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Take My Money…Or Not

Mike Lawson • Perspective • October 1, 2020

The local marching band’s instruments are in bad shape. The small high school is, like so many music programs across the country, disadvantaged in many ways, with multiple inoperable and ancient instruments.

They faced hardship after hardship the past decade or so, with decades-old uniforms, broken instruments, no tech to speak of (save an old ‘90’s-era CD boombox), and a tiny enrollment from the student body, because who wants to join a marching band with broken-down gear, uniforms their parents probably wore, and nothing really going for it?

Things began turning around a few years ago as a new director came in, but it was a succession of multiple new directors before they finally got one who brought decades of experience, enthusiasm, dedication, and innovative ideas. Their revived booster program raised money and replaced those old threadbare uniforms. They came up with annual subscription fundraising programs to automatically sign up and renew annual supporters using PayPal. A major instrument manufacturer offered them an amazing deal, knocking about 60 percent off what they would normally spend to replace their instruments. There was a time limit on the offer, and just weeks into an uncertain school year (they’ve already closed down since opening because of an outbreak at the school), it was a daunting task to raise the money. Door to door sales? Out of the question. The call for help was made largely within the school community.

The hometown newspaper ran a story sounding the alarm for donations as they band had not quite yet made the goal. I read the story, eager to help. I got to the end where “the ask” was made. Donations could be made by “mailing a check” or a booster would come to your house to pick it up. Heavy sigh. I don’t have a checkbook. Not for 10 years. I don’t want people coming to my house right now, sorry. Another heavy sigh. What century are we living in?

Over the past couple of years, I have opined on the difficulty band programs have raising much-needed funds, and spotlighted some programs that do innovative things to fundraise. A common theme in all of these is the antiquated 20th century methods of payment that are hamstringing donations. When my children attended that high school, I could pay for their lunches online. I can’t donate money? Why? I am sure a well-intended bureaucrat at the district could give me some baffling reasons as to why the boosters could not accept donations via PayPal or some other method.

It raises a bigger issue. How much money do your programs lose by only accepting cash and checks in an age where most people have largely stopped using cash and checks? How many people are willing to place the order for the fundraiser, but then say, “oh, uh… cash or check?” I am not alone in this. There are myriad methods for taking payments. It is absurd that so much money needs to be raised each year, not just for student travel, but for absolute necessities. Why are some districts not making it easy for the community to donate? How can we be in the second decade of the 21st century asking people to mail a check?

A lifelong fan of trying to skirt the system, I dug out the PayPal address for the booster organization, sent them a donation in this “unofficial” payment method, asking them to forward it to the school district, who has taken charge of the receipt of money for the program. I’m assured it will get there, but was told that this isn’t an advertised method officially sanctioned by the district.

Please, make it easy to take my money. Give me an immediate method to pay where my impulse to support your program is matched by an easy way to do so. Collect my money on “my terms” in the age in which we live. I want to donate. I do not want to buy paper checks. I don’t want to put a check in the mail. I don’t want you coming to my house to pick up a paper check or cash during a pandemic. I do want to support you in the moment, when I’m sold. I know every district in each state in the country has their own policies and procedures, but I’m here to say, if you need to fundraise (and you always will), you will have to fight to modernize how you accept money in modern times, so you can take my money… or not.

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