Dear PoPville – How Do We Know if “School” fundraisers are legit?

Photo by PoPville flickr user maria jpeg

“Dear PoPville,

I was wondering if my fellow readers could shed light on fundraising in DC public schools. In the past couple of months I have been approached by children selling food or asking for money and claiming that the sale was for a school fundraiser. Here are three real examples of some of the things I have observed:

1) While sitting outside at the fountain in Columbia Heights a couple of weeks ago two kids, around 8 or 9 years old asked if I wanted to buy candy bars to help their school. They were not wearing school uniforms or jerseys, the candy looked like they had bought in bulk from Costco.

2) Krispy Kreme sales by teenagers at the entrance to the Farragut West Metro. This happens quite frequently in the summer and its always for “school fundraisers”.

3) Friday afternoon, the 27th, I was walking by the dogpark on 17th and S NW. Two teens, I want to say 15-16, approached and asked if I wanted to support their school’s marching band. A binder was thrust into my hands and it had a bunch of scribbled notes in it. Again, no uniforms, no official looking fundraiser materials.

Are these incidents scams or are they actual fundraisers for DCPS? I would like to support DCPS but when people approach me on the street, even if they are kids, I just assume I am being scammed. Does anyone know if these are legit?”

Any good tips for identifying if they are legit fundraisers or not?

131 Comment

  • they aren’t legit.

  • I always assume they’re illegitimate.

  • I guess it’s better than selling drugs?

  • They’re not legit.

    But I also don’t believe in being mean to the little kids (the teens, not so much) and/or encouraging them to see me as anything other than a trustworthy and kind adult, so in the cases when I’m not 100% convinced of a scam and want to give the kid the benefit of the doubt, I say something about why I don’t actually want the product (“I’m a diabetic” “I’m on a diet” “I keep kosher” all work) but would be happy to make a donation to their organization if they’ll give me a name of the adult in charge of the program so I know where to send a check. I also ask for the kid’s name “so I can tell your [coach/director/teacher] that you did a great job selling and representing your organization.”

    9 times out of 10, they don’t have any information to share with you … or the information you get is a big F-U. The 1 time I actually got a name of an organization and an adult, I got a disconnected number.

    • That’s a nice idea, but I’m usually too busy to stop and go through all that. I just tell them no and keep walking.

    • I love your approach to the situation. Like you, I never purchase the candy but I will usually give a small donation. I don’t like being mean to kids either. I grew up in DC and I remember how hard it was to make a few dollars for a movie when I was 12 or 13. Back then there were only so many chores you could do for your parents or neighbors. Now, I don’t know how kids get money for movies, video games, etc. (well, I know how some of them get the cash but still). Thank God that I started a summer job at 14. I’ve continued working steadily for 41 years.

      I do appreciate the fact that some kids are being so entreprenuel (sp). I’m not naive, I’m sure the majority of the time it’s just a scam. But even if it’s scam, I’d rather the sell fake candy than put a gun in my face.

      But the next time, I’m confronted with some kids with candy, I’ll make sure to ask for that kind of information and send a donation by check instead of giving them a few dollars.

  • Krispy Kreme does support legitimate fundraising efforts, so those may very well be legit.

    • Krispy Creme is legit. My niece sells them for her school. I know because I had to buy some. Some are legit and some are not. I have helped with fundraisers before with teens. Unfortunately there are also some scammers. Just repectfully decline if you don’t feel its legit.

      • Krispy Cremes are legit. The only way to sell in bulk like that is by applying through the store and they do fact check.

    • I’ve always assumed the Krispy Kreme sales at Farragut West were legit It’s a different organization every day, always in the same place, and most of the sellers appear to be college students.

      They also sell the donuts for cheaper than they would be at the store, I think?

  • City Paper had an article about this type of activity maybe 15 years ato. At that time, there were a couple of candy selling “cartels”–just a few guys who would round up kids and have them selling $3 boxes of M&Ms. They weren’t necessarily illegal, nor were they legit. There was always some vague cause like school, band, basketball team but they were all dubious. As I recall, jury was out on whether or not it was a scourge or something that engaged kids who would otherwise be getting into trouble.

