It is harder to give directed donations to a public school than to a non-profit

This year, we want to give money to DC2’s classes (English and Spanish) to help them purchase items for “differentiation, independent learning, and/or enrichment”.  This is mainly because DC2 needs them, at least on English days.  (“Mommy, I’m in the green group which means that we have the trickiest problems, but they’re still way too easy.  I already know all the sight words from preschool.”)  We want this to be anonymous because it’s just weird giving money to public school when DC2 is a member of the class.  (We know the Spanish teacher already incorporates differentiation, at least in second semester from our class observation last Spring.  The English teacher does a little bit according to DC2, but maybe not enough for DC2 right now.)

When we did this back when DC1 was in Kindergarten in private school, it was super easy, we just wrote a check along with a little note outlining the particulars of the gift.  Since we were already paying tuition to the private school we were also able to talk to the teacher about what her ideas were and make sure the money would be of interest even given the strings attached (that it be for differentiation/independent learning activities).

This time DH called up the front desk and they said they couldn’t take directed donations of money, only general donations for the entire grade, but to contact the PTO president to see if she could help.  After some back and forth with her, the PTO president reiterated that she could only take donations for the entire grade and they would go towards defraying the cost of field trips, but she’d get in contact with the Assistant Principal on our behalf.  After a couple of weeks of not hearing from her, DH emailed the school Principal directly.   A couple days later the school principal emailed back and offered the following options:

  1. Write a check to the school and the teachers would be told they could use that money, but only through the district’s preferred vendors.  The vendors are not actually that great, so their ability to make purchases would be pretty limited.
  2. Provide several gift cards for Amazon/Walmart/Target so they have more options for what to purchase (though this also is limiting, and we might not get the amounts right).
  3. Provide gift cards for cash from Visa/Amex/Mastercard.  This would be the least limiting of the choices.

Oh gentle grumpy nation, I have been trying so hard to get #3 to work.  But we want to get two $500 gift cards (one for each class) and Target/Walmart only carry Visa in $200 or less denominations, and it costs $6-7 to get one.  You can’t order Visa gift cards directly from Visa and we don’t belong to one of their participating banks that waives fees.  AmEx looked really promising with a flat $4 fee per $500 card until I tried to check out and realized there was an additional $8.95 shipping charge on top of that*.  But maybe it’s worth it since to get Visa cards at Target or Walmart we’d be paying $24 just to get $800 in gift cards.  (Mastercard is not an option because they start making the money disappear once there’s inactivity.)

I might be able to waive some fees if I wait for October’s promotion codes to show up somewhere– September’s AmEx promo code got rid of shipping costs but they’ve since expired.

Or we could just write a check and they’d be limited to the list of preferred vendors, none of which I’ve heard of.  (I have to wonder what kind of grift is going on there…)

Anyway, I’m leaning towards paying the exorbitant fees for turning plastic credit money into anonymous plastic gift money so that they can use the money wherever they want (albeit, maybe only places that take AmEx…).  Though with a minimum of $17 in fees, it’s tempting to go with Amazon cards since you can buy most things on Amazon.  Except, you can’t buy everything on Amazon.

We have our first (15 min) parent teacher conference uh… today.

*Looks like they regularly have online discounts for things like shipping fees, but October’s wasn’t up yet when I wrote this post.

What would you do, Grumpeteers?

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32 Responses to “It is harder to give directed donations to a public school than to a non-profit”

  1. Leah Says:

    Do you have a CVS or Walgreens nearby? I think they sell larger denominations of cards.

    That is super frustrating. You definitely want to be anonymous?

    You could also have VP make teachers aware and have them pick items, then you could purchase said items and deliver to the office.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      They sell the same denominations as Target. Visa just no longer has more than $200 cards at retail stores.

      The secretary mentioned we could make in-kind donations when DH called the first time. It would force them to make decisions in a short time period and would be more effort on our parts.

  2. Zenmoo Says:

    I would pay the convenience tax of $17 on $500 and be done with it.

