I have three kids in public school, which means that if we are eventually homeless, they’ll be excellent beggars. They’ve burnished their panhandling credentials through the years with the multiple annual fundraisers that launch them out into the neighborhood to ask the same 30 neighbor houses whether they want to buy any nuts, calendars, candy, candles, candy, magazines, candy, or candy.
We alone are surely responsible for at least a small boost in the “NO SOLICITING” sign micro-economy of the 57701 ZIP code.
I didn’t mind them at first; after all, it’s often a kid’s first lesson in entrepreneurship, public speaking and emotional manipulation all rolled into one. Also, it requires them to vacate the house and leave me alone.
I remember my first venture into school-sponsored door-to-door hustling. I was in the 7th grade and raising money to go to Spanish camp, and I was a one-man swarm of my government-housing neighborhood for weeks. Somehow, selling nothing but posters of Lamborghinis and Motley Crue and sexy blacklight valkyrie princesses, I managed to sell enough to win my first Nintendo.
But now, the prizes suck. Your kid can ring the cash register up with a couple thousand dollars worth of sales and their top “prize” is some bullshit remote-control robot or “smartwatch” that’s made of plastic and more plastic and you know perfectly well it’ll stop working in 24 hours, if it’s not altogether DOA.
Even the children now realize the prizes are garbage, so the real money is made on local, event-based fundraisers. You know, chili feeds, ice cream socials, and whatnot. Everyone’s gotta eat, right?
I live in Rapid City, S.D., and the most popular fundraising spot seems to be Culver’s, a Wisconsin-based fast-food chain. The gist of it is, your nonprofit group gets to be the food-hander-outers at Culver’s for two hours, and then you get a cut of the sales during that time.
Which is great in theory, but for the Culver’s menu. If you haven’t eaten at a Culver’s, it’s like your 80-year-old grandma got together with two of her nursing home friends and designed their perfect fast-food restaurant. “Let’s start our own restaurant, Ethel…we’ll make everyone wear nice white button shirts with tan slacks and we’ll serve pot roast and broasted chicken and ham-and-bean soup and a strawberry salad…and get this, instead of ice cream, we’ll serve custard!”
Keep it…I’d rather just donate $5 for the privilege of NOT eating Culver’s for dinner.
The next most popular place for fundraisers is Pizza Ranch, an Iowa-based chain whose branding consummates the hand-in-glove marriage of Italian street food with wild-west cowboy culture. Pizza Ranch replicates the Culver’s model of letting the kids hand out food for a couple hours in exchange for a cut of the take.
But it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant and we don’t generally frequent those, for the same reason I don’t give the kids a carton of Lucky Strikes or a mirror full of cocaine for getting a good report card. If at any time your restaurant has 17 customers in wheelchairs and none of them has an orthopedic injury, then it isn’t a restaurant; it’s a Sanctum Of Bad Life Choices.
So I get it, I’m a dick and I’m hard to please. But Marco’s Pizza…they’ve cracked my code.
Marco’s is yet another regional pizza chain (out of Ohio, this one), and they’ve invented the most powerful school-fundraising program to date. Here’s how it works:
They deliver blank white pizza boxes to your kid’s school, and all the kids color a box. It’s an art project. Your son or daughter is a little Michelangelo, and the pizza box is the canvas. When they’re done, the boxes go back to Marco’s, and you wait.
Then, for ONE NIGHT ONLY, you can order a pizza from Marco’s and it will be delivered to your family in your kid’s specially-created-just-for-you box.
Don’t want pizza that night? Oh well…no problem…then your sweet little student’s special art project that she made for you, it goes in the dumpster.
Marco’s, Marco’s, Marco’s. Cap. Fuckin’. TIP. To you guys.
For real, that’s genius stuff. So you can see where it goes from here. In our case, Lorenzo comes home from school, and says, “Tonight’s the night for Marco’s, Dad! If we order a pizza tonight, then they’ll bring it in the box I made for us!”
And so I have two choices, essentially: I can say:
- “Absolutely, let’s order it so we can get your box!”; or
- “I don’t want your damned art project, those pizza cooks can throw that shit in the nasty-ass dumpster for all I care.”
And Marco’s doesn’t bust my balls about what I have to order to get my box, either. I don’t have to spring for an extra-large 3-topping or anything like that. We ordered a small, thin-crust cheese pizza, and that was enough to get our box. Eight bucks, done.
And, for the record, it was entirely worth it. Look at that bursting sun! Look at all the rainbow harmony! Look at the two dogs, one with red legs and one with yellow legs! It’s pinned up on our wall already.
Plus, their pizza is kick-ass, too.
If they can get a cranky bastard like me to pony up the fundraiser cash with no hesitation at all, then they’re onto something.
Well-played, my friends. Well-played.