When Children Fundraise

Carolyn Hax over at the Washington Post had an interesting response to a predicament I am sure most of us have encountered. What happens when a kid asks you to support an organization you disagree with, like, let’s say the Boy Scouts. Read on:

Arlington VA: A friend is so angry at me. Her son who’s about 11 is in a scout troop and I ran into them both outside the local supermarket. They were at a sales table and he asked if I would buy some merchandise to support the scouts. I told him very sweetly but firmly that I don’t support the organization. He asked why, so I told him it was because of their policies on with religious tolerance and homosexuality. Now his mom won’t speak to me. I don’t have children so I didn’t realize that at age 11 maybe kids aren’t prepared to hear that kind of information? Am I a complete bozo and should I keep apologizing? I’ve already said I was sorry a few times.

Carolyn Hax: For the record, I think this mom’s refusing to accept your apology and let you off the hook is the way bigger bozo thing to do.

But next time you see a friend’s kid at a table selling things to raise money for his group, and his group is not Skinheads of America, pay the $5. Even when you don’t agree with the policies of the parent organization, the kid is still 11 and your five bucks is sending him camping.

I had a similar incident when Ari’s school sent home boxes to collect funds for UNICEF. I am uncomfortable with the organization’s stance on orphanages and international adoption — they are against both — but in this case, we were told that the money would be used for water sanitation in the developing world. Also, I wanted young Ari to learn how to ask for money to support a cause so I went door-to-door with him.

One of our neighbors was very supportive, but a guest at her house wasn’t. “I would never support that organization,” she proclaimed in front of everyone, including the kids. “They are against international adoption!”

Of course, she was right. And, initially, I was conflicted about helping out with the fundraiser. But what about UNICEF’s other programs?

Not surprisingly, Hax received additional responses to “Arlington, VA’s” question.

WOW. Absolutely NOT. I know of the organization in question, and I, too, choose not to support it for the same reasons. And I do tell the scout masters that. Look I get it that the kids aren’t to blame. But you’re essentially condoning discrimination when you give them money. Remember the protests and sit-ins in the 1960s? Same thing here. Just because a cute kid is peddling stuff doesn’t mean the bigger picture isn’t important.

If we dont’ stand up to this, who will then?

It’s wrong. I don’t want my money going to such a group.

Carolyn Hax: I knew this was coming, and I don’t disagree–absolutely tell the scout masters. Tell the parents, too, out of earshot of the kids. “I’d really like to support Johnny, but I take strong exception to X policy of the parent organization, and I can’t in good conscience contribute to a fund-raiser.” Bonus points for adding: “How would you like me to handle this with Johnny right now?”

But my answer was honest based on what I would do if put on the exact same spot: If my friend’s 11-year-old were standing there with boxes of Not Overtly Inappropriate Do-Gooder Club Cookies, I would give him the $5. For the kid.

Now that we’re on the subject, I wish kids wouldn’t be asked to sell things to raise money. It just hits me wrong. I realize that means I shouldn’t encourage the practice by buying things, but it’s not the kids’ decision to do this stuff. And I did once win red line seats to the Caps from a raffle ticket Kenny and I bought from some Little Capitals players …

In all fairness, schools and non-profit organizations that cater to children need to raise funds. Having the people who the money is helping front and center, is really helpful. Here is another view on the matter:

Re: Scouts: I think the asker actually did the right thing here, though in the wrong way. It’s completely legitimate to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t today.” without getting off into apparently judging both the kid and his mom. I am gay, support lots of youth organizations, and do not support the Boy Scouts. For that matter, if I had a kid who was doing a fundraiser for his GLBT group, I probably wouldn’t be mad at my fundamentalist friends for politely declining to give, though I’d be VERY upset with any of them who preached at him about it.

Carolyn Hax: Wraps it up nicely, thanks.

And those of you who agreed that just saying to Johnny, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t buy anything today,” is the way to go, you’re right. It is okay to say no to Johnny. I’m just a sap.

Oddly enough, I’ve never had to face the Boy Scout fund-raising question myself–never been asked. Girl Scouts, different story.