    • bogart Says:

      Me too. Didn’t the Grumpies just post about exactly the price-of-convenience issue ;)?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        There are limits to the price of convenience fees! The cost of 8 Visa cards is just too much. AmEx seems to be more reasonable even though AmEx isn’t accepted everywhere (those old Visa commercials did a great job of brainwashing me)…

      • bogart Says:

        Yes, fair enough. And of course who wants to fund visa?

  3. grk Says:

    Get wish list from teachers and buy and donate the stuff you like and agree with …. Tell teachers you do not want to be personally identified as the source. It doesn’t sound like you are needing to buy good grades or special treatment for this child, so…..

  4. Solitary Diner Says:

    The amount of fees on credit card gift cards is insane. While I am all in support of paying convenience fees, I would do my best to avoid the credit card fees on principle alone. If you have the time for it, I’d also support getting a list from the teacher(s) and buying it yourself, possibly as a series of donations so that the teachers don’t have to rush to do it. Although if you decide that you’d rather just pay the convenience fees, I won’t judge!

    I really feel for your child. I was a gifted kid, and I remember being horribly bored in school until I reached seventh grade and was in a full-time enriched class. The education system isn’t always great at dealing with gifted kids.

  5. becca Says:

    I know our PTOs have run mini-grant programs- our current PTO specifically mentioned teachers can use it for classroom supplies they already purchased and then want reimbursement for. Current PTO is a 501c(3), so I can’t imagine there’s a good reason other 501c(3)s couldn’t handle things that way. It should be tax-deductible too, at least in theory. Because of all that, it seems to me it *might* be worth the trouble of changing the PTO’s rules so things aren’t just for field trips. But PTOs have their own culture and changing them can be more trouble than it’s worth- it depends very much on your PTO.

    To actually address your preferred option-it looks like Gift Card Mall will sell you a $500 Visa card for a fee of $5.95, probably with a $2 shipping fee. It just looks like getting large denomination gift cards is getting more challenging- maybe it’s fraud related.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Huh. That looks like the best option. They even let you print out a card with a note to go with the gift card. I was a bit leery of the secondary sites, but it seems like this one is probably legitimate.

  6. anandar Says:

    I agree with grk, I’d have a conversation directly with the teachers and then buy stuff off of their wish list. I think you’d be communicating important things about your views on what DC2 needs as well as your willingness to support them, and that they’d feel good about it, as long as you made it clear that you were giving them discretion over exactly what materials to buy and that you didn’t intend them to be targeted just for your kid. If they are professionals, they will not let this cause undue favoritism.

    Speaking as a former PTA Treasurer, parents trying to make targeted donations caused me quite a bit of headache. State PTA rules did not allow us to accept cash donations that didn’t go through the normal PTA budgeting process. We could not have accepted gift card donations that were targeted at a specific grade, much less if the donor wanted some direction over the teachers’ decisions on how to spend it. And we actually had a PTA policy that essentially redistributed overall contributions toward our middle school grades, where there is lower SES, higher need for specialized enrichment materials, and less parental interest in supporting the classrooms with in-kind donations.

    Cash donations directly toward the school are no better, because the district takes a 10% administrative fee. Some schools actually set up a separate non-profit (not a PTA) to accept targeted donations, but that brings with it is own headaches.

    [Resubmitting bc not sure comment went through, apologies if double].

  7. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    Wow, I had no idea that it was this complicated to donate toward better educational materials :/ I’d be strongly inclined to discuss this with the teachers, come up with an agreed on shopping list, and buy the materials directly. I know that’s more work but it *seems* to be better than going through all the weird fee-laden steps to maybe get what you’re hoping they’ll get.

  8. chacha1 Says:

    Isn’t this exactly the kind of thing DonorsChoose is supposed to facilitate? Could the teachers in question be persuaded to post a request there so you could give that way?

