Children in Fundraising

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
As children become older, their ideas of philanthropy expand and their acts of helping and sharing increase with their new understanding of volunteerism and basic financial concepts



The Merriam-Webster Online dictionary defines fundraising as the organized activity of raising funds. Fundraising requires a giving behavior and generally refers to charitable monetary donations or in-kind giving, such as food and clothing (Bentley and Nissan, 1996).  An individual’s or organization’s fundability is based upon who you are, whom you know, and who knows you (Bauer, 1993). Young children generally become involved in fundraising as a result of a school activity or parental involvement. As children become older, their ideas of philanthropy expand and their acts of helping and sharing increase with their new understanding of volunteerism and basic financial concepts (Agard, Bielefeld, Howbert, and Nissan 2001).


Historic Roots

Perhaps one of the most well known fundraisers involving children is the Girl Scouts of the USA and its Girl Scout Cookies campaign.  Girl Scout Cookies had their start in the kitchens of its members, with mothers volunteering to make the cookies.  The sale of cookies to finance troop activities began with the the Mistletoe Troop in Muskogee, Oklahoma, which baked cookies and sold them in its high school cafeteria in December 1917 (Girl Scouts).

In July 1922, The American Girl magazine, published by Girl Scout national headquarters, featured an article by Florence E. Neil who provided a cookie recipe that was given to the council's 2,000 Girl Scouts. She estimated the cost of ingredients for six- to seven-dozen cookies to be 26 to 36 cents. The cookies, she suggested, could be sold by troops for 25 or 30 cents per dozen (ibid.).

In the 1920s and 1930s, Girl Scouts throughout the country continued to bake their own simple sugar cookies with their mothers. These cookies were packaged in wax paper bags, sealed with a sticker, and sold door to door for 25 to 35 cents per dozen (ibid.).

Today, Girl Scout Cookies are still a major fundraiser for its local troops.  Profit from Cookie sales amounts to 70% of consumer cost.  Cookie sale revenue is used to subsidize Girl Scout programs in the local areas for such activities as recruiting and training volunteer leaders, improving and maintaining camp and other activity sites, keeping event/camp fees for all members to a minimum, and
sponsoring special events and projects (ibid.).



“A child’s understanding of giving and serving varies by age because moral judgment develops over time” (Bentley and Nissan 1996, 13).  Lawrence Kohlberg identified six stages of moral judgment. These stages are divided into three levels: premoral, conventional role conformity, and self-accepted moral principles. Through his research he found that engaging children in moral situations could teach moral education (Bentley and Nissan 1996, 14-15). Providing children fundraising opportunities for philanthropic causes contributes to the development of moral judgment and a better understanding of civic responsibility.

Social diversity impacts our willingness to be philanthropic. Why we give, what we give, and to whom we give very often relates to the impact social differences make on our lives. Individuals have been found to donate based on their ties to a social community, religious beliefs, business motivations, social enjoyment, purpose and personal fulfillment, repayment, or family tradition (Agard, Bielefeld, Howbert, and Nissan 2001).

Asking for money or donations for a cause is merely explaining what the cause is and sharing your passion for the cause with others (0”Connell 1999, 115).Children involved in fundraising are committed to their causes.  It is important to involve children in philanthropic activities when they are young because as they grow, these behaviors will become second nature to them.

Fundraising gives children a sense of empowerment. Children do not often have the monetary resources available to them to bring about change, but through fundraising, they can acquire the monetary means necessary to begin the process of change. They see first hand that they have the ability to make a positive change in their communities. 


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Fundraising is essential to the survival of the philanthropic sector. Nonprofit organizations require volunteers as well as monetary donations for their existence. “Nonprofit organizations must focus on their reason for existence, review goals, and develop fundraising plans that move the organization toward the desired end” (Bauer 1993, 21) Philanthropic actions are present at both ends of fundraising. The individual fundraising is giving of time and talent to a self-selected cause. The donor is giving their “treasure” of money or in-kind gifts to the cause pursued by the fundraiser. Fundraising is an opportunity to bring about a positive change for the greater good. 

Fundraising by children is common from sports and other activity clubs to schools and churches.  Often bulk of items are purchased, children sell the items individually, and the profits help purchase such things as equipment and pay for trips.  However, fundraising by children can also involve greater goals such as missionary work or finding a cure for cancer. 

Alexandra Scott was only eight years old when she began her fundraising efforts. She had been diagnosed with neurblastoma just before she turned one. Neurblastoma is a very aggressive form of childhood cancer. She started a lemonade stand to raise money for cancer research and, during her first year, she had raised $2,000. This started a nationwide fundraising campaign and although Alexandra died, her fundraising efforts continue and have exceeded the $2,500,000 mark (Alex’s Lemonade Stand).

