In the aftermath of our school’s biggest fundraising event, a FARE (not a typo, an acronym – food, arts, rides and entertainment) a friend asked me if the result was really worth the effort. It was a reasonable question, putting the FARE together was a huge slog. “Isn’t there an easier way to raise the money?” he asked.
His suggestion - all the parents and carers in the school donate $100 or so at the start of the year on the proviso that they didn’t have to volunteer for anything - sounds good in theory. In fact, there is even a viral Facebook post that amounts to the same thing. It’s a testament to the times we live in – parents are warn out, with both parents working in 64 per cent of two-parent families.
If you’d have asked me what I thought of this alternative fundraising idea a year ago, I’d have been all for it. Overwhelmed with the daily juggle I kept my head down when the call for volunteers went round. Yes, I felt bad for the people who were volunteering (and yes, it did always seem to be the same people…) but ultimately I wasn’t prepared to add to my own load.
But now, with my first fundraising experience under my belt, I understand something that I failed to grasp before… the FARE isn’t just about bringing in cash for the school – it’s about being part of a community.
Rocking up to my first FARE meeting I had some (totally unfair) ideas about what sort of people I’d be working with. I had in mind the clicky politics described in a Liane Moriarty novel - bossy mums who would be dictating and micro managing my contribution.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The other volunteers, mums and dads from the school, were welcoming and collaboratory.
I also assumed that the main drivers behind the school fundraising would be stay at home parents or at least people who worked part time. Wrong again – all of us work full-time and in pretty demanding jobs too.
Compared to others on the team, my role was small. I took on social media and helped to gather prizes for the silent auction. Going out into my Inner West community and approaching local businesses was eye opening. So many people fell over themselves to help the school.
I dedicated a significant chunk of my time to the FARE. But rather than feeling overwhelmed and stressed out (the fear that had prevented me for volunteering in the past) I felt really energised. It turns out that doing my bit was actually good for me.
I’m not the only person to feel this way. In a poll from the UK’s YouGov on behalf of the National Council for the Voluntary Organisations (NCV0) 77% of respondents said volunteering improved their mental health.
“Broadly speaking, [volunteering] helps as it is a social activity, and when you are doing things with others and groups that conviviality and connectedness is important,” Karl Wilding, NCVO’s policy and volunteering director told the Guardian.
On top of feeling connected, I also made new friends (no mean feat when you’re in your 40s) and learnt some new skills too.
The FARE was a massive success. Thousands of people turned up, families from our school, as well as from the wider community. The atmosphere was joyful and celebratory.
Parents manned stalls in shifts, putting in some hard graft with a smile on their face and a willingness to contribute. Our Principal, a good sport, took a turn in the dunk tank, as did our local Mayor. School bands from our own school and neighbouring schools turned up to perform – hours of rehearsals paying off before our eyes.
The kids all had a ball, gleefully hopping on rides that made the grown ups turn away with vertigo. They roamed around the FARE ground in gangs, laughing and playing and having the time of their lives. Memories – right there.
My friend is right that there are less laborious ways to fundraise. But I’ve learned that the money is only part of what makes the FARE matter so much.
We often lament the old expression “it takes a village...” Families are under more pressure than they used to be, living further away from support networks and juggling more than ever before. But volunteering made me see that the village is alive and kicking. The sense of community at the FARE was palpable.
Will I sign up as a volunteer again next year? I’ve already blocked the time out in my diary.