    • I remember that article, and the kids would knock on your door and ask you to buy their nasty candy to support “keeping kids off the street” or something. But it was more like they were working for pimps who gave them a cut of the money. And, I guess they were doing something a little more constructive, but it all seemed pretty exploitive (ative?) to me.

    • If someone comes to me with a sheet of paper that isn’t a 14th generation photocopy from some 1952 Mayberry fundraising effort, I’ll consider giving them a few bucks.

      I mean at least spend 50 cents at Kinkos to make your fake information sheet not look completely shoddy!

      • Actually, there’s a good chance the 14th generation photocopy is more legit than a new doc…

  • I’ve encountered the same thing with kids going through Metro cars and asking to donate to the Salvation Army, local baseball teams, etc. Always three to five kids in street clothes with the aforementioned binders with some names scratched down. But these kids are flying. If they get a no, they’re onto the next person in a second. It’s pretty clear they have no interest in actually helping a cause, so I just assume these are fraudulent.

  • I just ignore them when I see them. Same thing I do with panhandlers and Greenpeace douche bags.

  • I’d love a way to ask a pointed question to the kids to out them as scammers. they are ALL OVER my neighborhood fundraising for a supposed music trip that they never seem to go on. it f’ing pisses me off that they’re learning this crap at such a young age. I don’t think ignoring them or saying “no thanks” is good enough. because I also believe there are some legit kids out there and I don’t want them to think when they come to my white neighborhood that we automatically assume black kids are lying. I also don’t want them making money off people who haven’t seen them around enough to know they’re stealing. what should I say????

    • Ask them to whom you should address the check for the big fat donation you want to make πŸ™‚

  • They’re illegit. I had some kids come up to me claiming to be raising money for the Eastern Branch Boys and Girls club, and I know for a fact that it closed a couple of years ago, I have a friend that worked there.

    • houseintherear

      They’re in the process of rebuilding, actually.

      If you don’t want to donate, that’s fine. Be friendly to the children, give them some respect, and kindly decline.

      This comment thread makes me ill. I can’t believe the attitude– no wonder teenagers are so angry around here.

      • Maybe if the teenagers weren’t trying to scam people, people would be nicer to them.

      • I agree that there’s no reason to be rude to the young kids, but your statement that a lack of respect to teenagers actively *trying to defraud* someone justifies their teenage anger is beyond ridiculous.

        In the cases where the kids are legit, then the onus is on the organizing adult to make that legitimacy obvious.

        • houseintherear

          Of course it doesn’t justify all of their anger. For goodness sakes I’m not making a blanket statement here, just pointing out the *extremely* negative attitude most of you have here. I’d think that being repeatedly scoffed at while trying to raise some money would take its toll. And it’s more than ridiculous to expect an adult to be standing right behind a fundraising kid saying, “It’s legit!”

          But whatever, most of you are obviously going to be hateful towards all of the DC kids so go ahead and be hateful. Just don’t expect anything to change if you don’t.

          • I don’t think anybody expect there to be an adult standing behind every kid, but what’s wrong with (as with any legit fundraiser) the kid being able to provide an adult contact name and phone number?

            That seems perfectly reasonable. As someone said earlier, politely decline the candy, but ask for a name and number so you can make a donation. Isn’t that OK?

            Unfortunately, the burden of proof is on the kid.

          • The organizing adult doesn’t have to be there. The adult just needs to make sure the kids have some sort of “proof of legitimacy” – a school flyer, form letter, ID, whatever – to show that they are not just a scam. I don’t think that’s asking much in a city where youth are known to rob and assault in broad daylight.

          • There’s virtually no point in composing a reasoned, detailed response to you, Houseintherear. You seem intent on viewing anyone who disagrees with you as nasty, child-hating monster. I have better things to do with my time.

          • houseintherear

            Wow. Well I feel quite the opposite. If anyone disagrees with the majority in the PoP comments section, they’re labeled as ridiculous.

