The proliferation of web sites that let online shoppers raise money for their schools is changing the nature of school fundraising. But some schools are questioning the way many of these sites do business.

The concept is simple: Shop online at selected merchants, and a portion of each sale goes toward the school of your choice. Typically, a school’s share is between 5 and 20 percent. Of course, the site’s operators get a portion of each sale as well.

When you log on to a site such as SchoolCash.com or ShopforSchool.com, you can search a national database of K-12 schools for the ones in your community. You can then choose the school you’d like to benefit from your online purchases.

Most fundraising sites include every K-12 school in their database, even if a school hasn’t signed up to participate. And that’s the rub, says Gary Murphy, director of information and technology services for the Douglas County, Colo., School District.

“You are giving the impression that all of these schools have sanctioned this type of fundraising activity, when in fact many of them haven’t,” Murphy said. “You’re using the names of the schools to bring traffic to your [web] site, and I think that’s borderline fraudulent.”

It’s not that Murphy is against the idea of online fundraising. “Conceptually, we love it–I know how the fundraising business is, and I know how it drives people nuts,” he said. “Their intent is probably good, but they’re doing it under false pretenses.”

Murphy said he first discovered the fact that these sites posted school names without the schools’ permission when a colleague at a state conference tipped him off. He checked three sites–ShopforSchool.com, SchoolCash.com, and SchoolCity.com–and, sure enough, he found the names of all the schools in Douglas County.

When Murphy contacted ShopforSchool.com and SchoolCash.com with his concerns, both sites immediately removed the names of any schools in the district that weren’t actively participating. But that doesn’t change the underlying issue, Murphy said.

“The web changes so fast–here’s three sites that we know about. How many more are out there that we don’t know about?” he said.

Gary Blackford, chief executive officer of ShopforSchool.com, said he was surprised to hear such criticism. Blackford said his site, like most others of its kind, includes the names of all K-12 schools in its database as a matter of convenience for online shoppers.

“The reason we have this information, quite honestly, is to make it easier for schools to participate,” he said. “The school names, in and of themselves, are public information.

“We’ve yet to have a school that we’ve sent a check to come back to us and say, ‘We don’t want this.’ On the contrary, schools have been only too happy to participate,” he added.

But linking a school’s name to a fundraising activity without its permission raises several concerns, Murphy contends. Commercialism in schools is a touchy issue, and some school boards have adopted policies prohibiting this kind of activity.

“If we’re being linked to something that might somehow be offensive to some parents, that’s wrong,” he said. “You might ask, ‘Why would a school turn down money?’ But that’s not the point. If I went door to door collecting money for the Girl Scouts without their permission, they’d be upset, too.”

Randy Donahoo, information technology supervisor for the St. Vrain Valley School District in Boulder County, Colo., had even harsher words to describe the approach taken by many of these fundraising sites.

“We’re discovering that these sites are putting up our school names without any contact in advance–I think that’s dirty business,” he said.

Donahoo sent an eMail message to Jamal Haider, CEO of SchoolCity.com, voicing his concern. In response, Haider wrote, “Many sites list [information] on schools, including some of our competitors… Over 99 percent of school administrators love our concept and what we are all about.”

Haider was unavailable for comment when his company was contacted by eSchool News.

David Green, CEO of SchoolCash.com, said web sites like his follow the model of Target’s successful Take Charge of Education program, in that they target parents instead of the schools.

Green said he would be willing to put a disclaimer on his site saying that schools listed in the site’s database do not necessarily condone the site or its fundraising activity. The disclaimer also would tell shoppers to check with the school of their choice to see if it’s okay before they designate that school to receive funds.

But a school’s name would remain in the site’s database unless the school requested otherwise, he said.

Links:

Douglas County School District
http://www.dcsd.k12.co.us/district/index.html


ShopforSchool.com
http://www.shopforschool.com


SchoolCash.com
http://www.schoolcash.com


SchoolCity.com
http://www.schoolcity.com