The etiquette of charity days at school

Charity collection box
Do you feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of fundraising events at your child’s school? We take a look at the unofficial rules.
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Fifty pence for the cake sale, £1 for non-uniform day… Sometimes it can feel like the requests for money from school are never-ending. And while we’re all for supporting good causes, it can be hard to keep up with all the different charity events and fundraising initiatives. Not only do you actually have to remember them in the first place (hands up who’s sent their child to school in uniform on mufti day…), but then you have to scrape together the cash and possibly come up with a fancy dress outfit or crazy hairstyle too.

‘In the space of one month, we’ve had Own Clothes day, Children in Need where the children had to dress up as a character and Silly Sock day, and there’s another Own Clothes day next week,’ says Caroline, mum to James, six. ‘I appreciate that the money goes towards the school or other good causes, but my son hates dressing up so these days are a nightmare for us.’

So why do these fundraisers matter to schools? Why is it worth taking part – and what if you can’t?

Why so many charity days?

With school budgets continually being squeezed, schools are increasingly asking for finacial support from parents, both through voluntary donations to school funds and through charity activities organised by parent-teacher associations (PTAs) can be an important way to raise money for things that the school wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford, such as IT kit or playground equipment. 

‘Every school is unique and takes a different approach to the kind of activities that work for them,’ says Emma Williams, of Parentkind (formerly PTA UK). ‘The key to making any fundraising endeavour effective is to unite staff and parents so they can coordinate projects together, with the shared goal of achieving something positive for the school community.’

Each year, the PTA will decide – in consultation with the headteacher – how best to approach fundraising and other projects to improve school life. Typical events include cake sales, non-uniform days, craft sales, fetes and fairs, dress-up days and sponsored activities. PTAs can also make extra money through selling refreshments at events like sports day and school plays, and take a percentage from sales of school photos and Christmas cards. ‘We advise our members that any money raised should be spent in the way that best benefits the school and its pupils – with parents and other supporters fully informed about the specific purpose of the fundraising along the way,’ adds Emma.

Schools often raise money not just for themselves but for local and national charities. Many organise events for Children in Need and Comic Relief, while others prefer to support local charities. 

Do you have to get involved in school charity days?

Charity days might be an important way for schools to raise money for themselves and others, but they can be hard work for parents – particularly if you’re required to come with an elaborate outfit at short notice, as well as the cash. ‘I don’t mind throwing a bit of money at things, but the hassle of dress-up days drives me mad, especially when there’s not enough time to get a decent outfit together,’ says Lisa, mum to Callum, eight, and Josh, five.

Sponsored events can also prove stressful. ‘I hate it when my kids come home with sponsorship forms, especially as they’re all at the same school,’ says Sarah, mum to Grace, 10, Olivia, seven, and Matthew, four. ‘You can’t keep asking the same people for money all the time.’

However, charity days don’t just raise money for good causes: they also provide learning opportunities for children. ‘It’s important to encourage children to think about more than just themselves, and developing a positive, community-centred approach to fundraising should be at the heart of any campaign,’ says Emma.

That said, it’s not compulsory to take part in charity days. ‘Parents and pupils are under no obligation to participate,’ says Emma. ‘While it is good to encourage engagement from everyone within the school community, it's important to avoid putting any pressure on people to participate, financially or otherwise.’

What if you can’t take part?

No parent should have to feel guilty or under pressure to take part in every fundraiser; schools and PTAs understand that this isn’t always possible. However if you feel you need to, have a quiet word with your child’s teacher, or write a note explaining your concerns. ‘

There are a variety of ways for parents to engage in and contribute to school activities, aside from simply charity days. 'Every school will have a different approach, as well as individual policies on donations and rules for participation, but no child should be disadvantaged if their family forgets or decides not to take part,’ says Emma. ‘The crucial thing is that the child shouldn’t be stigmatised or made to feel different.’

Often, the arrangements for donating on charity days are informal, so no one is likely to bat an eyelid – or even notice – if you can’t come up with the money. ‘At our school, the teacher just stands at the door with a bucket on mufti days and we put our £1 in as we go in,’ says Melanie, mum to Jessica, six. ‘No one keeps a list of who has paid and who hasn’t.’ If you do forget your purse and are pulled up on it, the school should give you a chance to pay later so your child doesn't have to miss out on taking part.

Sometimes the main expense of a charity day isn’t the donation, but putting together an outfit for your child. But this needn’t cost a fortune: many of the best costumes are homemade. ‘I like the challenge of dress-up days, but I’m not a mad, competitive mum: it’s all about cobbling something together from what we already have,’ adds Melanie.

Schools will also often help out if you can’t sort out an outfit, either by giving you inexpensive ideas or by lending you something, so again, talk to your child’s teacher if you’re struggling. ‘If there’s a themed day at my daughter’s school, there’s no pressure at all,’ says Helen, mum to Abi, six. ‘The school always has things the kids can wear, and stresses that we shouldn’t go out and buy anything.’

What’s the alternative to school fundraising?

Supporting your child’s school doesn’t have to mean throwing money at every event that’s organised. There are lots of other ways to help out, such as running a stall at the school fete, selling raffle tickets or help to look after children during the school disco.

Some schools place less emphasis on raising money, but encourage children to think of others in other ways. ‘We live in a low income area, so our school focuses on getting kids into social responsibility or caring for others rather than on how much cash they raise,’ says Kelly, mum to Jacob, seven. Taking part in community activities like litter-picking or carol singing in an old people’s home can help foster this sense of giving time rather than money.

Charity days supported by primary schools

Schools all support different causes, but these are some of the national "days" that primary schools will often fundraise for.