            It’s tough for me as a teacher, and human, to read and re-read comments that demonstrate how rare it is to give a kid the benefit of the doubt. I think your attitudes are shameful.

            Again- whatever. You’re going to do what you want to do.

          • I think the negative attitude, unfortunately, is justified: I’ve been approached by these kids and upon declining, had them sit next to me and hurl racial epithets at me on a subway car, for instance. Being kind to and supportive of kids doesn’t mean you put the blinders on and ignore the fact that most of these kids obviously are scamming you. When a kid tries to sell you a $3 “special” candy bar from a box of 36 that is available at any Costco, there’s a really, really good chance he’s up to no good.

            I suggest a respectful way to handle the maybe-earnest kids above, but there’s nothing shameful in acting from experience in these situations. If something is transparently a scam, in fact, I think that a responsible adult/would-be victim should call it out. More importantly, it strikes me that, for any legitimate fundraising efforts involving child salespeople, it would make an awful lot of sense for the responsible adult/sponsoring organization to go to pains to provide these kids with indicia of authenticity. (And that would expressly preclude handing them a 1″ black binder with sign up sheets and illegible names scribbled in.)

      • I guess the angry teenagers have legitimate reasons for throwing rocks and people and assaulting/mugging them.

      • There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario at work here. I think the reason people react the way they do is because of being burned when they try to extend a helping hand or help some kids in need.

        So which came first, the suspicion of kids, or the getting burned by scams?

        Personally, I had a bad experience buying candy for a ‘fundraiser’ only to find the licorice was hard as a rock and stuck to the tin it was in. Even if I were inclined to eat it, the tin was less than half full. I totally got ripped off and consequently will never again buy candy from a kid on my doorstep.

        • point taken, but I think that’s a bit different from just giving kids money and having no idea where it goes. you exchanged money for goods, and whether the goods were quality or not isn’t really the issue. the issue is whether or not the kids are lying and pocketing the cash.

      • i’m nice to teenagers that don’t try to hustle me.
        though i’m nice to little kids that try to hustle me.

        what’s fucked up is not the reaction of us adults, but that these kids are out hustling.

        • You can be courteous to the little ones while still letting them know you’re on to them, and that not every person is a mark. To do otherwise is merely encouraging them to continue – until one day when they are no longer those cute little kids, and have become those annoying teenagers.

  • If you want to support a school, write a check to the school’s home-school association (like a PTA). Just call the school and they can give you the info to write a check – they all have them.

  • Kid came to our house and asked if we wanted to buy flower bulbs as part of a school fundraiser. We said yes. He came back later and asked for money. We paid. Then we waited. Got scared the kid took our money and skipped town. Gave up. But then, more than a month later, he showed up with the box of bulbs as promised. They are now flowers in our garden. So, not all kids asking to support their school are scammers.

    • Exactly.

    • That is nice. On the other hand, I bought a nut & fruit package 4 years ago from a young kid in my old building. I was foolish enough to pay up front, & then got nada.

      Some kids may be legit, but my experience with that kid means I will never again do it, because there’s no way for me to know up front. Simple commonsense.

    • A lot of legit fundraisers are like this. I participated in one when I worked in a bakery and a frequent customer in the 5th grade got donations and we were supposed to get something in return. He wasn’t going to get whatever it was we got for donating (can’t remember what it was at this point) until weeks after the donation. They collect for weeks, then turn their collections in to the school, who then distributes the ‘prizes’ to the kids to deliver to those who gave. He told us it would be a few weeks, so maybe the young kid who came to your door just didn’t explain that clearly. Glad you got your flowers πŸ™‚

  • What I really hate is when there’s a mother or someone shepherding a five-year-old along saying “ask those ladies. Speak up!” And then you have to turn down the cowed little kid AND his mom.

    • I had that happen once time at like 9 p.m. one night, and the kid was clearly exhausted, nearly to the point of tears. The mom was dragging him around because if he sold enough of whatever it was he was selling, they would get a TV. I told the mother that she needed to get the kid home to bed, and if I ever saw her doing that again, I would call social services. After an FU, she moved to the next door. I warned my neighbors away, and she finally left, kid in tow.

