Ethical Educator

Quid Pro Quo Donors
School Administrator, April 2021

Scenario: When the school district passed an austerity budget that cut interscholastic sports, community members started a GoFundMe drive to restore them. One active parent couple urged others not to donate, fearing that private fundraising will encourage further budget cuts. The couple also heard reports that coaches might make a family’s donation a factor in who makes the team roster. Should district leadership take any actions? 

Shelley Berman: The couple’s concerns should be taken seriously. However, they should understand that if fundraising becomes a critical resource for extracurricular programs, urging others not to donate may unintentionally cause the board to eliminate or reduce interscholastic sports rather than make cuts elsewhere. 

Board fundraising policies provide important guidance. The board should enact or refine its fundraising and gifts policies to avoid potential conflicts of interest or influence on coaches’ decisions about rosters or playing time. 

As policy, donated funds should be subject to review and/or acceptance by the board, in accordance with state regulations and accounting procedures, and distributed equitably among activities. The policy should prevent the use of donations to pay coaches’ stipends, and no coach should know what any individual donated or be involved in booster organization activities, including fundraising, promotion and expenditure of funds.

Maggie Lopez:
The superintendent must clarify to parents that donations don’t impact budget decisions and review the district’s policies and state law governing school budgets and outside donations. 

The concern about individual donations being aligned to team rosters also must be addressed right away. The administration should ensure that parent concerns will be raised with coaches and the message should be clear that attaching any donation to student placement on a team roster would end in termination of employment for an employee. 

The district’s chief finance officer might set up an oversight committee to help with fund allocation once donated funds are in hand.

Max McGee:
When school districts face cuts to athletic or arts programs, parent and alumni booster clubs, the district’s education foundation, nonprofit groups and even individuals often launch fundraising drives. However, such donations may represent a “free puppy” in that once the family owns the puppy, it has years of expenses in food, veterinarian costs, etc., to support this well-meaning, loving, free gift.

While it would not be wise for the district to deter independent fundraising or to silence objectors, it would be smart to develop (or review) a clear policy on accepting donations from any outside group. Considerations in the policy should include the amount the district can accept without school board approval, the source of the donation, the sustainability of the donation and the extent to which it obligates the district to spending tax dollars to supplement the donation or support it in the ensuing fiscal years. Leadership should meet with the organizers of the GoFundMe drive.

MaryEllen Elia:
Many communities have booster clubs of parents who are involved in supporting interscholastic sports, theater and band activities. They might work the concession stands, drive equipment to away events or fund facilities associated with the programs. Whether a GoFundMe drive, a booster club, a parent organization or a district foundation that supports programs for students, these funding efforts occur in many school communities. 

District leadership should establish rules on how the money/support comes into the district and how it is distributed in an equitable way to schools and programs. This should be part of a district plan related to contributions that then takes away the emphasis on “who gave what.” It is naive to think that contributors are unknown; but an ethical approach related to decision making should provide guidelines for all staff in the district.  


Each month, School Administrator draws on actual circumstances to raise an ethical decision-making dilemma in K-12 education. Our distinguished panelists provide their own resolutions to each dilemma. Do you have a suggestion for a dilemma to be considered? Send it to:

The Ethical Educator panel consists of Shelley Berman, superintendent, Andover, Mass.; MaryEllen Elia, senior fellow, International Center for Leadership in Education and retired superintendent; Maggie Lopez, retired superintendent in Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Glenn "Max" McGee, a former superintendent and regional president of Hazard, Young, Attea, and Associates in Schaumburg, Ill.