E2 – Fundraising for the senior class with Susan Knappe
In this episode of the Fun with Fundraising podcast, I have interviewed Susan Knappe, who is fundraising for her son’s senior class of High school.
Due to the situation in the world in the spring of 2020 the senior class did not get the opportunity to finish high school in the best way. Susan and her fellow parents want to make sure that the 2021 senior class has better options.
The transcribed version of the interview is available below.
Diana Lund: Today, I am talking with Susan Knappe who is fundraising for her kids’ school. I’m looking very much forward to hearing more about this project. Welcome Susan, and thank you so much for joining me.
Susan Knappe: Thank you very much, I appreciate the inviting me.
Diana Lund: Tell me a bit about your background for fundraising. Have you been doing stuff before doing what you’re doing now?
Susan Knappe: I like fundraising. it’s something that keeps me busy I guess you can say. I had done it many, many years ago for an organization here that I was part of. It was called the Postpartum Resource Center of New York State. They were just trying to get off the ground and they were coming up with ideas. So, I helped them fundraise a dinner and getting, things donated from organizations and companies and something so that they can raffle off. And that was many, many years ago. I think it was even before I had my kids and then the kids came into play and whatnot and then I started getting involved with things with them, specifically with their schools. Simple things, plant sale at the high school, you know, little things like that.
But now that my youngest son is heavily into sports, he’s a track runner for the high school, we do a lot of fundraising for them. We do whatever we can. Most of it right now is merchandised. The kids especially the boys they love having the t-shirts. They love having jackets, things like that. Then that money that we earn goes back towards them. You know, anything that I do, it always goes back to them. With things like morning breakfast events, we do scholarships for them at the end of the season. So, those are kind of the things that we do for them. In September he will be a senior at his high school. The Class of 2020 was hit hard with the COVID situation and schools were shut down.
They shut down in March and there were a lot of things that, that senior class wound up not having, for themselves.
They did the best that they could to do something but what they came up against is that any of the money that, that class, the graduating class had fundraised for, they lost all access to. Anything that they wanted to do at that point, because school was closed down and they were closed down by the state, the school said that anything that the students were going to do was considered non-sanctioned events. So, the school wouldn’t let them use that money, which we thought was pretty bad. They wound up losing a lot of access to the money. The parents got together because what they thought they could do is that they would fundraise for them so that they can do things. For example, their Prom pictures. They didn’t have Prom, but they still got together, and they had photos and stuff like that, and they needed the money to do that.
So, the parents got together, and they did some small fundraising. Now we’re going into September of this year. My son is a senior and a couple of his friend’s parents and I talked. We said you know what, we’re afraid that the same thing might happen with them. So, we decided to start doing pretty much the same thing. We’ve created a group of parents. We told them that this is what we’re doing just in case and we literally are starting fundraiser as of like yesterday. Just to make sure that they have money if the school gets shut down and they can continue doing whatever they do for their senior year.
Diana Lund: I think that’s amazing. I think it’s a really cool idea that you guys are just taking it into your own hands. I’m very curious to hear what kind of events you guys have been talking about doing as well as, is it only you, or is it also the students, and what have you been talking about?
Susan Knappe: Well, there’s a lot of ifs and what can be done because of the situation with COVID. So, we did sit down with the president of the senior class and the two teachers in the class that is considered the senior advisors and we did a Zoom meeting with them just two days ago. We said, our goal is to support you. We don’t want to get in your way but we’re going to do this. We’re going to do this fundraising because if you guys say, for example, you’re short on money for something that you decide you want to do, we can throw the money towards you. Something comes up at the last minute we have the money that we can access for you or if it gets shut down you will always still have funding. So, they were very much appreciative of that. The events that they’re planning is something that we’re staying out of because it’s a tradition. It’s for them to do.