      • Yikes…

        Sounds like the sequel to Precious πŸ™

        Hard to know how to react to that because that mom has succeeded in fucking up the next generation of her family..

  • I also have assumed that these are scams. But, last time it happened, I realized that the same kid had now shown up at my door three years in a row. That seems like excessive perseverance for a small-time scam. It made me wonder whether he really was legit, and whether I had been mistakenly sending him away. (I would certainly buy if it were to support the school.)

  • Aside from Street Sense and the WWF I don’t think I’ve ever been approached in DC by a legit organization that wanted my money.

  • houseintherear

    They’re not all fake, and it’s a bit sad that so many of you think so. The Dunbar marching band students give great info and actually use the money for the band, which is a great band btw, and they’re friendly.

    There is also a group of younger kids (probably under 10 years old) that sells boxes of cookies to raise money for their after-school program. They have clearly been trained to speak well and have eye contact, and will volunteer info on the group. They usually travel with an adult who is within a block radius or so.

    I can’t tell you how many times I sold candy, wrapping paper, frozen pizzas, and all kinds of crap for a fundraiser as a kid. If people didn’t want to give, they smiled and said, “Not today”, just as you can do with these DC kids if you wish. No need to be judgemental.

    • A couple months ago I answered the doorbell to a high schooler trying to raise money for Dunbar’s band trip to Jamaica and he was about $100 away from reaching the goal amount to get there. I was feeling generous but didn’t have cash so I asked if there was a website or email address to send to the school directly. He gave me his name and a web address and it.didn’t.exist. Jamaica was a lie!? Anyway there seems to be some disagreement on the web about whether Dunbar still has a band: I was too lazy to follow up with a school official but I do feel a little bad if some kid missed his nonexistent trip to Jamaica.

      • I live pretty close to Dunbar, and in the fall, there is definitely some sort of marching band playing at football games. Maybe it’s not officially affiliated to the school anymore, but someone is playing. (Perhaps the fun group that practices in front of the House of Prayer by 6th and M?)
        I’ve seen kids in Dunbar football jerseys trying to raise money in the fall, as well, usually down around City Vista. They do chat a bit about what position they play and how the team is doing, so if they’re scammers, at least they play the part well.

      • As I recall, the Dunbar band was disbanded (ha) this year but they are trying to start it up again for next year. As far as the fundraising, I’m not sure whether that hurts or supports the cause.

      • Hmm, I got hit up by the Cardozo band trip to Jamaica yesterday at Cleveland Park metro. I told him no thanks, but this guy had more (genuine, not annoying) perseverance than most. He was all about the sidle-up walk-along, hence I learned that he was Cardozo band going to Jamaica…

    • I’ve never seen those marching band kids, who I would definitely support. Usually they want money for some sports team, which I would not donate to even if it were legit.

  • Reminds me of the roving magazine subscription sellers. When I lived in Seattle they’d come around. The got paid nothing, dropped out of school and traveled around the country working 12 hour days or longer. The girl I bought from (sucker I know) was so skinny and said she only ate once a day. I fed her, talked to her and bought a few magazines (which came in the mail).

    The adults that prey on this kids are terrible – the kids are victims.

  • notlawd

    They may not be raising money for an actual organization, but how is it a scam if you are getting candy/donuts out of the deal? I wouldnt just give money to a kid claiming to be collecting for a fundraiser, but if a kid wants to sell some over priced candy to me so they can have fun with the money, then so be it. I would put it on par with a lemonaid stand. I do wish they would learn to just be honest about their entrepreneurial intentions, but isnt that the job of the parents to teach them that?

    • If someone misrepresents themselves and how they will use the money, that’s a pretty good definition of a scam.

    • It’s a scam because the reason given for selling the product is a lie. Just like if you bought a product from a store claiming to give a portion of the proceeds to charity, and instead they keep all of the profits.

      It also teaches kids that they can, and should, lie to get what they want. If the kids were honest and just said “I’m selling candy to make some money so I can have fun this summer”, they may not sell as much.

