Children As Selling Point: Worst of the Worst of Manipulation

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at
Using children as Sales Force for extra large price margin goodies in the cover of Fund Raising: The Art of Manipulation

Some of you might denounce me as a selfish, insensitive grump for what I am saying. Even with that, my opinion stands firm: using children as the sale’s workforce is the worst of the worst of manipulation.

The Sport of Fund Raising

This is the hundredth time that “Cookie dough”, “Wrapping paper”, “Coffee” or other fundraising requests arrive from school.  Repeatedly I have these uneasy feelings; “They want to poke my eyes out…” indignation rising inside me. If I don’t buy: I am the bad (greedy, careless, selfish you name it) person. If I buy: I am the gull.

In the latest fund raising trick, the children are tempted: if they make 200 sales they can get an iPad or iNano. This is definitely teasing for them, but it made me think:

How did the adults – who offered the sales and the praise – think it would happen? How did the principal, the teachers and PTO – all of those who support the action – think it would happen?

After their busy days with school, sport, music lessons and church, in the evening occasionally in the dark, they go for a walkabout in the neighborhood and ring the doorbells of people. Most of them are nice, some of them not so much and some of them are outright criminals…

How many houses do they need to visit in order to sell 200 items? Ask a successful sales person how many more approaches they have to make for making one deal. Multiplied by 200 and we know how many doorbells they need to ring, how many strangers they need to talk to.

Naturally: most of the children won’t do a fraction of it, but will work hard to get themselves nothing. However, they generate good profit for the Company.  (Was it not called slavery?)

When I brought this up to the children, they answered that the parents are expected to help them make the sales mostly from relatives and friends. Really? It makes me outright mad when someone delegates assignment to me without my knowledge and agreement – and without any respect of my other duties and assignments.

Don’t take me wrong!  Fund Raising itself might be very nice and important. I have nothing against charity. However, I offer these conditions to consider:

Condition 1: it has to be straightforward. The requester asks for what they want from whom they want.

Condition 2: it has to be done by free choice. There should be no guilt, shame, or anxiety attached! Everybody has to decide freely when, how, to whom and in what form they want to contribute. They even have to feel free not to contribute as well.

Why do I feel odd when children approach me for funding their activities? I’ve never ever thought I should make others responsible for my children’s sport. If I can afford it, I do it happily; if I cannot, I take them to the playground (for hiking, swimming, running you name it) for free.

I can make a deal with my neighbors that I pay their children’s basketball and they pay my children’s horseback riding. How about that?

What makes me really mad is when someone reaches into my pocket with the hands of my children. Let’s face it: this is completely unacceptable.

The arguments

I/ “There is Fund for this or that.”

– My problem is that I have no oversight whatsoever what percentage of the profit goes to the Fund indeed, and what percentage the Company keeps from the extra-large price margin. I question whether the company is offering their product for charity if the price is so inflated. The company makes their usual profit in every sense of the word. In some cases the money that reaches the Fund is a fraction of the money collected.

II/  ”Fund Rising is designed to be a face-to-face learning experience…”

– Well, I think it’s a very mixed message what we teach. I ask for money for our football team, while I am selling cookie dough for triple the price… all contained in one sentence.  What we teach is: 1/Not being clear about our intention. 2/ Begging for money other than for basic needs. 3/Getting  more money from our pockets than the product actually is worth.  4/ We teach them to manipulate.

III/ “You don’t have to only if you want to.”

– If the papers are coming home all together with the homework assignments and teacher’s syllabuses requiring signing and collaborating; then the fund raiser is presented as the other expectations: needs to be fulfilled.  Or do they want me to ignore the other assignments as well?

Why is this manipulation?

Let’s summarize what we call manipulation:

The manipulator gets us doing something we don’t want to…

Do we want to buy that particular giftwrap, cookie dough, coffee and the like? Most of the time: no. We have our own brand, custom and place where we get them. The companies who are making the campaign want us to buy from them instead of their competitors.

By inducing guilt, shame anxiety…

How can they do it? They make a tie in: if I buy their products which are way more expensive than I normally do, they give the extra for something valuable. You don’t want to give for charity? Shame on you greedy person!

Then the extra twist comes: you don’t want to give to your neighbors’ children for extracurricular activity? – Even bigger shame on you!

What is the company truly giving? Nothing!!

The manipulator does not care about your interest.

It’s easy to find out. They don’t care if I have to do extra jobs, they don’t care if I draw my friend’s resentment for the terrible deal… They don’t care if my child walks into the arm of a pedophile… The only thing that matters is selling as much as possible and increasing their bottom line: it is all about profit!

Children as selling point

Instinctively, in every culture, children decrease the aggression and provoke nurturing.

Behavior ecologists made an odd comparison how different culture groups are greeting each other when a neighboring group arrives for a visit.  First there is a kind of intimidation: showcase of the weaponry, then disarming the enemy: display of the children.

If the culture is in the tribal level, the warriors flail their spears and scream and shout to scare the guests. If the culture is industrial, the weapon showcase might be a military parade or gun salute.

Repressing the uprising aggressive reaction of the visitors, tribal people bring forward and keep their children before them. Oftentimes we see lined up “pioneers” or school children in airports or in an official greeting ceremony!

It is innate, it is powerful, and it is unconscious.

This is why using children in a manipulative encounter is so powerful.

And this is why it is so immoral. Manipulation in itself is immoral, as there is no consideration of the target’s interest or rights. It is deceptive how it conceals its real intention while emphasizes the target’s false advantage. But in this case there is an extra twist in the manipulation: They are using our innate loving-caring reaction to children to tame our raising objection against pushing their unwanted products on us.

Reveal And Override Emotional Manipulation
Sign Up for Mini Online Training

Sign Up!


Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at