Anonymous: Not to get too far off track, but you’re refusing $5 to an organization whose primary purpose is to teach boys to lead lives of service. As far as I know, the Boy Scouts do not deny service to any individuals, nor do they teach boys to deny service to any individuals, but do deny some relatively well-off men the ability to take boys camping; contrast this with the Salvation Army, which actually does deny service to vulnerable individuals because of their sexuality. As a gay person myself, not that it should matter, I would happily give an 11 year-old $5 for the Boy Scouts, because they serve a much larger purpose than the one I object to. Bottom line: keep principles in perspective.

Carolyn Hax: I was going to move on, but I thought this was really interesting, thank you.

I like it in particular because it speaks to nuance–I think we all know intellectually that thoughtful, principled people can disagree on moral issues, but it’s so much more useful to see people spelling out the thought processes that take them to different places.

As you can tell, a lot of people had something to say about this issue:

Girl Scouts: To be clear, the Girl Scouts don’t have the same anti-gay policy. The organizations aren’t related.

Carolyn Hax: Yes, I know, sorry I didn’t put that out there.

What say you about children and fundraising? Do you have a personal philosophy or policy on this matter?


29 thoughts on “When Children Fundraise

  1. I think

    foisting your righteous indignation on an 11 year old is a bit much – say “sorry i can’t today” and go about your business.   I don’t put money in the Salvation Army kettles but I also don’t stop every elderly bell ringer to tell them why either you know?  

    • Exactly

      I would say, “No thanks,” or perhaps “No thanks, but good luck and nice to see you,” and move on.

      If the parent wants to come after you and demand an explanation (unlikely, but possible I suppose) you can give it at that point. You don’t really need to tell the kid about it.

    • Yeah

      Especially when it’s not your kid.

      We have had some times where we’ve told our kids why we won’t support x, y or z, but I think it’s different when it’s your own kid v. somebody else’s.

    • I agree

      11 is too young for ‘foisting your righteous indignation’ upon. What a great way to put it.

      I too skip the Salvation Army because they are bigots, at least around here. They announced they would not help couples living together, or single mothers, to say nothing of the gays.

      I have always found it helpful to say to solicitors that I have already made my charity selections for the year, but maybe next year. Long ago I decided instead of giving a nickel or a dime to every charity that asked, I would select one or two and make large donations that could make a difference. So it’s true when I say I have already make my choices for the year.

      I now limit my giving to the hungry and the homeless. My alma mater called, which is richer than God being blessed with the second largest number of alumni in the USA. When they asked for money, I told them when I saw the 16,000 square foot gym built in the middle of campus, that’s when I decided they didn’t need my money anymore. I told them I only give to feed and house the less fortunate, and they stopped calling. I was very proud of them that they got my point.

      Perhaps instead of a lecture on the shortcomings of the charity, the lady could have mentioned she is only giving to those without enough to eat, or who don’t have a home. That could have started a conversation with an 11 year old about those who are less fortunate.


      • where your $ goes

        well said, villager!

        I donate where i want, in the way i want. There’s a small sign of my fence that reads “No Solicitors.” but NOBODY canvassing the streets here thinks it ever applies to them.

        If the door to door types come down my driveway and bang on my door, they get a very kind explanation that i have favorite charities picked out and that theirs is not included, because their representatives CANT’T READ!

        Only kidding about the literacy part.

      • Damn straight!

        My alma mater just built a $25 million dollar basketball arena. And there was nothing wrong with the old one. I think they officially don’t need my money anymore. Even though I know the academic departments are struggling….it’s obvious where the priorities lie!

        • Okay, I just have to say

          that many times those giant gyms come from either specifically earmarked donations for big donors or they come from the revenues from the sports programs.  Not to imply that there aren’t certainly priorities that are out of whack, just that sometimes they have the choice of spending the money on what the donor wants it spent on or not taking it at all.

          • Yeah.

            I know. And I have no doubt that that’s what has happened. But my alma mater used to be known for its academics, and seems to be much more focused on its sports programs these days. Irritates the living daylights out of me.

            If I actually had money to send, and the science program asked me for some (especially earmarked), I might send it. But seeing the priorities makes me nervous about just giving general money.

            • One Problem

              I recently read about a group of professors from different schools who are saying that if they are given two million earmarked just for them, administration takes one million right off the top.

