A New Form of Fundraising: Poly for Good


Jordan Millar, Editor-in-chief

Starting in the 2023 -2024 school year, a new student fundraising system will be implemented. Tentatively called “Poly For Good,” Chief Advancement Officer Peggy Cook notes, “We’re really looking to partner on what everybody thinks is the best name. That’s a working title right now.” The project is a collaboration between students, Director of Service Learning, and History Faculty Member Elijah Sivin, as well as Cook and others within the Advancement Office. 

Sivin explained that, with this new fundraising initiative, the school will have $5000 of available funding that students will be eligible to apply for — not for themselves, but in the name of a nonprofit organization they would like to support. Through the program, students will be required to submit an initial written application, receive feedback, and subsequently make a final presentation. 

Explaining the former lack of an organized system for fundraising, Sivin explained “Students do a lot of great work with nonprofits in terms of service hours, but there are some issues where…it’s very hard to think what a kid can do other than raise funds. And there really wasn’t a mechanism for [students] to do that.” 

“Students came to us like, ‘hey, let’s think about it again.’ We did. And we are now really excited about partnering again. The details are unfolding, but we are very excited about working together in the spirit of philanthropy, not only to Poly Prep…We rely on donations in order to actually stay open, but other institutions do as well. And we know many of those charities are really pulling at students’ heartstrings, and we’re really looking forward to partnering with [them],” Cook said. 

Senior Rory Schoenberger, according to Sivin, has played a large and active role in advocating for the return of student fundraising. “In Student Service Board during my junior year, Mr. Sivin [and I] were talking about certain Poly policies that we [thought] weren’t fair and we identified fundraising as one of those,” Schoenberger said in an interview with the Polygon over Zoom. “There was a concern about equity, which was very fair, but there was a way to have equity but still compromise and be able to bring back fundraising,” she added. According to both Sivin and Advancement in a follow-up email to the Polygon, “Equity in this context has to do with the concern of money for students to buy all this stuff. Students are visibly able to carry around the tokens that they cannot afford to buy. We don’t want these sensitive differences to be visible in this way.”   

In addition to equity, there were several other reasons in which student fundraising ended in 2018. As stated by Sivin, “I do think there was an overabundance of fundraising activity. I think it came from a good place, but it was at the point where it was not very educational, maybe even counter-educational, to have so much activity all the time where kids didn’t even really know, ‘Oh, I know somebody is bugging me for money, but I can’t remember which thing this is for.” Cook further noted that “there were just a lot of mass emails sent to people, not from students, but I think from faculty and staff.” 

In past years, students were encouraged not only to raise money for both charities and their own clubs, but also for traditional student events. “Clubs would sell dinner foods, drinks and other low-cost items, like gear with Poly logos [and] raffle tickets to students who came to see games. Half of the money the clubs earned was for their particular club and half was for whatever organization the Oasis Society had decided would be the major beneficiary of Oasis Night that year,” Sivin wrote in a follow-up email to the Polygon. In order to have prom, grades also had to raise their own money. 

Issues regarding inequity were present with the usage of fundraising to earn dress-down-day privileges. With a formerly strict dress code, Sivin noted that “There would be a special thing that you could get out of the dress code on certain days if you bought whatever — a wristband or a t-shirt or something… So Kid A has no trouble buying 8 million things and Kid B is on a really tight budget. They’re going to notice, right? I know you got to dress down today. I didn’t.” Despite well-intentioned efforts from the admissions office to minimize the presence of such economic inequities, Sivin said “it’s almost impossible to make it invisible. So maybe it’s better to just not do it at all…There was a sense of request fatigue that somebody at Poly is asking for too many things and people are getting worn out trying to participate or support all of them.” With these reasons in mind, the school began to move away from student fundraising.

 “We moved away from having every grade have to fundraise for the prom, which I think was really appropriate. And so from my point of view, it was too much. And then we moved to sort of dress down days, [which] didn’t make sense anymore when we didn’t have a dress code. And so those are some reasons that I thought it was appropriate to limit fundraising,” said Sivin. 

However, according to Schoenberger, past restrictions on student fundraising have had impacts on clubs and other student groups that strongly relied on raising money. Health Teacher Phoebe Aberlin-Ruiz, who is the advisor for the club formerly named “Girl Up,” explained that the structure of the club took a major shift after student fundraising ended. An initiative of the United Nations Foundation, Aberlin noted that the original purpose of Girl Up was “to raise awareness here in countries where girls have the privilege of going to school easily, and having these girls work towards helping girls around the world have that same kind of access.” 

Fundraising served as a core part of Girl Up. Each year, as Aberlin noted, the club would put on a large fundraiser event in order to raise money for girls in need. “We were raising money sometimes for bicycles for girls. The last one we did was uniforms and supplies for girls in Uganda and refugee camps,” said Aberlin. 

