It’s not a completely new issue, but I’ve been hearing much more often these days about groups struggling with what I call the problem of “fundraising creep.” This subtle but troubling challenge often begins with one well-intentioned parent offering to share profits with your group from her Silpada jewelry sale or Creative Memories night or Tupperware party.

Common responses to the offer include “What can it hurt?” “Who are we to say no to easy money?” “I’d hate to hurt Mary’s feelings.”

So you send home Mary’s flyer, and a month or two later Mary cuts your group a check for $120. Sounds good, right? But Mary’s check is actually just the start of some predictable and slow-building troubles for your group that can really hurt your more important efforts.

There are two fundamental issues to me. The first is the political quagmire that you often get caught in when doing business with members. With the explosive growth in at-home businesses centered on moms, you can be sure that as soon as you approve a Silpada fundraiser, your Southern Living and Pampered Chef reps will be right behind. How do you say no to these members after approving the first?

Worse yet will be the spoken or unspoken questions about a member making money off your group. Fair or not, there will be some appearance questions—especially if the sales rep is one of your leaders or frequent volunteers—that can only get in the way of your efforts to connect with more and more parents and families.

The second issue is that the majority of these home-party sales are fairly weak fundraisers. Even without the potential political problems, I think groups should review these options much more critically to determine whether they’re worth it on the financial merits. Most are not. They’re fine businesses, but that doesn’t make them the right fundraiser for your group.

If you run your traditional big fundraisers and then add in one mom’s candles and another mom’s Creative Memories and another member’s Southern Living, you quickly get to the level of seven to nine fundraisers per year, which is too much. You’ll own (and you’ll deserve to own) a reputation as “that fundraising group,” which is a killer for the rest of your involvement and community efforts. Even worse, you’ll have earned this reputation because of fundraisers that didn’t actually make much money for your group.

“But who are we to turn down $300 easy dollars?” you might say.

And I’ll say, “Those dollars come at a price.” The price might be in volunteer effort. Almost always, though, the price will be in the number of parents who tune you out because you seem to be always hitting them up to buy one more thing. And that price is too high.

Better to either have the courage to evaluate and say no to fundraisers that aren’t worth the attention and potential harm to your reputation, or to establish a blanket policy in advance about working with any member vendors so you can avoid the controversy later. That second solution can save you a lot of headaches, too.

Good fundraising takes thought and effort and a discerning eye. Pick a product or program with strong potential and a good track record, and run that fundraiser as well as you possibly can. Do it once. Maybe twice. Then get the focus back on your good work and parent involvement and serving your school. The fact is, you’ll make more money and have a more successful group when you realize all that so-called free money isn’t really free.