Fundraising Douchery: Unicef Canada


Hot on the heels of the piece I wrote for Politics Respun about detrimental fundraising and elementary school, I’ve found myself angered and annoyed by another form of fundraising that uses the school as a vehicle for driving charitable giving. While I have no problem with fundraising for registered charities, or even registered charities being supported by schools, I’m loathe to give props to an organization that asks children to run around soliciting funds from people via cheque, pledge or online donation. Especially since this amounts to parents feeling obliged to solicit, beg, harass and demand donations at work, from friends, family members and out of their own pocket. Again.

It’s not as though we are able to give freely, of our own volition because we’re supportive of the cause. We’re being asked to give in order to meet status quo and keep up with Aiden and Jaiden Jones. It’s a form of hostage taking, and after being accosted for funds by the teller at the bank, the check out woman at the grocery store, the children in front of the liquor store and 46 different solicitations in my mailbox, I’m jaded and bitter. I’m tapped out, and I’m no longer giving from my heart. I’m giving out of guilt or desire to make people shut up and go away.

We were not intended to give out of anger or guilt.

I had never felt this way about Unicef’s orange Hallowe’en box campaign that had been a part of our lives for decades. Being given a small orange box, asked to take it out with us while Trick or Treating, and to bring back our pennies was an unobtrusive way to learn about helping and free-will giving while having fun. It was not a burden. When I knocked on doors for tooth ravaging loot, people knew that kids would be coming with Unicef boxes, and always had a bowl of pennies and nickels ready. If we didn’t have a box, they often asked why we didn’t have one. It was one night, for one cause, without a high demand, and donation could be made freely without expectation.

I have not had school aged children prior to this year.  I am not a teacher. I do not play one on television. (Yes, I AM sure I’m not a teacher, even though I may look like one.)

I had noticed that nobody had come to my door with a box in the last few years, but assumed it had something to do with the schools electing not to participate.

So, when the Big Kid’s school sent me a permission slip (which perplexed me, because they have no problem asking me to hawk magazines and wrapping paper on behalf of my kid) to ask if my kid could drag a box around this Hallowe’en, I didn’t hesitate to sign off and send it back. I have a gigantic penny jar that was ready and waiting for visitors on Hallowe’en, and figured people in the area would be doing the same.

This is the redacted (ineffectively) the form I filled out. Note that it CLEARLY states they’re sending a BOX home with my kid:



Box. They’re sending a BOX home. Yes? I read that right, didn’t I?

I didn’t get a box. I got an envelope.

An envelope asking me to set up an online account for my kid to fundraise on behalf of Unicef. To ask friends/family/neighbors/coworkers to donate ONLINE or via cheque. In funds large enough to warrant a tax receipt.

Really? WTF, Unicef?

Sadly, my scanner is evil and cut off some of my pithy commentary. This is what kids get from Unicef in 2010:


No box. No collecting on Hallowe’en? The logo is still utilizes the box in it’s imagery.

Interestingly enough, the box embargo is only in Canada. Americans are still using boxes.

The bigger surprise, to me, was that boxes were done away with by Unicef in 2006. So, why did the school think that boxes were on their way?

After making an angry tweet on Twitter about the death of the orange box, Unicef had this to say to me about the box:

“The orange box evolved into a month-long campaign, allowing more Canadians to take part. The spirit of the box still lives on.”

Spin, spin, spin.

I’ll tell you why they did away with the box:

  • Overhead required to purchase and distribute the boxes was costlier than a paper envelope
  • Anonymous donation at the door doesn’t allow for databasing givers.
  • Rolling pennies, nickels and dimes + logistics of it = time consuming.
  • Requires fewer donors at higher giving levels (gifts of $20, $30) to  make campaign effective, rather than dozens of boxes containing handfuls of pennies.
  • Likely problems with people collecting with the box, but not turning in the box or the collected funds.
  • You cannot repeat solicit someone who gives anonymously.
  • Children asking for large donations en masse are more effective than adults doing it.

This is no different than the other solicitations my children were asked to make over the past few weeks.

It’s now the 5th one in 40 days, and I’m fed up.


Unless Unicef wants a paper envelope filled with pennies, they’re not going to be meeting with my credit card or my labor any time soon.

Viva the orange box, baby.

Viva the orange box.




