Clip-and-save programs—school-corporate partnerships in which parent groups redeem product labels or other proofs of purchase for cash or products—are popular due to their simplicity, a deep pool of familiar products parents already purchase, and the absence of door-to-door sales. They can also teach kids about cooperation, the value of saving, the high cost of educational supplies, and tight school budgets.
Parent groups can collect labels from a variety of grocery products, but the two largest programs are General Mills’ Box Tops for Education and Campbell’s Labels for Education. Typically, a PTO designates one parent to coordinate the clip-and-save program. That person may work with teachers to collect the items and recruit additional volunteers as needed.
Keys to Success
Get everyone on board. Collections rise as PTOs educate the school community about their program and build support for their goals, says John Faulkner, Campbell’s director of brand communications, of their Labels for Education program. But feedback from parent coordinators indicates that raising awareness of “the program, the process, and [the] contact person” is their greatest challenge. Faulkner suggests engaging everyone by sharing the school’s fundraising goals—educational materials, playground equipment, or other school-related merchandise. If a significant part of the school population and surrounding community speaks a language other than English, translate these messages to reach more potential participants.
Aurora Dorsey, who coordinates the PTA’s Box Tops program at Clara Barton Elementary in Corona, Calif., began by getting approval from her principal. Then she attended a school picnic and a back-to-school parent event, where she introduced herself, distributed flyers, and displayed eligible products. Later, she dropped by classrooms to deliver student packets and collection boxes. She also pitched the program to teachers at faculty meetings and helped establish classroom goals to motivate students.
Make it easy for teachers. At Eastvale Elementary in Corona, Calif., there’s an across-the-board rule not to add to teachers’ workloads. PTA Box Tops coordinator Georgette Ruffer asks teachers to carry out just one task: Each month, they put their class’s labels in a large envelope and deposit it in a bin in the teacher workroom. To thank staff members, she regularly dispenses notes with candy or coupons for free iced coffees or cheeseburgers.
Promote the program. It’s important to regularly remind the community to act on behalf of school goals. Dorsey works her way through a checklist of print and electronic media, including the town newspaper, the school’s outdoor reader board, the PTA newsletter, closed-circuit television, voice mail, and text messages.
Good promotion boosts collections and helps programs become self-sustaining. An art teacher at Erwin Valley Elementary in Painted Post, N.Y., designs several bulletin boards a year for the Box Tops program. “The amount of time [devoted to it] has decreased as children become more aware of the program and its goals,” says coordinator Jodi Walker.
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Dos and Don’ts
Do keep the collection process simple for the sake of busy teachers.
Don’t forget to alert parents and community members to sale items, monthly bonus contests, discount coupons, or triple-point specials advertised by participating grocers or the companies themselves.
Do use individual and group incentives such as gift certificates, ice-skating lessons, and award ceremonies.
Do encourage spinoff contests tied to local events like school elections or to themes such as archaeological “digs” or action heroes.
Do consult the program’s website for advice from forums or chat groups.
Don’t ignore resources such as local and national Box Tops University conferences and the tools on PTO Today’s File Exchange.
Shouldn’t we participate in all the clip-and-save programs to get all the free money we can?
How do I decide which programs are best for my school?
How much do schools earn through these programs?
How should I build support for a clip-and-save program?
Have a regular redemption schedule so that the proofs of purchase or labels do not get lost or overwhelm volunteers. Aurora Dorsey collects from Clara Barton Elementary classroom bins every month and mails bimonthly. Julie Grubbs, Box Tops coordinator at Chloe Clark Elementary in DuPont, Wash., follows the schedule of the school store, where children turn in labels for prizes at lunchtime and during recess one day every other month.
Recruit volunteers to help collect as well as sort, trim, count, and bundle proofs for mailing. You can hold a “bundling” party to package the labels, or room parents can be co-opted to check expiration dates, count labels, and report the totals on pickup days. Some coordinators also draft their own families or enlist help from classes whose teachers enjoy integrating opportunities for practical math into the curriculum. Jodi Walker’s student volunteers at Erwin Valley Elementary come from a before-school program.
Use the themed student collection sheets, news releases, parent letters, eligible product lists, and other tools available on program websites. Collection sheets save not only creative time but also counting time, another serious challenge for coordinators.
Track individual or class contributions in a basic spreadsheet program. This makes it easier to determine contest winners and compare this year’s progress with results from past years.
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