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Why My Kid’s School is Teaching Her to Shill Cookie Dough

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cookie doughIt’s a simple sales formula that would make any door-to-door salesman proud: Play on a customer’s emotions and you’ll likely get a sale. It works with magazine subscriptions, Girl Scout cookies and even cookie dough.

Cute + cookie dough = sale. It’s automatic.

If cookie dough, cheap jewelry, Oreo churros and expensive candles, among other junk from Believe Kids, are making the rounds in your neighborhood, you know that summer is over and kids are back in school. Forget falling leaves and cool winds when looking for the start of the fall season. Cookie dough for $ 17 is for sale, marking the start of fall.

My daughter’s school started its fall fundraiser recently, and while she and her classmates are told not to sell items door-to-door, they are expected to push their cuteness and fundraising goals upon their families. If you can’t sell a $ 16 pumpkin roll to Grandma, then you aren’t cut out to be in sales.

Is shilling a life skill?

I’m all for giving extra money to schools. I wrote my daughter’s school a big check before school started this year. I understand the need for raising money for extra activities and supplies that the school can’t afford on its own.

Where I lose it is in trying to understand the logic in teaching my kid to shill for cookie dough to her friends and family. The school has all kinds of prizes — which I’ll detail soon — to encourage kids to sell things for which they have an astronomical chance of winning a prize for, and the kids don’t get a cut of the profits. Even in the name of charity, which I don’t think the Parent-Faculty Club is anyway, that isn’t much of an incentive to sell.

There’s also the factor that if everyone kid you know is selling the same stuff, what are the chances that they’ll find customers who aren’t already being bombarded by other eager, young salespeople?

If teaching my kid to sell cookie dough and other crap is a lesson her school wants to teach, then let’s skip middle school and go straight to a trade school. Or better yet, put the kids on the streets immediately and have them learn on the job until they outgrow their cuteness.

Selling knives in Oakland

I know first-hand the joys of selling things for charity and for profit. In fifth grade a friend and I went door-to-door selling candy bars for our school. I’m sure we ate/bought more candy than we sold.

Prizes may be enough incentive for young kids, but I think the best incentive is cash. Give the kids a cut of the profit that Otis Spunkmeyer is pulling out of its cookie dough hard-press around the country, and you’ll really move product.

I sold newspaper subscriptions for a few months one year when I was about 14, and I sold a lot of subscriptions. How? I was paid cash for every subscriber I signed up.

A guy in a van dropped me and a bunch of other kids off in the lower hills of Oakland, Calif., a city known even back then for high crime. As a gift to subscribers, we were given huge kitchen knives to give them on the spot if they signed up. That’s right — kids were giving away knives in Oakland.

I gave away more knives and sold more newspapers than anyone else. I don’t know remember how I did it, but I remember opening the cardboard case with the knife inside and showing it to potential customers. The things sold themselves.

I eventually stopped selling the Oakland Tribune this way because one night — a school night — the van showed up after nightfall and me and a bunch of other kids were left stranded on a corner with nothing but newspapers and knives with us. At least we could offer people something to read or could defend ourselves in a knife fight if it came to it. That was enough door-to-door knife selling for me.

$ 170 buys a lot of cookie dough

To raise the $ 15,000 that my daughter’s Parent-Faculty Club wants to raise, it asks that each family sell at least 10 items. At $ 17 or so per item, that’s $ 170. That’s a lot of cookie dough. Our friends, family and co-workers are going to have to start exercising.

The young sellers are also encouraged to email family and friends to buy so they can win more prizes. More fun in your in-box! The website offers instant prizes to sellers.

The school’s main way to encourage kids to sell is with prizes offered at school. Each student gets a number and if their number is called among the hundreds of students each day, they get a $ 10 iTunes gift card if they’ve made one sale. If they sell 10 items by the end of the sale, they get a $ 20 iTunes gift card.

The prizes only get better:

  • Sell five items for a set of fake mustaches and a free PE pass.
  • Sell 10 items for the Secret Prize.
  • Sell 15 or more items to participate in Cash Grab, where a sack is willed with bills ranging from $ 1 to $ 50, and you keep whatever bill you draw.
  • Sell 25 items to “roll in the dough.” No, it’s not cookie dough. You roll in cash and keep what sticks to tape applied to your clothes.
  • Sell 50 items for a $ 25 gift card to Best Buy or Target.
  • The top selling class gets an ice cream party.
  • The top selling class from each grade will get to participate in the pig races.

My guess is that the ice cream party is more than enough incentive for kids to sell cookie dough and other goodies for their school.

A fake mustache and free PE pass may be enough to get kids excited about selling, but if organizers want to be fair and show them how the economy works in real life, they’ll offer them something a lot better: Cash.

This article by Aaron Crowe first appeared on and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


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