How one group collected more than 88,000 box tops, using the earnings to purchase teacher and classroom supplies.

Susan Stratman decided to try some new strategies when she and her husband, Ken, took over coordinating clip-and-save programs at W.J. Zahnow Elementary in Waterloo, Ill., in 2006. By the 2007-08 school year, the Stratmans had collected 88,000 General Mills box tops, raising $8,801 and ranking ninth in the nation for total earnings.

Those funds have been put to good use. The PTO designates one-quarter of the box tops proceeds to be used for grade-level reading materials. Last year, each teacher also received two printer cartridges and $200 for supplies.

This year, the preK-2 school set a goal of raising $10,000. Before the fall semester ended, the school’s 650 students had amassed more than 45,000 box tops.

The key to the school’s success is student rewards. “Rewards work,” she says. “We have supportive teachers who give us feedback on what incentives work, but it’s the kids’ enthusiasm for prizes and parties that keeps motivation high.”

Together, the Stratmans throw an escalating series of class parties geared to increasing levels of accomplishment: Popsicles for 500 box tops; fruit snacks for 1,000; ice-cream sandwiches for 1,500; popcorn for 2,000; milk shakes for 2,500; and pizza for 3,000 box tops.

Other inducements come straight from the Box Tops for Education website—prizes like lollipops, notebooks, and pencils. Parents also made suggestions, such as giving students stuffed animals of the school mascot, a bulldog. Students may also receive gift bags containing Wal-Mart or McDonald’s coupons and game tickets for the school’s winter carnival.

In addition to the prizes, students are motivated to compete against classmates and other classes at the school. A bulletin board near the front office charts class contributions so kids can see how their classes compare with others.

Stratman uses Microsoft Access to record daily class and individual totals. “It’s a big timesaver,” she says of the database software. This close tracking enables students in each class to compete for the top class prize and then vie for one of five “bests” in each grade level. Although Stratman’s knowledge of computer bookkeeping has reduced the time needed for administrative tasks, she still spends seven hours a week on the school’s high-volume clip-and-save program.

Students receive seasonally themed collection worksheets with instructions to families to paste or staple the labels onto the pages. Parents cooperate because they knew their involvement helps earn money for the school.

As coordinators, the Stratmans keep everyone’s eyes on the goal with timely status reports. They alert students and teachers to special bonus collection opportunities and circulate a newsletter every six weeks; in between, emails and telephone calls work as reminders. When a class reaches a benchmark, the principal announces it over the PA system. This recognition inevitably arouses renewed interest from other students.