We had a fundraiser in November 2011 selling the World's Finest Chocolate. I had parents pick up boxes of chocolates and made them sign their name and phone number. Its already May 2012 and I have at least 7 parents that owe money totaling to around $600. I've sent numerous letters and called them and left messages but no luck. How can i collect this money? Can PTO take them to small claims court. I've already advised the principal and she said she cannot do anything or get involved since its "PTO". Any ideas on how to collect the money?
I would call rather than write at this point, or stop them in the halls or parking lot if you see them there, and ask, "Are you folks in trouble financially?" Some might say yes, in which case you could offer to set up a payment plan or, depending on the financial situation of the PTO, consider forgiving the debt. Some might seem surprised you would ask, at which point you can say "It's just that you haven't paid the PTO for the chocolate yet, so I was worried you might be having money trouble."
If you still don't have the money 30 days later, if it were me I'd send one more letter saying the people who haven't paid or responded to repeated inquiries yet will be named in the next PTO newsletter. Small claims court is probably an option, but I'd start smaller.
Oh, it's tough when this happens. The problem is, you can take legal action against these parents, but the amount of time and money it could end up costing your group -- not to mention the ill-will it could generate -- is not always worth it.
We often advise a PTO in this situation to eat the costs and move on, but, in your case, $600 is a good chunk of money.
You could consider one final plea to them in writing (try registered mail) that says if they don't pay up within one week you will take legal action. You could get responses that way.
This is really a shame because that $600 could go a long way in funding stuff for the kids.
I guess the tough lesson here is you may have to revise your process for getting the chocolates (or whatever the fundraising product) to parent before the money has been collected. Is there some way you could set it up next year to avoid this?
I think MIDad shares some great advice also. But I would avoid a direct confrontation where you ask people about their financial situation. I also would not publishing names. The urge to publicly humiliate can be strong when you feel like someone has stiffed your group, but I think it's crossing a line.
Rose, taking legal action would expose the names on the public record, which would be much more widely available than exposing them in the PTO newsletter. Other parents deserve to know that some funds are unpaid, and saying that *without* identifying the slackers sullies *everybody's* name. It certainly will generate some ill will -- but it seems to me the people who haven't paid already don't care much about the PTO, or are legitimately having financial trouble (which is why I advised asking them privately and tactfully first).
The PTO is a creditor here, and has the right to act like one. It should do so more politely and discreetly than the bank holding your mortgage might do, but it should do so nevertheless.
You are making some very good points and I think I may be splitting hairs on the making-the-names-public issue, but here goes: You are right that the names would become a matter of public record if there were a lawsuit and anyone could find that information if they looked for it. But to me, that's different from the PTO publishing a list of names because that could be perceived as punishment or retaliation.
Also, I could have stated my point a little clearer: I suggested the PTO send a note as a last warning with the thinking that this action could get at least some folks to finally pay up. It doesn't necessarily have to end in taking the person to small claims court (though it could if the group decides to go that route).
You do make a good point that parents have a right to know that something like this has happened to their group, but I believe that can be communicated without identifying names. My reason: We truly don't know why these folks haven't paid up.
Unfortunately, you have to recognize that doing a product-in-hand fundraiser such as the chocolate bars has some risk associated with it. Reminds me of having stock in a company that goes bankrupt. Even though there's not much you can do, there are a few things that come to mind.
I'm not sure this is feasible, but If you are still going to host another chocolate sale, can you find out if you can get some free product next time to compensate you in some way for the losses and move on? Even though the families owe $600, your cost would have been $300 and the cost to World's Finest even less to replace if they were getting another fundraiser from you. Would they be willing to help you out on your next fundraiser? I can't speak for them, but perhaps earning your next chocolate bar sale is worth some if not all of that loss in product they don't bill for?
Secondarily, you can host fundraisers that don't have this sort of risk associated with them. Anything where you pay at the time of order (but don't take delivery immediately) avoids this risk entirely since anything paid for is received and nothing more.
I just have to close with the suggestion that you somehow find it possible to move forward on this instead of revisiting the past. It seems like it can't be healthy for you or the group to repeatedly worry about solving a problem that continues to go on for months and months without remedy.
Seems to me that the only way to find out if someone will pay is to have a face-to-face conversation with them in a timely fashion. As the year wraps up, it's more unlikely to have a positive outcome. I just don't see revealing names or small claims court as a good expenditure of time and effort and it's not going to help anyone's reputation - and that includes the school and PTO.