At school pickup time today, my son Jack bounded toward me excitedly waving a document that parents dread more than teen pregnancy and head lice. Its brightly colored photos displayed prizes that every kid dreams of: a flat screen TV, a remote control race car, an iPod Touch, spy goggles, a lifetime supply of Silly String and a few smaller rewards that normally break during their first use.
Ahh, fundraising time again at Northwest Laurens Elementary.
“If I sell a thousand buckets of cookie dough, I can get a flat screen TV for my room!" exclaimed Jack. "The fundraising man said we should set our goals high in life, that we all know lots of people. And who doesn’t love cookies? I really want that TV, so I’m going for the thousand. Think we can do it, Mom?”
“We!? Honey, I see your name on the form, not mine,” I pointed out to my son, who’s more than willing to include me in any activity that involves soliciting donations from neighbors who probably have pending litigation against me.
As an elementary school parent I’ve taken on the jobs of bus driver, referee, counselor, library volunteer, homework Nazi, classroom story reader, paper grader and fall festival face painter. I’m not a sales person. I’m just not. I’ve tried it many times. And failed many times.
Early on, I decided against a sales career after spending three weeks working at a lighting store called Lamps Plus. Each day, we’d pass the first half hour listening to Annie, a drill sergeant turned sales manager, give us a shouting “pep talk” about how worthless we were and if she weren’t so compassionate she’d fire us all on the spot. I always entered the merchandise floor feeling shell shocked, yet grateful to Annie for not shooting me as a sacrifice for team motivation.
The day that I broke more inventory than I sold, my lighting industry dreams came crashing to the floor, along with a Swarovski chandelier. Before Annie could get her gun, I was driving out of the parking lot.
Since then, I’ve spent most of my working years in marketing, thus making it easier for sales people to do their jobs. I guess you could call me an enabler.
Back to the present…
“Well, Mom, if you won’t help me sell a thousand, will you at least buy 12 buckets so I can go to the Mega Party? We get to ride in a Limo and they’ll have pizza and blow up slides and a bunch of other cool stuff. And we get to skip school for three whole hours,” said Jack.
“Let me see that sheet!” I countered. “That’s a 1979 Country Squire station wagon. It says ‘Limo-like transportation.’”
“C’mon, Mom. Can’t we just walk around the neighborhood? It won’t take that long to sell 12.”
“Okay,” I caved. “But we have to do it NOW, before the other neighborhood kids get home.”
Each year, when fundraising time comes around, I buy just enough of whatever the school’s peddling for my son to earn the lowest prize on the chart...probably a glow-in-the-dark highlighter. And each year the angel on my shoulder chides me for robbing him of the chance to experience entrepreneurship and free enterprise. “Jack’ll never gain the valuable skills necessary to find a lucrative job in the U.S.’s evolving customer-centered workforce if you don’t get out there and knock on doors with him,” says my angel (a capitalist Republican) , as the devil on my left shoulder picks out her 12 favorite cookie dough flavors.
Armed with the order form, a pen, a ziplock bag to collect money and our obnoxious mixed-breed mutt Katie on a leash, we set out. My strategy was to tell people we were selling dogs and Katie was the only one left. After seeing her, they’d be more than willing to buy anything else we had.
Our first stop was the Slater family. They’re on my short list of favorite neighbors.
“Would you like to buy some cookie dough,” asked Jack in his most Dale Carnegie approved voice.
“Yeah sure,” said 12-year-old Kelsey.
“Would you like to buy some magazines, Mrs. Weight?” she countered.
“Uhm, I guess so,” I replied reluctantly…trapped.
After a short round of negotiations, we walked away having sold two buckets of dough and purchased two magazines that I’m sure I’d have subscribed to anyway… at half the price.
A couple of houses down, we met Lisa Scott, who bought a bucket of oatmeal-raisin and in turn sold us a Boston butt roast for twice the price of the dough. It was to help her son’s preschool raise money for new playground equipment.
We don’t eat Boston butt, but I’m sure it’ll make a great gift….to someone, although the only upcoming gifting occasion is Little Kate Bell’s seventh birthday party. She probably won’t be receiving any other 10 pound cuts of meat.
One street over, Mrs. Zinker bought a bucket of chocolate chunk and talked me into hosting a Tupperware party.
And so our sales calls went…
Two hours later, after knocking on 28 doors, buying three magazines, five raffle tickets, a ham, a case of Cokes, a roll of Santa Claus wrapping paper, a bag of fertilizer and a Mary Kay skin renewal kit, we finally hit number 12.
"Jack shouted ‘victory’ and I promptly fired my shoulder angel.