A new crop of online businesses is helping school organizations find new ways to generate funds—and giving bake sales, magazine drives, and book fairs a run for their money.

Online shoppers log on to a web site—such as schoolpop.com, schoolcash.com, or shopforschool.com—designate a school and click on to one of many online shopping sites. Shoppers buy what they want, and the designated school gets a percentage of the cost, from 1 percent to 30 percent.

“It’s appealing, because it’s a no-pressure type of thing,” said Sheila Roszell, president of the Guy B. Phillips Middle School Parent Teachers Association in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The results aren’t guaranteed. Two school groups in Chapel Hill and Cary collected $100 in a month with an online service; a Raleigh group got only $25 since the fall.

While the amounts aren’t huge, the free money is being welcomed by thousands of cash-strapped schools, parent-teacher organizations, and booster clubs.

The largest of about a dozen such companies, schoolpop.com, was launched in February 1999 and has 14,000 registered schools, about 200 of them in North Carolina. Another company, schoolcash.com, with 3,500 schools, has 84 in North Carolina.

Roszell recently received a flier for schoolcash.com and registered the school. Over the holidays, a sign outside the school encouraged community members to “Shop at school.com and raise $ for Phillips.”

Online fund-raising sites for charities and other nonprofits have been proliferating since the internet boom began, but sites designed specifically for schools and school organizations began sprouting in August.

The services are free, though some companies require or encourage schools to market the sites through fliers and other advertising materials.

Company officials say they are creating an unobtrusive form of raising money that is far removed from the classroom and students.

“Resources in schools are so strained,” said Carl Sangree, director of the New Jersey-based schoolcash.com. “We want to create something for significant financial rewards with minimal volunteer commitment and at an arm’s length from the classroom.”

Tim Sullivan, publisher and president of PTO Today magazine, sees the sites as the ideal fund-raiser.

“You’re not asking folks to buy anything new; you’re just sending schools something based on things they’re already buying,” Sullivan said. “There’s really no down side. Five years from now, if everyone is shopping online, who knows the potential?”

School officials are well aware that the startups could fold or take more of a cut than they say they do. But with all that money being spent on the internet—some estimates say as much as $6 billion was spent online in 1999—schools figure they should try to profit, too.

“It’s pretty easy money, if we ever do see anything,” Roszell said. “If we don’t, we haven’t invested anything.”

One of the newest online fundraising sites, shopforschool.com, has launched an “Adopt-a-School” service that will allow it to expand its sphere of influence in the community. Through the Adopt-a-School program, shopforschool.com will partner with local businesses, which will support schools by encouraging their employees to shop online at the shopforschool.com web site.

Shoppers at shopforschool.com can choose from more than 60 online name-brand merchants, including Barnes & Noble, toysmart.com, Lands’ End, CDNOW, and IBM.

“We are pleased to offer this program to local businesses who are looking for ways to support schools and students in their communities,” said Gary Blackford, chief executive officer of shopforschool.com. “We expect to see a significant growth in contributions to area schools as a result of these partnerships.”

Launched in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where shopforschool.com is located, the Adopt-a-School program will be rolled out nationally later this year.