Many schools are attracted to web-based fund-raising programs that have emerged in the past few years. These programs offer the lure of effortless fund-raising, as whoever wishes to support a particular school (parents, teachers, etc.) merely registers at a web site that has contractual commitments from retailers to rebate a certain percentage of each online purchase. However, many of these programs offer far less than their promoters promise in marketing literature.

One of the most common gimmicks is an early offer of a very large rebate provided to a school for each purchase made by a parent or teacher. The rebate drops significantly very soon after sign-up. Other companies may subsidize rebates temporarily while trying to generate traffic to their sites and then quietly end the subsidy. Some companies take a large commission (20 percent) out of each rebate. Others do not send rebates unless the rebate totals a certain dollar figure—a procedure that can delay rebates for weeks or months.

Fund-raising experts say it’s important to look past each vendor’s claims of having the highest rebate or working with the most schools. Other factors are far more important, including:

  • A wide range of goods to purchase online;

  • Comprehensive, year-round fundraising options;

  • Support services provided by the online vendor, such as recordkeeping; and

  • Track record at meeting its promises.

To view the deals offered by four leading online fund-raising companies, go to: Schoolpop (http://www.schoolpop.com); 4mycommunity (http://www.4mycommunity.com); Learning Network/Schoolcash (http://www.schoolcash.com); Shop For School (http://www.shopforschool.com).