Donate money to our public school for a specific purpose?

Until recently we planned to send our incoming K student into private school, but due to a move and resulting assignment to a very good public school decided to go to public school instead and reallocate the funds saved and put aside for private school tuition into college savings instead.  Even though most of the money will be eventually moved into kids' college saving account, we decided to donate a portion to the public school our child will attend every year.  I want to give the whole thing in an annual check and be done with it but husband wants to give the suggested donation amount the school/PTA requests in a check and then do something more special with the rest (like donate for a specific purpose, donate technology items, something special for the library, etc.).  His thinking is that the school already seems to be well funded and just another check won't make as much of a difference in students' experience as a more targeted donation.  Any suggestions as to what a well ranked and funded school might need in terms of a donation or is a check still better?  

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As someone with experience working with nonprofits and other institutions reliant on donations that I think I can safely to please give the check instead of trying to do something targeted. "Targeted" giving can be really rough; it's how you end up with the seemingly paradoxical situations at some universities where they have a seemingly nice endowment, but much or most of that is flagged for specific uses (like a specific department, a specifically targeting scholarship, some sort of specific research) so that they can't use that money where it may be really needed (general financial aid and operations).  I think pretty much most institutions would prefer "unrestricted" money and donations. If the school/PTA needs a specific technology item or something for the library, they can just use that unrestricted money for that. If not, they can use it for something else they do need. With a specific donation or a gifted item, if the school/PTA doesn't need it and needs money elsewhere, too bad, they have to just live with that and be gracious for it.

As with any other organization, PTAs have internal politics. Before coming in and slapping down a big check, I would suggest simply joining the PTA to start with, participating in its meetings, and getting a feel for its mission, values, and the school needs. If after a few months of getting the lay of the land, you end up feeling like your particular elementary school doesn't "need" your extra money (and I definitely agree that it is a good thing to contribute above and beyond since you can; my family also does), you can look into either a district-wide philanthropic organization (Berkeley Educational Foundation, EdFund (WCCUSD), ec.) OR look at your local middle school/junior high PTA. Often times wealthier families pull out for middle school (returning in high school) and as a result the junior high PTAs are underfunded compared to elementary schools.

All that said... my kids attend a relatively low income public school, and we do a larger donation at the start of the year to the PTA so they can program it accordingly for the year's activities. However, I think at a wealthier school that you are a new family at, you really should take the time to see how things are before making a bigger donation.

Get in touch with the President of the PTA and ask them what they need or just write a check to the PTA. Schools in California are not well funded so I'm sure they will be grateful for any contribution. 

Maybe you've started school by now and realized that the school itself (or, rather, the PTA) will not be shy about advising you on when and how to donate.  Our public school PTA had an annual fund drive, and we did the bulk of our giving through that.  But if you have a total amount in mind, do save some for the midyear fundraising events (auction, read/walk/etc-athons, raffles, fairs, and festivals) and teacher/classroom wishlists.  If it's a well-organized PTA, they'll be able to tell you if there are certain bigger-ticket items that could use a "patron," although they may prefer that people just give to the annual fund and then they can allocate as needed (and "they" can include you, if you choose to be active in the PTA).  Donations of technology items are challenging, because someone then has to service them, and you simply can't expect school district staff to know how to or to have the equipment to service every possible donated item. lets you donate directly to a classroom.Your childs teacher would have to post a wish list of items and then you can send them directly and get a tax write off.

THANK YOU.   This is generous.  And, if you are looking for an alternative -- consider giving the requested donation (or maybe a bit more) to your well-funded elementary school, and then --- look around at other local schools who are not as fortunate.  MIddle schools and high schools are often starved for donations, as are other elementaries in lesser-income communities.

Many schools have an annual auction -- you can participate in one (or many!) of those, and they often have 'targeted' programs that they are trying to fund.

Finally -- go on DonorsChoose, and find a teacher/school that is truly in need.

Just curious, if the school is already well funded, why not donate it to a school that is more in need?