      I’ve been approached a few times while on and around the Metro. The kids who were soliciting had nothing to show that they were legit – just a hand-drawn list of names. No thanks, I’ll pass.

    • So, you’re saying that if some kid offered to sell you a box of stale Raisents for five bucks, and told you the money was for him to buy a new skateboard and/or booze, you’d be all over it?

      If there were more people like you, who’d bother getting a job? Just set up a rip-off stand outside Giant and rake it in.

    • Honestly, if it were just young kids selling overpriced candy to make some money, I would totally buy from them.

      My concern is 1) encouraging children to lie about the $$ going to a good cause, and 2), the bigger concern, is not knowing who is actually taking the money. As far I know, an older teen or adult could be using cute kids to generate sympathy and make more money. Sadly not the same as a lemonade stand. πŸ™

      • I really don’t get it. Would you just give them money outright? How is paying 3x retail price for something that you didn’t want in the first place any different than just handing them a few bucks?

        And, consequently, how is selling people stuff they don’t want at a ridiculously inflated price any different than panhandling?

  • I run a youth organization here in DC. Most of these activities are not legitimate forms of fundraising. However, we run a baking program (CookieTime) where our students sell cookies in Chinatown to support a wide-range of service projects. 100% of the profit goes to the projects they select (e.g., earthquake relief, breast cancer research, etc.), and the kids are super knowledgeable about the issues. There’s more to the program of course. It has a strong academic and business focus. Just know that there are some great kids out there trying to help their communities.

  • I’m not sure why what one the kids is wearing has much to do with this. Many schools (from DCPS to private) don’t have uniforms.

  • Give them some respect?

    Is there any greater show of disrespect then preying on a person’s charitable and altruistic side by lying to them? Is that the kind of behavior we want to re-enforce?

    More than anything it makes people more skeptical of real fundraisers for actual good causes.

  • Agree that’s it’s most likely a scam. Why? Because I, like many here did the school fundraiser things too. We were never out on the streets soliciting strangers. We had materials. Parents took the forms/candy to work/church/whatever. We went to neighbor houses. People knew what kid belonged to what house. If my neighbors’ kids come by selling, I’ll buy. Or if they’re set up in front of Giant or Safeway, with a table, and adults, and materials, I’ll buy. But some random kid at the bus stop (or at Costco, like happened the other day)? Um, no.

    I can skip it, not be rude to the kid, and buy a Street Sense, which is about the only thing I’d give money to/buy on the street.

    • Yeah, back when I was a kid we had strict rules about not selling door-to-door or on the street alone. Unfortunately this means the kids whose parents have office jobs end up selling the most.

      • My parents did not have office jobs; however, my Catholic school wanted us still to sell the candy. So instead of making my parents and family buy it all, we sold on the streets. We did not go door to door however.

      • These are def. scams.

        I did many school fundraisers, and GSA Cookie sales. I stood out front of grocery stores, the neighborhood pizza place, and I sold door to door. (I think I just had a “back in my day” moment)

        But I had the official school (or organization) info with me.

      • I didn’t grow up around office job types (scarred for life preacher’s daughter), and the ones who always sold the most where I was were the parents who worked at the factories and mills. Of course this was long ago, when we HAD factories and mills and such. One of the most successful sellers I recall had a father who worked at a gas station–she cleaned up every time.

      • saf

        “when I was a kid we had strict rules about not selling door-to-door or on the street alone’

        More proof that I am old – we HAD to go door to door on a certain numbers of blocks for girl scout cookie sales.

  • Panhandling on the subway in NYC is a crime…why can’t Metro do that here?

  • If they give me a good sales pitch, and they can spend five minutes answering all of my follow up questions.

    Such as:
    What organization are they raising the money for?
    How does my donation getting used?
    What’s your name?
    Can I write a check?
    Is there a website?
    What’s the address?
    How long have you been doing this?
    How much money are you trying to raise?
    Do you get a prize if you raise the most money?
    How much have you made today?
    Where do you live?