After changes to the student fundraising policy, Girl Up was unable to continue raising money. “We weren’t really given a specific reason as to why we couldn’t do it anymore, but all of the money spent to put it on came out of other little fundraising things the kids did throughout the year. I never asked for money from the school to do it,” Aberlin explained. With limitations on student fundraising, the club is no longer officially registered with the organization. Now, according to Aberlin, “Because we don’t do that event [fundraiser] anymore, now it’s just [called] “Girls’ Group” — we don’t do Girl Up in its old form. A huge part of being in that club was doing fundraisers.” 

“We talk about girls’ social issues. We still touch on topics like that, because I think it’s important for them to understand the privileges they have,” Aberlin added. 

Schoenberger, who was a member of Girl Up in Middle School, stated that the fundraisers were a “really important part of my educational experience because it taught me to advocate for something and it taught logistical planning and all those things… Not allowing fundraising sort of paralyzes a lot of clubs because it means that they can’t do what they’re supposed to do. I didn’t continue Girl Up in high school, but some people did, and they were struggling for things to do in a sense, because their one main goal of fundraising was taken away.” 

With the school’s new plan for student fundraising, clubs like Girl Up and other student initiatives that need to raise money will now have the opportunity to do so. “My thought is that Girl Up and clubs like that, that need to give money to be a chapter of an organization, would be encouraged to apply. They could apply for the exact amount that they need or they could say ‘we would like to get as much as we can,’” said Sivin. “But I don’t think they’re going to be encouraged to do big sales for money,” he added. 

Both Sivin and Advancement noted that much of the logistics for this new student fundraising system are yet to have been solidified. “The details aren’t set, partly because we haven’t done this before and we want to make sure we do it right, [and] partly because we want to leave a little space for the students to shape the details,” Sivin said. Taking into account the past challenges of fundraising, the ultimate goal of the new system is, according to Sivin, to give Poly students “an educational and organized channel in which to raise funds for the causes that they care the most about, while avoiding an oversaturation of funding requests or fundraising activities.” 

The planning process of the initiative will continue throughout the next few months. 

“I think a lot of the work will be done over the summer. So it’s going to really evolve and come to fruition in the fall and we’ll have a better sense,” said Aferdita Hakaj who joined the Advancement Office in 2022 to help reenergize the Art Center Campaign and Party Book community-building initiative. Hakaj is set to lead the school’s Annual Giving program, effective July 1, 2023.  

“What we definitely have agreed upon is one intern [whom] Mr. Sivin has already earmarked funds for, but our office has agreed to find a second intern for the summer work. So we’ll have double the manpower and [we’re] really looking forward to having this program all laid out right when we get back to school,” Cook added. In the near future, Sivin plans to finalize a list of students who take on leadership roles within the new fundraising process. “The idea is that by the end, kids who are sincerely interested in the cause are willing to take the time to do an application and a couple of meetings and a short presentation will be able to have some money to give to the causes they care about,” Sivin said. 

Junior William Ling-Regan, a member of the Student Service Board and the Polygon Opinions Editor, has also been working with Sivin on bringing attention to this new initiative. “We were talking about how to flesh out the details of this and then how we’re going to make sure we actually get the community involved. [P]eople were talking about how we can tie it into assemblies and try and get clubs interested and how we can promote it and share what’s happening,” Ling-Regan said. 

“It’s a great opportunity to start the foundational skills that will lead up to their [students’] futures. Coming from the human rights and humanitarian world, it’s essential for students to learn how to create a proposal from the complete foundational aspect, grant writing, coming up with the budget [and] the project evaluation of what exactly they’re looking to raise funds for, [and] having tangible reasons for that. It’s a very comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach, and I think Poly is really in a great position to have students advance these skills at the level of a high school education,” Hakaj said. 

As details continue to be finalized, both Cook and current Director of Annual Giving Opeyemi Laniyonu (after this interview it was announced that Laniyonu will be leaving the school on June 30), look forward to collaborating with other members of the Poly community. “I am hopeful that 50 years from now, [this] is still part of the Poly culture, a tradition that happens every year. We are also looking forward to communicating with our parents, our alumni, all our stakeholders who financially support our school, and letting them know what a priority it is to partner with the students on other charities,” Cook said.

Laniyonu is looking forward to “the opportunity for students to engage in this work in a meaningful way” and developing a program focused on “supporting organizations and causes that our students feel passionate about, learning essential skills in terms of the process of putting in the work and creating the package to be able to eloquently describe and talk about why an institution is meaningful and putting in the work to demonstrate a need for a worthy cause.” 

“We’re a private school. We have resources to be able to help others, and I think we should take advantage of that. I also feel like right now, although we do a great job of helping the Poly community, we mainly focus on assisting our school or greater New York City. But I think that we have the power and should utilize the ability to help the entire world,” Schoenberger emphasized.