The Boys Scouts of America, which is also partially funded by fundraising of its members, collected hundreds of thousands of pounds of disaster relief good for the victim of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Local units organized individually and collected items from their communities such as personal hygiene products, food, and backpacks with school supplies (Boy Scouts of America).


Key Related Ideas

Community need is a condition or situation in which something is required or wanted by citizens. When individuals make a choice to give to or fundraise for an organization, they must first assess the community need. This can be done through a community needs survey.

A volunteer is someone who gives of his or her time without pay. Individuals who choose to fundraise often engage in a volunteer activity to help benefit the common good.

Incentives are benefits or costs that influence the choices of people. When individuals select a fundraising venue, there are often incentives attached. These incentives could be things like tax breaks, products, or positive public relations.


Important People Related to the Topic

  • Alexandra Scott (1996-2004): Scott was the 8-year-old founder of Alex's Lemonade Stand For Pediatric Cancer Research. She was diagnosed with neuroblastoma two days before her first birthday.  When she was four, She wanted help to do something to help find a cure for childhood cancer.  With the help of children all around the world, she has raised over $2,500,000 for pediatric cancer.

    For a list of teaching units incorporating fundraising in the classroom, access Learning to Give's lesson search engine and search on the keyword "fundraising."
  • Juliette Gordon Low (1860-1927): Low, founder of Girl Scouts of the USA, gathered 18 girls in 1912 to register the first troop of American Girl Guides.  A year later, the name was changed to Girl Scouts.  Juliette brought girls of all backgrounds into the out-of-doors, giving them the opportunity to develop self-reliance and resourcefulness. She encouraged girls to prepare not only for traditional homemaking, but also for possible future roles as professional women—in the arts, sciences and business—and for active citizenship outside the home.

    For more information, see the Learning to Give briefing paper on Juliette Gordon Low.
  • Mattie J.T Stepanek (1990-2004): Stepanek was born with Dysautonomic Mitochondrial Myopathy. He is considered an ambassador of humanity. He was a New York Times best-selling author at the age of eleven. He has written five books of “Heartsongs” poetry. Before his death, he was the National Goodwill Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He was also a public speaker who spoke out about peace efforts and global tolerance.


Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Brookfield Soccer Association in Brookfield, Wisconsin raises approximately $50,000 each year through its Annual Raffle.  The Association’s 2,000 child members help sell raffle tickets with prizes donated from for-profit companies that include trips, apparel, tanning packages and more (
  • Boy Scouts of America was incorporated in 1910, and chartered by Congress in 1916, to provide an educational program for boys and young adults to build character, train in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, to develop personal fitness ( For more information, see the Learning to Give briefing paper on Boy Scouts of America.
  • Girl Scouts of the USA is the world's largest organization dedicated to helping all girls build character and gain skills for success.  Girl Scout’s national headquarters is located in New York City, with over 400 employees dedicated to supporting the Girl Scout Movement. The organization works in partnership with more than 300 local Girl Scout councils or offices, 236,000 troops/groups, 986,000 adult volunteers, its National Board of Directors, and countless corporate, government, and individual supporters, Girl Scouts is helping girls become  leaders (
  • Kids Can Free The Children, is an international network of children helping children at a local, national and international level through representation, leadership and action. Craig Kielburger founded it in 1995, when he was 12 years old. The primary goal of the organization is not only to free children from poverty and exploitation, but to also free children from the idea that they are powerless to make a difference (



Bibliography and Internet Sources

  • Agard, K., Bielefeld, D., Howbert, S., & Nissan, L.  Learning to give: a family foundation guidebook for raising kids who give, share, and care. Muskegon, Mi.: Learning to Give, 2001.
  • Alex’s Lemonade Stand.  Frequently Asked Questions: Alex's Lemonade Stand: Fighting Childhood Cancer One Cup At A Time.  Accessed 14 July 2005.
  • Baurer, D.  The Fund-raising Primer.  New York:  Scholastic Inc., 1993.   ISBN: 0-590-49374-4.
  • Bentley, Richard J., and Luana Nissan. The Roots of Giving and Serving. Indianapolis: The Indiana University Center on Philanthropy, 1996.
  • Boy Scouts of America.   Good News Stories.  Accessed 8 December 2005.
  • Girl Scouts of the USA.   Girl Scout Cookies.  Accessed 8 December 2005.   
  • O'Connell, B.  Civil Society: The Underpinnings Of American Democracy. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1999.  ISBN: 0-87451-925-x.


This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at Ferris State University - Grand Rapids Campus. It is offered by Learning To Give and Ferris State University - Grand Rapids Campus.