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.
Top 5 Ways To Increase Profits
Be selective. Instead of trying every clip-and-save program out there, focus your energies on the ones that make the most sense for your group. Consider the time involved and the potential profits.
Spread the word. Suggest that children invite their relatives and neighbors to collect box tops, says Susan Stratman, PTO programs coordinator at Zahnow Elementary in Waterloo, Ill. Ask permission to place collection bins in offices or stores, and see whether a local grocery store will allow you to collect labels from customers one evening.
Issue frequent reminders. Reminders before and rewards after holidays sustain student interest and result in more sizable submissions; for instance, summer newsletter suggestions to collect labels from “picnic-friendly” products paired with a reward of ice cream or another treat can really bump up collection numbers.
Tie the clip-and-save program to existing programs. In spring, a PTA-sponsored carnival at Erwin Valley Elementary in New York awards prizes to students who turn in 10 box tops at a special carnival booth.
Motivate kids to participate by planning classroom competitions with exciting prizes. The Eastvale Elementary PTA in California offered seats at a catered luncheon with the principal. Another group arranged a ride to school on a fire engine.
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?
Not necessarily. These programs require a lot of promotion and can take time, attention, and volunteer hours away from your other projects. Constant reminders to parents to send in labels or UPCs can make it seem like your group is more focused on raising money than on supporting the school, which can turn off potential volunteers. It’s better to pick one or two programs and focus on running them well.
How do I decide which programs are best for my school?
Compare the amount of work that will be involved in collecting, organizing, and submitting labels for each program and consider the potential profit your group could make. Think about how many labels you can reasonably expect to collect. You’ll probably be able to gather more labels for staple items like cereal and soup than for products families buy less often. Keep in mind that if you pick a program that’s a bad fit, you could put in a lot of work for very little return. The right program will have the potential for decent profits without overburdening your volunteers.
How much do schools earn through these programs?
Top-earning schools raise more than $10,000 a year, but most schools can expect to earn a few hundred dollars in cash or school supplies.
How should I build support for a clip-and-save program?
Spell out goals and send reminders and updates through homework hotlines and other electronic and print avenues. Consider wacky incentives for reaching milestones, such as the principal promising to dress like a clown for Halloween.
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.