8 thoughts on “Fundraising Douchery: Unicef Canada

  1. Hey Puss

    I posted this blog entry on my FB page and it created quite a stir. One of my dear friends is a retired teacher and she had some interesting comments. Gave me a good glimps of the issue from the teachers side. Also she ran the campaign in her school for 20 years! Lots of insight. I suggested she cut/paste her comment here.

    I’m still not convinced tho. I know for a fact that I’ve never given to UNICEF other than the orange box so without them, they get nothing from me. We choose our charities and that’s it. We are 6 on one income so we can only do so much. I too have a load of coins tho, they are collecting dust.

    They had the right idea with the boxes. I remember being a liitle child and feeling that it was one way I really did something to help those poor kids I was always told about. In this cashless society, is their any wonder we are all in such debt and our kids (and many adults) have no idea of the true value of money? It’s all just a series of black or red numbers on a computer screen.

    • Thanks for the re-post, Tracey. It’s interesting to see how this subject rattles people. Before I wrote the post, I had mentioned my frustration on Facebook, and had a lot of “Wow, that’s stupid to eradicate the box!” type comments, a few “I don’t support Unicef at all” comments, and even a few “Unicef’s mandate conflicts with my personal beliefs” comments. So far, I haven’t had anyone in “real life” prefer the newer, streamlined version. I think so much of that stems from the persistent ramming of charitable giving down our collective throats.

      When I was an elementary school student in the mid to late 80’s, we had “foster children” from the third world that our school had “adopted” and would collectively give funds to. Fundraising took form of bringing home a pyramid shaped box during the Lenten season, and we’d pop coins in it and bring it back to school just before Easter. Our class challenges would often be “To each bring in a dollar!!” ergo, bringing in $25/class x 7 classes/year. Sometimes our teachers would challenge us to put more coins in if we’d sworn, or lied, or ate candy – it was, after all, Catholic school.

      Either way, I’m sad that I am the one who has to bust my hump to fundraise for an organization so my child can keep up with the Joneses. Kindergartners can’t take pledges, people. My pre-schooler can’t go door to door and write down your personal information.

  2. What a sad day it was when Unicef did away with their orange boxes. The orange boxes had been around for 50 years.

    It is another example of how difficult it has become to teach meaningfully in the classroom.
    No impromptu walks, animals in the classroom, working at your own pace, professional autonomy or expecting children to experience natural consequences for their behaviour..

    I ran the Unicef campaign in my school for 20 years and used their fantastic lesson plans. My Grade 3 students made presentations and we made the boxes and distributed them and then we counted and rolled all of the coins, often $500-$1000 worth. Coins taught us place value, addition plus Canadian history, classification, orderliness.

    Getting the coins to the banks was very cumbersome either for me or for the lovely parent or Unicef volunteer. I remember one year hauling a wheeled container of coins out to the car and having them spill all over the wet parking lot with the paper wrappers splitting. Counting the coins from Unicef’s end, setting up bank accounts etc was so hard.

    Many parents complained about the safety aspects of Trick or Treating and also about the honesty issue.

    I also began to realize how political the UN was. The whole issue of developed countries giving aid is getting so complicated. Check out the new documentary “Schooling the World: White Man;s Last Burden”.

    It was the end for me when Unicef did away with the orange boxes, thus removing the child from the process.

    • You really hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the difficulty of being able to continue to do meaningful teaching in today’s classroom. We’ve gone tremendously overboard with being too PC, too careful, too afraid to allow natural learning to progress. I feel anger and disappointment every time I attend a PAC meeting and have to listen to the constant exceptions, exclusions, mollycoddling and politicking that must go on with every aspect of Canadian education today. While that’s slightly divergent from the subject of fundraising, it’s all part and parcel to the same ulcer that is festering just below the surface of today’s desire to sanitize everything and take the easy way out.

      Thank you for your input – it does paint a more rounded picture when you hear from people who were actively dealing with the old campaign in the educational environment. I can only imagine!

      I will definitely check out that documentary – it sounds right up my alley!

  3. I have wondered why no kids come by with the Unicef box. I guess that answers that question and I can pack away my loose change for another purpose. I don’t think I’ve ever donated to Unicef except for the orange box. I’m afraid that they just don’t rate high enough to make my list of charities that I regularly donate too. Their loss I suppose since I won’t be suddenly donating to them online.

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