They are doing new things compared to what they’ve done in the past. Because of the shutdown last year some new things were created, and they wound up being a lot of fun and a lot of the kids really enjoyed it, that they’re carrying them over to this year, which you hope will become a new tradition for them. They did this one thing. They literally called it Adopt a Senior and my son is up for adoption, we grabbed one of the boys that were on the track team. He’s a friend of my son’s, he’s a friend of the family and it was just like whatever you want to give you know what I mean? So, we created a gift basket for him of things, some stuff from to start him off for college, a gift certificate to someplace local for him to eat just to boost their spirits. The kids really, really enjoyed that. so, they decided that they want to bring this in this year.
Now, when that started, it started late in the school year for them. It started like April, you know, and then they were finished in June. So, there were a lot of last-minute scrambling and trying to figure things out. The president of the student class, she said, I want to start that now. So, we agreed. We thought it was great because, we, the parents even had fun with it too.
Diana Lund: Just to clarify, so you would both pay the senior class to adopt the senior and then you would also give them something, or would you just give the person you adopted something?
Susan Knappe: Yeah. It was just the student that we would give them something is what it is. But when it comes to fundraising, for example, because of everything and everybody being bummed out, the students that are being bummed out about the year that they’re having our sports program at this point, right now it looks like it may not happen at all for this year and that affects a lot of the students. We’re trying to come up with some things that we can do. So, we got the group together and we have things that we’re going to do for fundraising. We’re going to sell t-shirts specifically for the parents. the parents are doing things like raffles and things like that for the kids.
Diana Lund: Not being from the US what does that mean? What is the raffle for the kids?
Susan Knappe: What we’ll do is we’ll go to businesses, local businesses, and we say, listen, this is for the high school. These are high school students. Would you consider donating something for the kids? We’ll make up a basket with say the local, food place with a $20 gift card or something like that. Then it’ll be a thing for the parents. They’ll be baskets all over a room, you buy tickets for, and then you put your tickets in the bag for the thing that you want. The ticket that gets pulled out of the bag is the one that wins that specific item.
The tickets we sell, the money we earn, it goes back to the senior class. That’s just one thing. Literally, right now I have to design a huge six-foot welcome back to school banner for the class and it’s going to cost money, obviously. So, we even just went out and just said, listen, this is what we want to do even though we have other ways that we’re going to be doing fundraising, it’s not going to be done in time for the first day of school. We want this banner for the first day of school. Would any family consider donating $20? Literally last night to this morning, we’ve got over $600.
Diana Lund: Wow.
Susan Knappe: Yeah, so now we’re talking about the banner, balloons, maybe some kind of a gift certificate to a local place like we said, like a Starbucks to get a free cup of coffee or $10 discount on coffee or something like that. A lot of the kids drink coffee around here and we’re going out and we’re asking these organizations if they’re willing to donate.
Diana Lund: I think it’s really cool that you guys are doing so much stuff for your kids. It’s so much more local and it shows that charity can be a lot of different levels. You can actually help people really close to you in your neighbourhood or your own family even, or you can help on a world scale.
Susan Knappe: The town that I live in is quite small and we’re a very close-knit town. So, the people are doing even fundraising and things and events to help keep the local businesses going while they’re shut down. They set up a huge screen and a parking lot, and they’re doing a drive-in movie night and it’s $35 for a car to go in and watch you drive-in movie and all this money is going into a fund to help the local businesses keep their lights on and pay their bills while they’re shut down.
Diana Lund: Who’s arranging that. Is that the movie theater?
Susan Knappe: It’s our local chamber of commerce, which is a group of businesses and a group of people that do things for the town and give back to the community. The businesses do so much for the people, the schools, the community, hold events and do discounts and give to raffles.
It’s the people that live in the town and now when it’s our turn to give back to keep these guys open because we like our stores and we like our town. So, we’re helping each other.
Diana Lund: I think it’s amazing. Okay. I have a practical question because you started off saying that okay. So, what happened was that the school kind of shut off the funds because it wasn’t essential for them or they weren’t allowed to do the kind of activities that they wanted to do. So, how do you control the money when it’s parents fundraising like this? Does it go into a fond in the bank that is created for this or is it one person who created a bank account?