  9. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Here’s what DH says about the Parent Teacher conference:

    The teacher did basically all the talking. DC2 is brilliant. They have finished doing basic evaluations and will start presenting hir with more appropriately leveled work. DC2 is helpful and engaged and polite. Zie is doing well with Spanish and they are happy to have hir. We don’t need to send in any more challenging books. They will be sending some home that we should ask DC2 questions on. And they are happy to do scholastic.

    • becca Says:

      <3 for scholastic!!!

      Best fundraiser for the school ever too!

    • gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

      Scholastic is not such a great deal—they do a poor job of book-binding and charge inflated prices. They don’t provide the schools with choice about which books to include in the book sales, and tend to stuff the cases with movie and toy tie-in books, rather than with things worth reading.

      (Note: these criticisms come partly from my wife, who is a school librarian. She discontinued the Scholastic book sale a couple of years ago, after several years of bad experiences with Scholastic. The effort involved was not worth the small amount of funds raised.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        That’s not the same as scholastic book club. We’re talking about the flyers, not their annual sales. They have great deals on, for example, children’s classics. And they often have exclusive paperback rights to books normally only available in hardback.

      • becca Says:

        Strongly disagree about “things worth reading”. Movie and toy tie-ins are quite popular in my house. I view reading as similar to diet- if you are already eating a variety of vegetables, then fruit snacks in the lunch aren’t going to cause a problem. If you consume only movie and toy tie-ins you are missing out on many of the joys in children’s literature, but there’s nothing so bad about them either (well, at least once your kid reads independently. I did *dislike* reading some of them when we were only reading to kid1).

        I will grant you the book fairs are a mixed blessing- they are a ton of work. Though all the schools I’ve been at have had plenty of volunteer labor to run the fair- it’s one of the few volunteer roles I can manage, so I’m partial to it.
        I am also in no way stating that they are an *efficient* fundraiser for the schools. I merely *prefer* them to all the gift wrap/$16 chocolate-covered nuts/magazine/”fine” chocolate bars/calendars/ect. I have been expected to sell. *shudder*. I would buy books anyway, and I prefer the browsing experiment of Scholastic to Amazon (both the flyers and the website are pleasant, the former is probably nostalgia and the later is probably just in contrast to the cluttered feel of Amazon).

        The book packs available in the flyers/online are often very good deals, for books you expect to read a few times but not 50 (I have also noticed the bindings are not always enduring). I am looking forward to getting 7 Wings of Fire books for $28.

      • chacha1 Says:

        Scholastic book club was my major source of books to own, between ages 8 and 16. We were broke, the folks both worked full time, stores were not open till 9 or 10 like they are now. I would guess that Scholastic provided the *only* source of books for the majority of my rural, not-rich classmates. Also they first published J.K. Rowling in the U.S. Thou shalt not diss Scholastic. :-)

  10. Leah Says:

    You remind me about the great thing about private school. We have a parents’ association that raises funds each year. Then, we can write little grant requests and ask for funding for various items (tho must be extra and not normal items). We actually have a decent enough budget that I can purchase items just fine, but it’s great for big extras. Last year, I requested water bottle refillers. We got four funded! The school has still only installed one (grrr, but we have a lot of construction taking up maintenance time I guess) of the four, but there should be one outside my classroom one of these days. There’s one right near the main office. So nice.

    This year, I think I will ask for this super neat but really expensive DNA modeling kit. Like $1k type of expensive! But it is amazing. It’s from 3D molecular designs. I have a lot of their foam kits that are pretty affordable, and they really help my students learn concepts well.

    • becca Says:

      Omg I just googled that company and those are GORGEOUS! I LOVE the nucleosome model!!! And the influenza virus capsule!!! The tRNA is pretty too.

      Why aren’t these things cheaper? I think they’d be 3-D print-able.

      • Leah Says:

        They are totally 3D printable. The quality, though, is WAY better than what I can print on the machines my school owns. They are so awesome. They also provide teaching support.
        I am on a quest to buy a lot of their stuff! I should throw in some of those 3D little models on my next order. There’s something about seeing things in person.

  11. Update on the gift card donation thing | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] we asked you all for suggestions on how to get a cash-value gift card to DC2’s […]


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