              It’s the same problem we have with public schools in my state. Seriously, we have one $100,000 administrator for every $30,000 school teacher, and I’m not kidding or exaggerating. It was a federal study. It estimated administration was skimming one billion right off the top of the money earmarked for schools, and sports was getting another 200 million, which sounds like a drop in the bucket considering how much the administrators are stealing.

  2. Just say “no”

    On the other hand, it’s a good chance for the mom in this situation to teach the child not to ask “why?” when someone declines an offer in any social situation.  
    (When utilizing the “soft sell” you are essentially in a social situation as opposed to a business situation where asking about a perceived objection is a wise tactic).  

    I can’t stand when you tell someone you can’t do something and they question it.  Especially in a social situation.  Especially kids.  We tell our children that people may decline an invitation/offer for any number of reasons.  Maybe they can’t afford an activity or product, maybe they are busy with something that is none of your business, or maybe they just don’t feel like it.  Is it just me, or is it pretty bad manners to ask “why?”

    Even so, the grown up could easily have repeated “no thanks, honey, not today” as often as it required.

    • yes, i can’t stand that either!

      i had a coworker who would always bug you “WHY?” if you said no to something.  it’s really rude.


    Elisa,  I checked out the UNICEF site and it doesn’t seem, at least from what I found, that it opposes international adoption.  As a mom of a daughter adopted from China, and whose child always comes home with a UNICEF box at Halloween time, I’d love to know more about that.


    • Hi Joanne!

      My husband and I give to an organization in El Salvador and other places that provide educational and nanny services for orphanages. The woman, who founded it, Karen Gordon, was told by UNICEF that they would not help her because they didn’t believe in the “institutionalization of children.” Ditto with the United Nations and Save the Children. In other words, no orphanages, or places that place children for adoption. Only “ethical adoption” — not sure what this means — is what Karen told us. I was shocked: http://www.mothertalkers.com/

      That said, UNICEF has many wonderful programs, which is why I do not have qualms giving them money. It’s not like they are actively fighting adoption. They just don’t encourage it.

  4. I give the local boy scout kids money

    for their camping trips when they ask me. I see the argument against doing that, but I take Carolyn Hax’s position.

  5. The UNICEf position

    can be found here.
    I heard an NPR discussion recently regarding this topic and came away with the impression that they, along with many agencies, support adoptions which conform to the Hague Convention.  

    • that seems to be the line these days

      Whether that’s the reality is the subject of some debate.  They got credit for “supporting” IA in El Salvador down to near zero, and I’ve read that there are parts of India where their impact on orphans and orphanages has been absolutely devastating.  But many people consider UNICEF’s wrong turn to be largely the work of Carol Bellamy, who left in 2005, and near the end of her tenure there was a lot of international pressure on UNICEF to return to its focus on direct aid.  I haven’t been following the issue in recent years, so I don’t know how that’s going.

      • Yes,

        It appears Bellamy was a large part of the problem.

        The discussion I heard was very thoughtful.  I appreciate their commitment to ending the crushing weight global poverty, especially in children.  The truth about children w/o parents, or any adult advocate, is their continued victimization.  Of course, even children with parents fall prey to child trafficking and related crimes.  

  6. depends

    For me it depends on whether I’m supporting kids/activities or just an organization.  But I’ve actually come around on the boy scouts, to the point where I will allow my kids to join if they really want to.  They won’t warp my children and strong minded, opinionated kids on the inside is a more effective form of protest than a boycott.

    UNICEF is a different story, obviously.  When a trick or treater asks for money I just say “I’m sorry, our family doesn’t support UNICEF” and offer candy.  (With adults I am a little more direct, telling them I prefer to support organizations that prioritize humanitarian aid over political advocacy.)  

  7. Support the kid not the ideology

    We have some good friends whose sons are really into it.  I have bought popcorn from them because I love them and want to support their interest- which is camping, not homophobia.  Their Mom and I have talked about it and she understands why my DS does not participate- we are all cool with it.

    But, a random boy scout table always gets my “Not today, thanks” response- because I’m just not invested in those boys.  I would never explain why.

    • I think that’s where I am

      I used to buy popcorn from friends’ sons who were very into scouting (and their dad was a scoutmaster).  I even went to the ceremony when one of them became an Eagle Scout.  That whole troop was bright and interesting and did have frank conversations about their own personal issues with the national group and its stances.  

