The Washington Redskins organization is a business. Any business must be able to sue for performance of contracts people enter into with them. The emotional plea of "loyal fans" should not affect a business decision.

If we don’t uphold contract law, we undermine our economy. That’s precisely what has happened with many areas of our economy. From Congress on down, completely unrealistic contracts were entered into by people who should know better, and they only held up as long as money flowed freely.

Congress and people, don't sign a contract for something you can't afford. And don't send your kids out to collect money for an entity that can't cover its costs through the registration fees of the individuals who want to participate.

We're getting ready to start school so I'm already receiving solicitations for stuff I don't need in order to support things my kids don't participate in. I think I know what my answer is. If it’s a kid I know, I’ll ask what work they’re willing to do for their parents or me in terms of working for it. And if my kids are asked to fund-raise, they can work around here for $$ to help fulfill their obligation.

I hope I can be consistent.

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