Susan Knappe: Well, what we did, I don’t know if you know, Venmo. It’s a way to transfer money to and from somebody. We said the same thing and one of the people in our group. She said she went to a local bank and she said, listen, this is what we’re doing, we want to open up a bank account that can be linked to Venmo and PayPal. This is what it’s for and they set it up and it’s an account. I’m not one that deals with money. I’m not good at dealing with them. So, she’s taking care of it. So, she’s literally getting parents Venmo-ing money or sending money to her and that money is going directly into this fund.
We’re being up and up. We’re making sure that everybody knows what we have, where it’s going to. We don’t want any parent to be upset and we’ve told the parents if for whatever reason it comes to the end of the school year depending on how much money we have leftover. We will either create scholarships to give out to certain students for certain things or we just may make their graduation ceremony a little bit jazzier than normal. We’ll spend money on things for them, for the graduation ceremony. But we’re going to make sure that come to the end of the school year, that bank account is shut down with no money in it.
Diana Lund: I like the transparency of it and this is not on anyone in your community at all, but I also have this little voice in the back of my head saying, okay, someone could run off with all the money, you know, but, of course, that could have been anywhere right?
Susan Knappe: Yes, it can.
Diana Lund: It’s a good idea to have transparency. So, everyone knows what’s in the account at all times.
Susan Knappe: Yes, and it’s also because we know that. My motto is always when you have a group of three people one person is not going to be happy. Now we’re talking 270 members of the graduating class, and all those parents, somebody’s not going to be happy. So, if we’re just turning around and we’re like, listen, this is it. It’s right here for everybody to look at. You want to complain about something there’s nothing to complain about. We’re giving you the information.
Diana Lund: That’s a really good idea.
Susan Knappe: Yeah. So, you know, and we’re listening to everybody and whatever advice I’ve gotten, like five texts this morning from parents. Well, what about this? What about this? and I’m like, hey, listen, those are great ideas. We’re going to lay them all out.
Diana Lund: How many people are you organizing this and kind of in the core group of doing this?
Susan Knappe: There’s five of us, that’s including myself and we’re all parents. One of them is a teacher, one of them is a landscape artist. I do this and I drive a school bus for a living. That’s my day job. We’re all working parents and we all know one another. Three out of four of the group the parents are kids that are friends with my son. One of them, the one who’s the teacher, her daughter is one of my models when I photograph. So, I mean, I’ve known her forever and I’ve known them forever.
So, these are people trust and, I think at this point, I think, nobody, knock on wood, we’re only a couple of weeks into this. Nobody’s complaining and we’re getting a lot of thank you that you’re doing this. I’m glad somebody took the reins. So, you have those parents who are just like, I don’t want to be bothered. Just tell me where to send the cheque which is fine with us. But yeah, we know we’re not going into this blind. We know that at some point, that there’s going to be ruffled feathers and whatnot, but we take it as we go.
Diana Lund: I think that’s amazing. I was just thinking that you guys talk about having the funds roll over to the next class.
Susan Knappe: That is, and also an opportunity, a thing that was brought up too. That’s what the school does from my understanding. So, like I said, we have no idea how much money the class of 2020 had sitting in an account that they never got access to and they never got to use. It could have been $10. It could have been 2000, we have no clue. But that money if I’m not mistaken is being rolled over and that is where the teachers, they call them senior advisors, they know that information. So, they know that they’ve got this much funding to start the year with and they can use it for this, this, and this. That’s them, we don’t want to know, we don’t want to be a part of that. What we’re doing on our end as the adult, as the parents.
Diana Lund: If I understand it correctly because I don’t know the American system. So, the funds are to be used throughout the year, or is it only for the graduating stuff?
Susan Knappe: It’ll be used for whatever the class of 2021 needs it for. The money that we have. That’s the way we’re looking at it. So, if, for example, they have homecoming, it’s a big event. It’s in sports. They do a dance and if they want to have a band come in or a DJ come in and they don’t have enough money raised for that, they can call us and say, listen, you know, we’re like $200 short. What do you need it for? For homecoming? Sure. No problem here’s a check, or here are the funds. So, that’s what part of it is there for.