      If they were still scouts I’d be willing to support them personally, and I’d probably be willing to buy stuff from my nephew if he asked–but as a whole, no.  

      DH has a harder time with this than I do, I think.  But I’m not an atheist bisexual Eagle Scout, and he is.  It hits him in ALL the wrong places.

  8. As the mom of an 11yo

    I disagree with the idea that they can’t handle the information.  My DS is a little unusual, in that he’s very verbal and has been listening to political discussions, left-wing radio (me), libertarian rants (dad), and strong opinions (big sis) his whole life.  

    I guess I wouldn’t want another parent giving that talk to my kid, but I know he can handle the truth and make his own decisions!  In the specific situation here, I’d probably just say that I don’t agree with everything that organization does and leave it at that.  There are lots of good causes and strong organizations.  We can’t give money to them all, and have to decide which ones to “just give $5” to.   I didn’t support ASPCA or ACS this year – they are both noble organizations, but there are other priorities for me.And it’s OK, IMHO, to have these discussions with kids.  

    • I don’t think it’s that they can’t handle it

      I just don’t think it’s fair to put the kid in that position… it’s fine to say no, or when pressed, “i can only support so many organizations” but I wouldn’t launch my politics onto the kid trying to shill the popcorn.

      • agreed

        It certainly isn’t fair to tell the kid that he is a member of a bad organization, and thus suggest there might be something wrong with him for joining.

    • I’ve had the discussion

      about the boy scouts with my own DS. So I definitely agree they can handle this type of information.

      The reason I would probably avoid the topic is not that they can’t handle it, but rather that it just seems a little rude. I feel the same way about the boy scouts as the writer, but when my stepsister brought up her sons’ boy scouts experience and what they were doing in it, I didn’t get into my own opinions about it because there was really no need to make them feel bad or pick a fight about it. If she had asked my opinions I would have told her, but she didn’t. (Thanks for your ‘hang in there’ comment last week by the way :)! )

      Kind of like if the Mormons come knocking on the door, I just say no thanks and close the door rather than outline all my opinions on their church and its beliefs.

      If somebody wants to have a discussion about it, in an open way at a time when such a discussion allows you to get into the nuance, that’s different than a 1 minute conversation at a table outside the grocery store.

    • Interesting point

      But I think for me it all boils down to if they wanted my opinion on their organization, they would have asked for it.  The kid wasn’t doing that, he was fund raising.  I know part of fund raising is dealing with the public but I think politely declining to buy something is more socially acceptable than foisting my political views on someone.

    • I agree with all of you

      You’re right that giving someone an opinion that they didn’t ask for is rude, and giving it to a child is probably just mean.  I read the original post more in terms of “don’t burden children”, and I can see how ready my DS is to take on the meaty issues.  He WANTS TO KNOW and doesn’t feel burdened by real information.

      An interesting twist – DD was a paid fundraiser last year (18yo).  She solicited funds on the streets of NY – working for Grassroots Campaigns to raise money for the Human Rights Campaign (“Hi, would you like to support gay marriage?”).  She got a full range of responses from total support to just walking away to arguing or calling names.  They developed thick skins in this job, but the arguing always bothered her.  She felt like “if you don’t agree, fine, just don’t give, but I’m just a kid, don’t argue about HRC with me”

  9. I agree with you all

    saying no without political polemic would be the way I’d go with random kids fundraising for organisations I don’t support. I’d go further and say it’s even ok to say no to kids whom you do know, if you feel strongly about not supporting an organisation.

    There’s another point, as well, and I say this as a former Girl Scout who did her days going door-to-door on the cookie cabal: fundraising as a kid is about learning to accept “no” with grace and respect. You are asking people to voluntarily give their money to your organisation based on who you are and whom you represent. The person who says no has as much right to your politeness as the person who gives.

  10. I disagree with Hax.

    I wouldn’t give the money.  As for foisting opinions, the kid’s mom was a friend, and I can totally see how the conversation evolved to a point where the woman had to explain herself.  A (perfectly nice) guy in my chain of command at work is heavy duty into scouting, and every time the Boy Scouts is mentioned in my office, he tells me I’ll be dealing with it soon.  Eventually, I just had to explain myself to him.  Mind you, he STILL says it to me.  But there does come a point where polite demurrals get you nowhere.

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