    If they can make it to the end. Just like anyone else who is trying to scam me out of money. And sometimes, they might make it to the end- and get nada.

    I can appreciate a good hustle; but you’ve gotta do your homework son. Make me believe it!

  • it’s the new lemonade stand, deal with it….

  • I don’t have a problem with giving a kid money for overpriced candy either… I would probably buy more from them if they told me that they were the ones benefitting from it and not some dubious charity.

  • What kills me is when a bum shakes a cup of change at you. What’s that all about? I should give you some money because you’re shaking a cup in my face? If you can’t at least ask me for money . . . you definitely get nothing.

  • This had been happening for years in New York, and the city basically came out and said it’s never legit.

    They should do the same here, but I bet Kwame Brown and Vince Gray are somehow on the take, demanding a 25% cut. Someone’s gotta pay for those fully-loaded SUVs and executive pay raises!

  • I give them a garbage bag and offer to pay them $5.00 if they pick up all the trash on my block. No one has ever taken me up on it.

  • I was totally mugged by these two adorable little girls selling cookies for their school. They asked me to pay up front, and I gave them $20, never to see them again. I thought it might be fake, but they had a form, like I had as a kid selling girl scout cookies. Sigh.

  • pennyworth

    of course they’re scams. but lets be careful not to focus on why they need to scam people. heads back in the sand.

  • I think I just need to gripe for a second on the grown ups selling for greenpeace and whatever. I once asked one of them if I could donate on their website and they told me I needed to give them my credit card information on the spot. Who would do that?

    • so funny you mentioned this. during my cab ride back from chinatown, i googled “what to say to greenpeace street teams” – pretty great answers. i have learned to just nod and explicitly tell them i cannot wait until the earth dies, and then walk away as their jaw hits the pavement

    • I usually see them canvassing in front of Union Station. I once saw one who had a Democratic Underground sticker on his clipboard. That makes him a double douche.

    • They are always in Columbia Heights, along with the Planned Parenthood and Live Green canvasers as well. I agree, it’s annoying to always get stopped when you are on your way somewhere just trying to get past them.

      BUT, I have to admit one summer during college I got tricked into becoming one of these sales people for a greanpeace-like organization so I feel kind of bad for them at the same time. They advertise the job as some great non-profit position where you get to make a difference in the world, meet new people every day, not be bored, AND make great money (if you’re convincing enough) blah blah blah…. and then you realize you are just knocking on doors asking for money and feeling guilty when people actually sign up because 30% of whatever they pay is going directly to your paycheck. I was actually good at it, but I hated every second. (You would be surprised how many strangers will give their credit card info to a canvaser who promises an end to global warming with your donation) After a month I made up an exuse to quit.

      Just avoid eye-contact and keep walking! If they see a hint of interest you are screwed.

  • As long as you reach into your pocket and give ANY money to ANY person that ask for it, for what ever cause, they will be there the next day and the next day and the next day. The first thing you are supposed to learn when you move from the ‘burbs to the big city is “Don’t give money to people who ask for it on the street”.
    Type Google in the address bar and search for a DC school to donate to if you want to donate.

    Spelling Nazis have at it.
    Is this where I put “+1” ? (rolling eyes)

  • It’s not a “scam” – you see what you are getting right in front of you. It’s just over-priced low quality snacks.

    The sad part about these kids is that their parents are probably the ones making them do it! I’ve seen groups of kids selling boxes of candy or cookies and usually there is an adult nearby lurking to keep an eye on them. They know that people will feel sympathy to a child over an adult and be more likely to buy from them. Recently on the metro I saw kids selling candy, only $1 so not as much as a rip-off.

  • When someone from Greenpeace asks if you have a moment, just say, “I’m already a member.”

    They’ll leave you alone. Works every time.

  • I want to point out that yes, all the binder things are scams… (Except legit organizations with hired canvassing groups).

    But the main point I wanted to make is that these children are being paid on commission by an adult to do this work. The kids are being taught by the adults to scam hustle and lie. Be especially wary when this is happening during a school day when kids should be in school. The city should find a way to come down hard on the men and women who are exploiting these kids.

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