Diana Lund: And who decides what?
Susan Knappe: Five of us will decide as a group what we think is good.
Diana Lund: I think it’s amazing. Also, all things considered, there might be a lot of schools or a lot of classes being in similar situations. So, if you should give some kind of advice to someone else wanting to do something like this, what would it be?
Susan Knappe: I would say if you’re in a different school and you’re dealing with the same situation, the first thing that you need to know is that you need to get a small group of people to be in charge. Make sure that you have people that know things like, how to take care of money. How to even just like talk to other parents. How to deal and get along with everybody. But also, what you need to remember is that this and what you’re doing is about the kids, not about the parents. What you want to do is you’re helping the class that you’re supporting. You’re supporting them. It’s not about, well, we’re the parents and we want to do this. Well, you know what? I don’t care what the parents want to do. It’s what the kids want because this is for them and that’s the way I look at it.
Diana Lund: Are you then doing, and I know this is totally stereotyping for me watching movies from the States growing up but in a lot of movies, they do car washes to fundraise. So, I don’t know if that’s something you actually do?
Susan Knappe: A lot of the sports teams will do that if they’re raising money for something. I’ve done that before with my son when he was in boy Scouts. So, we’ve been there, and we’ve done that. but I don’t think that that’s something that the seniors… I mean, we tried to do that. We made a suggestion to that because I’m also in what they call the booster club. One of the parents for the sports team, my son’s sports team, which is high school track and it’s the same thing. We want to create scholarships for them. So, we have to do fundraising and literally, every single one of the boys came to us and don’t even dare ask us to do a car wash because we’re not doing it.
The senior class just did, they do it every year here. They create t-shirts and it’ll say, “Senior Class of 2021,” blah, blah, blah. The parents have been waiting crazily for the shirts, when are these shirts coming out and we just put up the link for where the parents can go and the students to go and look and buy the t-shirts for the senior year, because it’s a tradition that the first day into school, the senior class wear the senior shirts and that funding, the money, that’s for them. That goes to whatever it is, whether it’s prom, whether it’s whatever. That money there is for them to do with it whatever they want. Where we’re doing kind of the same thing.
We’re doing shirts for parents and it’ll say “Senior Class Parent” you know what I mean? So, it’s not the same design. It will be a totally different design, but we’re doing the same thing knowing that if the school gets shut down like it did with the last class last year and they couldn’t get to do their prom or they couldn’t get to do at least their photos we have the money to get a photographer, to come in, to get the permits, to have it in an outside park and set it all up so that they can do that which is what exactly what happened last year.
Diana Lund: I think that’s a great idea to do the t-shirts. That’s also a proud parent moment, right?
Susan Knappe: Well, that and bumper stickers for the backs of the car. That was something also we’re looking at too.
Diana Lund: Of course.
Susan Knappe: So, you like to have that proud moment you know.
Diana Lund: Did you guys need any kind of permission to do these kinds of things or is it something where you’re just doing it?
Susan Knappe: No, not really. It’s a school thing. I mean, back in the day when I went to school, parents used to do things called bake sales and we’d bake cookies and that’s how they did it. Those aren’t allowed anymore. but, because of allergies, because it’s a big issue. Kids can get sick, there’s salmonella poisoning. There’s no such thing as bake sales anymore. But what we’re doing, we’re doing it as the parents on our own. The school knows about it. They fully know what we’re doing and they’re saying that’s fine. You do what you do, and we’ll do what we do and we’re staying out of each other’s way. So, that’s the way it’s working.
Diana Lund: So, you don’t need any permission to do that kind of fundraising?
Susan Knappe: I mean, technically we should have something from the state, that’s a 504 or whatever. I forget what the documentation is called, but you know what, we’re not doing it because it’s not a permanent thing. We’re doing it for our class for 10 months. There’s going to be no money left over at the end. It’s not for profit. We’re not doing this for any reason, just to help the kids. So, we’re kind of like, not even looking into it.
