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Innovation

A new spin on the school bake sale Add to ...

When Holly Alexander sits down once a month to buy cereal, snacks and other packaged foods for her household, all it takes is a few key strokes on her laptop to place an order with www.wealthyschoolrevolution.com, a web-based service in Vancouver.

“I don't like walking up and down the supermarket aisles,” says Ms. Alexander, who works full-time as a private banker at RBC Wealth Management, part of RBC Financial Group Inc. “With this service, I can sit at my laptop at 10 o'clock at night and scroll through their web site, just like walking up and down the aisles. I press a button, and that's exactly what I want.”

But for the time-pressed Ms. Alexander, there's more to it than just buying groceries; she picks them up at Vancouver's Westcot Elementary School, which her three children attend. Each time she spends $250, 20 per cent goes to the school's fund-raising project: a new playground.

“We donate to many charities. But our children's education is at the top of the priority list,” says Ms. Alexander. “It’s a no-brainer.”

Ms. Alexander's enthusiasm is shared by Darryl and Sarah Davis, the husband and wife team behind Wealthy School Revolution (WSR). It’s a 21st century spin on the old-fashioned bake sale; they sell groceries that have a focus on health and good nutrition, and raise money for schools at the same time.

“As parents, we were bombarded daily with fund-raising options, whether it’s chocolate or poinsettia sales, or stuff that I didn't want,” says Ms. Davis, a former assistant cruise director, whose two children also attend Westcot school. “But we thought: we all buy groceries, and spend this money anyway. Why don't we shift the profits back to the school system?”

Mr. Davis says WSR takes advantage of the fact that many parents visit the school to collect or drop off their children. “The school building and the traffic flows are already there. Putting them together was the answer,” he says

An 18-year veteran of the food industry, Darryl Davis has owned a sales agency representing food manufacturers across Western Canada and operates Better Life Brands, a distribution company that markets organic coffee and chocolate bars.

Mr. Davis notes that traditional fund-raising is a time-consuming, paper-intensive and laborious process. “Each school does everything by itself. We thought, let's create the software that allows them to use the efficiencies of modern business, such as tracking sales, and build the program over time.”

As a school fund-raising program grows, parents can see the history of previous sales. “That doesn't happen in any other fund-raising programs,” says Mr. Davis.

Conceived in early 2010, the online system was launched the following December and sales for the first nine months were about $35,000. Their target is $750,000 in sales this school year.

In the past few months, the number of registered schools has expanded from eight to 50, primarily in the B.C. Lower Mainland.

“That shows how much interest there is in a program like this,” says Mr. Davis. “Our issue is that we need to find the schools and tell them about the program.”

The service works for both public and private schools. “It doesn't matter what kind of school it is, they all do some form of fund-raising and need money,” says Mr. Davis.

The potential is considerable. Assuming that 6,000 North Vancouver families spent $50 on groceries over a nine-month period, Mr. Davis estimates they could raise almost $2-million for the local public school system, based on $10 going to the school for every $50 purchase.

The process is fairly straightforward. First, the school has to register with WSR. Then parents create their own account on the WSR site, and make purchases online. A “dashboard” on the WSR site allows them to track contributions to the school. Parents then pick up their orders once a month or every two weeks, when they bring their children to school.

WSR can give to schools partly because it has no physical plant. Instead, a third party, Vancouver-based Corporate Courier Logistics Ltd., fills and distributes the orders.

“We let them do what they do, and we'll focus on what we do well – provide the software and tools to support fund-raising programs,” says Mr. Davis, adding that many food vendors like the concept because it saves them money normally spent on supermarket shelf-space.

WSR does not carry perishables, but it does offer about 2,100 products, including paper towels, cereal, granola bars, juice boxes and pasta.

Looking to expand, WSR has set up a commission-based independent developer program, which has attracted 10 agents so far. One of them is Debbie Bowman, a nutritionist with two children in Courtney, B.C.

“[WSR] are only offering food that is considered healthy,” Ms. Bowman says, adding that items such as sugar-rich cereals are not sold. “They are mindful that there are lot of economic hurdles for some families. But they are still focusing on healthy food.”

Thus far, Ms. Bowman has signed up three schools in the Comox Valley and Campbell River areas. As the concept catches on, Ms. Bowman hopes to raise that number to six by late September.

“It makes life easier, because traditional fund-raising takes loads of volunteer time and a lot of paperwork,” says Ms. Bowman, adding that it doesn't cost the school anything to register with WSR. “With this program, you can even set it up so that the grocery orders are placed automatically every two weeks.”

As for Ms. Alexander, she's hooked on WSR and is trying to sell other parents on joining. “I've told them, ‘This is important and makes your life easier.’”

 

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