Masey Kaplan's children used to bring home fundraising catalogs — the ones from which part of the proceeds go to the school — from their Portland school, full of wrapping paper and plastic toys and goods "from god knows where." Kaplan, a graphic designer who lives in Portland, was torn.
"I thought, I want to support his school, but don't really want any of this stuff," she recalls. Rather than buy crap or abashedly hawk those wares to relatives and co-workers, Kaplan often found herself simply writing a check to the school as a donation. But at the same time, she was scheming: "Maine is just rich with beautiful things — delicious, high quality, well-designed things that people want. Why not put them all together and raise money for schools and help the local economy at the same time?"
Thus began a year and a half of 60-hour weeks, phone calls, appointments, and dedication that culminated in the Close Buy Catalog, a fundraising catalog for Maine schools that features more than 100 products from local vendors including Coffee By Design, W.O. Hesperus Hot Sauce, Dean's Sweets, Ferdinand, and Angela Adams. It's a greener, local alternative to a popular school money-maker, and it brings small businesses right where they want to be: home kitchens, via the backpack. The catalog's first-ever buying cycle just came to a close; four schools (Friends School of Portland, Longfellow Elementary School, and the Lunt and Plummer Motz schools in Falmouth) and more than 30 vendors participated in the inaugural run. It was a great success, by all measures.
Proceeds from the sales were divided as such: 50 percent for the vendors, 35 percent for the schools, and 15 percent for Close Buy. Kaplan reports that gross sales were $47,000; the three schools together made $16,500, and $31,000 was pumped into the local economy. Particularly popular vendors and products included CBD, Coastline Confections, Angela Adams coasters, Littleput Land Scrabble-tile necklaces, Nash Valley Farm Maple Syrup & Candy, Annie Catherine Calendars, and the 2011 Sunrise Guide.
"Everybody met or exceeded their goals," Kaplan says. Longfellow School, for example, had hoped to make $3000 through Close Buy sales. The school made more than $6000, according to Longfellow Parent Teacher Organization co-president Renee Bender.
"It was a great experience," Bender says, adding that because it was one of the pilot schools, Longfellow got to offer feedback along the way. "We felt really connected to it. And this was just the first year — I expect that we're going to do even better in future years."
So does Kaplan. So far, about 20 schools have expressed interest in using Close Buy next year; they'll likely get a slightly smaller cut of the pie (30 percent as opposed to 35) so that Close Buy can maybe make a profit (she describes this year's trial run as "an unpaid learning experience").