Diana Lund: Okay. I don’t hope I get you in trouble by asking.
Susan Knappe: No, you’re not. They do things like this all the time. Like I said, with the individual sports teams we’ll do things for raising money for them. Our high school team went around to local businesses and they actually had made things that looked like a credit card and they sell them to whoever wants them for an amount and it’s on there. It’d be like 10% off this store or $5 off this or get a free drink when you come in. That’s something that they do every year and it’s for sports. So, it’s not a big deal.
Diana Lund: You guys have Adopt a Senior and you have the t-shirts and you talked a bit about morning something breakfast or was that?
Susan Knappe: Yeah. We’re thinking about we would like to be able to have something for them their first day of school, where they can walk in and get bagels or something like that their first day. But with the way COVID is here in the United States, we don’t even know if the cafeterias are going to be open to the kids. So, there’s a lot of different hoops that we have to go through compared to normally.
They did a breakfast for the kids last year, for 2020. They did it outdoors in a park and they offered them drinks and bagels. The purpose was to get the kids a chance to get together so that they can sign each other’s yearbooks. They get a book with a graduating picture in it, their sports, everything, and then the kids sign it. So, that was about the whole point of it was to let the kids have an opportunity to see each other one more time to sign each other’s yearbooks.
I actually got to be there, and I photographed the whole thing for them which was a lot of fun and the kids really appreciated it. Things like that they’ve done. The one other thing I think that this year’s class really enjoyed when it comes to kids here in the States and sports, sports is a big, big deal. My high school, some of the sports teams are really, really well known. Normally what they do is they have signing day and what that means is that if you’ve been recruited to a college they’ll have a day where it’s a big deal that the school comes in with the papers and photographs and you sign that you’re going to the school. They call it signing day.
They couldn’t do it last year. So, what we did is that they did a parade and the kids all were in cars and balloons and whatnot. I made huge banners, like five foot, six-foot-long banners that they attached to their cars saying, their name, graduating class, and what college they’ve signed with and they liked that. So, I think that that’s something they want to see if they can try and keep up with the graduating class of 2021 too because the kids enjoyed it. It was fun.
Diana Lund: It’s cool that at least, even though the situation is annoying and sad and everything, it’s really nice to see that things kind of ripple through the cracks and new things end up coming from it, hopefully, new traditions.
Susan Knappe: Yes, and like I said, those are the two, I think, at this point that they want to keep, the Adopt a Senior and what they call the Signing Day Parade. Those are two things that they would like to see continue as a tradition because from the parents, the town, the school, everybody enjoyed it and didn’t see anything but pure fun and pure benefit for the students for it. So, that’s why I think they want to keep it.
Diana Lund: You guys are doing two things. You’re doing a funding part which is selling raffle tickets and stuff like that so that the senior class has some money, but then you also have another thing that would be going out, finding sponsors for a morning breakfast.
Susan Knappe: It’s also pretty much the same way. I mean, because it’s the beginning, the first week of school is in two weeks. Like I said, we went out and we said, listen, we do have fundraisers, like the t-shirts and stuff like that coming up but it takes a couple of weeks to set that up and make the sales and then get the money. The school will already be in session. So, would anybody consider donating 20 bucks so that we can do the breakfast?
Diana Lund: Okay, so do you actually go out and buy the breakfast and stuff with the money donated? It’s not that you go out and get the bagels donated.
Susan Knappe: Well, we did. We have a local delicatessen that the kids love, and we wanted to do something like, would they consider if we created a coupon for the seniors only where they can come in, the first week of school, and get like a free lemonade or free iced tea or free coffee. We’ll make the cups for them to come in with plus the coupon. So, I know we’ve reached out to the area deli and we’re waiting to hear back from them. The kids frequent that place so much that I don’t want to make it sound nasty, but they do make a lot of business from the kids.
Diana Lund: I mean that’s how it is right?
Susan Knappe: Right. I mean the deli is accessible from walking through the backfields of the school and when the kids don’t have classes, they’re in there all the time.