My kids are now in high school, and instead of spending money on private schools I want to invest what I can in our community.   I make a relatively generous donation to our school’s PTA at the beginning of the year.   PTAs are not able to put donations in a specific “bucket,” although there may be subtle ways that they can shuffle things around based on the budget.  I would talk to your PTA board and to the principal about how money can be allocated and what their priorities and needs are, keeping in mind that it’s not always as easy as you might think to spend money (e.g. a makerspace may be a great idea, and your money could fund lots of really cool tools and supplies, but these things require physical space as well as class time and teacher training to be workable and sustainable).  Donorschoose is one way to target your money – last year I met a teacher who wanted to introduce a specific technology program to our school but needed funding for training.  She set up a donorschoose project and I made a generous contribution, and also recruited others to chip in so it was fully-funded.  Also, it’s never too soon look towards middle and high school  … e.g. your local high school’s music  boosters may be raising money for new instruments – it’s possible is that those clarinets will still be around when your child is a freshman.  I also encourage you to make contributions that don’t necessarily appear to benefit your kid directly.  For example, we donate more to our citywide education foundation than we do to our local school, and we support donorschoose projects at other schools.   These things benefit all students in our district and help strengthen our community.    Also, a heads up that especially at the elementary level you may be hit up for money later in the year – e.g. if your school has an auction you may want to set aside some of your funds for that.  

Having worked for over a decade in private school communications and fundraising, I would really encourage you to give an unrestricted gift. Making a match between a donor's intentions and a school's actual needs (including the cost of those needs) can be very time-intensive and sometimes headache-inducing. Most organizations prefer an unrestricted gift that they can allocate to their areas of greatest need. Classroom technology is great, for example, but maybe teacher training about how to effectively integrate technology into their everyday lessons might actually provide more benefit to the students. So it's always best to have a conversation about priorities before you make a restricted gift. If you're not sure the PTA's spending aligns with your priorities, then write a check to the school... and vice versa.

If you're considering an in-kind donation, please check with the school to make sure it's something that they can actually use. Computers, tablets and software may not be compatible, and other items may or may not correspond to a school's needs. The school where I worked once received a used neti pot as an in-kind donation. Yes, really.

I'm with your husband on this. Unexpected needs, projects, and opportunities will crop up for the school during the year and they will need to raise additional funds. I would give the suggested amount now so you have more to give when the PTA reserves are dwindling. 

Our kids also go to a well-ranked and well-funded public school. We give money to the PTA and each of the kids' classrooms as well as to the science teachers and the library and the music teacher. In the past we've given money to the school itself for specific projects but right now they are trying to get enough money to buy a computer for each child in the school for classroom use and I think it is a terrible idea so we aren't donating to that.

Schools can often get a better deal on <whatever> than you can so to me it makes more sense to give money unless you have a special "in" to get things cheaply. A friend of ours is a book distributor and donated $30,000 worth of books to the school library, but of course he didn't pay $30,000 for those books.

I served on a PTA board and would add to the excellent comments here. While there is an assumption that the school is "well-funded," you might be surprised that much of that funding comes from the PTA. For instance, our school is seen as having deep pockets, but the PTA funds MANY things - enrichment teachers, programs, computer equipment, etc. - and if parents like you didn't donate every year those things would not be there.  

Before you make a decision, you should take a look at the PTA operating budget (which they have to publish) and see where the money goes. Better yet, attend a PTA meeting and maybe you can talk to someone on the PTA about what their needs are. My guess is that no matter how much money they appear to have, they will need to continue to receive substantial donations every year just to keep the lights on.

I would also agree with the person who talked about donating money to a specific classroom. Our school has a program to do that and it is very appreciated by the teachers!

Do you care what the money gets used for?   If not give it to the PTA or the educational foundation.  Don't expect a committee of parents to have the same values or ideals you have.  Do you want it to go to educational programs, (language, art, gardening, sciences, sports, music, drama)?  Or maybe for a school assembly for a special event in science, music, drama?  Or on something to  improve the school like new playground equipment, gym floor, chairs, or maybe something like  landscaping or a gardening program.

We have given money to the PTA and the educational funds at our school only to see the money be squandered and spent on programs which didn't benefit our children.  I would give a targeted donation.  Worst donations I have seen are on technology.  You might want to specify the money not be used for technology.

Best money I have seen spent are on teachers teaching special topics or programs.  Drama, gardening, science, music etc.  Or that pay for something more permanent and long lasting such as playground equipment.   

Thanks for support the public school system.  They are in a complete mess.  California which once had the best educational system in the country is not in the bottom 5%.


Targeted donations are a HUGE pain accounting-wise.

As others have pointed out, if your school is well funded, it would be wonderful to donate to a school where the parents can't help. I worked at one of those and the discrepency is so crazy even within the same district.

but if you're sticking to your school, please just give the check.