Diana Lund: Fair enough.
Susan Knappe: They have the kids all the time. So that was part of why we went to them. If they say no, they say no. We’ll come up with something else. From putting the request out for the $20 last night at about 11:00 PM New York time to 10 o’clock this morning or actually 11 o’clock this morning, we had like $600 donated and that’s not even the whole class. We don’t even have the whole class involved on our Facebook page.
We figure what we’ll do is we’ll use that money to maybe go buy trays of bagels or something like that. But we still also have to find out if it’s okay for us to do that because with COVID like I said, are the kids going to be allowed to be in the cafeteria or even just walk into the cafeteria, grab it, and go to class. So again, more hoops to jump through.
Diana Lund: I think people will get a lot of inspiration from this. I find it really inspiring at least. But is there anything that you feel like you still need to tell or something missing from this whole thing that you’re doing that you would like to share with the listener?
Susan Knappe: Whatever that you’re fundraising for, if you’re doing it from your heart and for a good reason, then it should be easy to do. If it’s for an organization that you believe in, or if it’s for… I’m doing the local schools, the kids. I believe in the kids; I believe they should have what they have. The organization that I worked with many years ago like I said, the Postpartum Resource of New York, they were just starting and they’re established now, but what they were doing and what they still do, I thought was worthy. So, that’s why I was willing to help them.
Making as many contacts as you possibly can. Don’t be afraid to, reach out to major companies. Don’t be afraid to reach out to major organizations, to celebrities, to anybody to ask them. It might not be everything that you want to get from them, but we reached out to because it was back in the day, it was a movie called “A Beautiful Mind” was out and it was directed by Ron Howard. We actually got Ron Howard to autograph a big poster and we raffled that off. Our local, hockey team. We have the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers. We’ll write to them and saying this is what we’re doing, and they’ll send us a puck signed by a couple of the guys. A lot of the companies around here that I’ve learned over time, they set money aside to give back to the communities.
So, when they get something that they think is worthwhile for them because if they can get some publicity, hey, look, this is who we help. We help this one, this one, and this one, that’s fine. If they can get something off of it and we can get something out of it that’s great but don’t be afraid to ask. One year we had somebody with the same organization. Somebody knew somebody in an airline, and we got airline tickets. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your dream places, you know, your dream organizations, because what’s the worst they are going to do is they are going to say no.
Diana Lund: And then you just take that politely and say okay.
Susan Knappe: It’s not the end of the world if they say no. They’ll send you something.
Diana Lund: The whole thing about contacting major corporations and stuff who has something local. What you need is you need to find the angle that fits that company. So, you shouldn’t be, in my opinion, be writing the same email to 10 different companies. You should figure out okay, so this company, this angle would work because they’re my next-door neighbor or something like that. So, that’s the angle and the other one is known for helping schools so that’s the angle.
Susan Knappe: I agree. Like I said, the high school football team. Don’t be afraid to get a hold of a couple of the famous football players on the New York Jets or the New York Giants or whatever team that you want and say, hey, listen, would you consider sending an autograph this or something like that? You know, again, they say no, they say no. Most of the time they say yes.
I would we reach out for things that are like your local area. Like I said, going back to football, they graduated from high school right around where you live. Well, hey, listen, I’m from Long Island, you graduated from Long Island, would you consider your Alma Mater, wear this, you know, things like that. Don’t be afraid to keep things in line.
Diana Lund: I think that’s amazing. Thank you, Susan. It’s been really interesting to hear and I have so many notes on my little Post-it here that I don’t have any more room. So, I really think it’s amazing. If people want to connect with you?
Susan Knappe: Well, I’m not a professional fundraiser, that’s for sure but I am a professional photographer and they can find me, two locations. My portrait photography is under Susan Knappe, k-n-a-p as in Peter-p as in Paul-e Photography or the sports end of it because I do a lot of sports photography. It’s called Suffolk Sports Media. We have a website and I photograph a lot of the high school kids in sports,.
Diana Lund: Thank you so much. It’s been amazing to have you on.