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23 bizarre but true fundraising ideas from Scouting’s past

Popcorn’s all the rage these days, but Scout fundraisers haven’t always been so mainstream. Throughout history Scouts have sold a variety of less-conventional products in the name of fundraising for their pack and troop. I’m talking candles and fire extinguishers, road atlases and safety flares, candy and oranges — if you could slap a price tag on it, chances are Scouts sold it.

Not that wacky fundraising ideas are a bad thing, of course. Fundraisers are a necessary part of any Scout unit, always done in the name of filling a unit’s coffers so it can offer more and better Scouting outings. But some of the items I came across when searching through Scouting magazine’s digital archives made me do a double-take.

But hey, whatever works, right?

After the jump find 23 bizarre fundraising ideas from Scouting’s past, all presented as they appeared in Scouting magazine. And those of you who have been in Scouting a while, tell me: Did you sell any of these items? Or better yet: What was the craziest Scouting fundraiser you ever took part in?

1950s: Vanilla


1960s: Fire Extinguisher

1966-Fire Extinguisher

1970s: Fruitcake


1970s: Safety Flares

1970-Safety Flares

1970s: Sponges


1970s: Trash Bags

1970-Trash Bags

1970s: Animal Candles

1975-Animal Candles

1970s: Auto Trouble Lites

1975-Auto Trouble Lites

1970s: More Animal Candles

1975-More Animal Candles

1970s: Spill Stopper

1975-Spill Stopper

1970s: Spot Stain Remover

1975-Spot Stain Remover

1970s: Munchie Mix

1979-Munchie Mix

1970s: Road Atlas

1979-Road Atlas

1970s: Smoke Detector

1979-Smoke Detectors

1980s: Disney Candy

1980-Disney Candy

1980s: Oranges


1980s: Stuffed Animals

1980-Stuffed Animals

1980s: Superhero Pens

1980-Superhero Pens

1980s: Safety Cone

1982-Safety Cone

1980s: Daily Planners

1989-Daily Planners

1990s: Dishcloths


1990s: Light Bulbs

1992-Light Bulbs

1990s: Oreos


78 Comments on 23 bizarre but true fundraising ideas from Scouting’s past

  1. Patty Bowman // January 16, 2014 at 12:30 pm // Reply

    Great post on fundraising!

  2. Jon Pennington // January 16, 2014 at 12:36 pm // Reply

    We actually had two of the early 1970’s Auto Trouble Lights that, you guessed it, my parents bought from the local Scout troop. Too funny!!!

  3. 2021: Your troop can make $1,000,000 selling this recently-discovered new old stock of incandescent light bulbs.

    • Ha! Love it!

    • Just think, with that $1,000,000 you can outfit your scout with a cook kit and a canteen, both in recycle red plastic!!

  4. Thanks for the ideas, but…ummm….I think we’ll stick to Christmas Trees. Only fundraiser we do. Troop of 21 kids, 475 trees, work for a month…make $12K+ profit. Our kids don’t pay dues, all campouts are paid for, we send kids and adults to training free of charge, and subsidize 2/3 of the cost to go to summer camp. If things go well, we still have money left over.

    • Bob,
      I was just researching and saw this. Can you give me some deatils?

  5. I remember seeing these ads and similar going thru my collection of old Scouting & Boy’s Life magazine. I recall a lot of ads for candles of various sorts, cards, etc.

    My troop as a kid made a lot of money selling candies, and I recall selling small bags of peanuts at a nearby race track.

  6. To get to the 1973 National Jamboree we sold light bulbs and ‘lemon’ scented trash bags. Our Troop equipment closet stunk for years from the scented bags we could not sell.

  7. In the late husband’s troop sold light bulbs. They sold the every other year and each year made about $3000.00 dollars. This bought new tents, paid for high adventure and Philmont.

    • Guess selling light bulbs was a pretty bright idea, Kathy! 🙂

  8. In the 80’s my Troop sold trash bags, fertilizer, and mulch. I can’t remember if we did all three each year, or if that was different years.

  9. Spencer Morasch // January 16, 2014 at 1:13 pm // Reply

    A lot of this kind of “stuff” was packaged into a Tom Wat “showcase”, which was a cardboard suitcase that a Scout went door to door with. The goal was to get into the house, and get that suitcase open as fast as possible in front of the customer. I sold a LOT of Tom Wat stuff as a kid in the early 1970’s. It did work as a fundraiser, but the 20 or so items packed into the suitcase left a lot to be desired quality wise. The cardboard suitcase quickly fell apart, and I substituted an old (non-wheeled) suitcase in it’s place. We were also not allowed to sell this stuff in uniform. So picture a kid in streetclothes holding a beat up old suitcase and knocking on your door…!

    • Ha! I saw a bunch of ads for those showcases when putting this post together. Interesting to hear the story.

    • YES! I remember getting one of those kits when I was a Scout. 😀

  10. During my 30 years as a troop leader we sold light bulbs, paper towels, candy, and, of course, popcorn (which our council executive swore would only be a one-year program to get the council out of a financial hole).

    Probably the weirdest thing we sold was secondhand AA-cell batteries. I bought about 1,000 of them from a photo processor for something less than $15, as I recall. Disposable film cameras were a big thing back then, and the batteries for the built-in flash were name brand alkaline cells which were usually thrown away essentially unused. The Scouts tested the cells with voltmeters, and we sold the good ones in bags of 10 for $1.00. Even after we threw away a couple of hundred batteries we still made pretty good money.

  11. In addition to annual popcorn sales, my pack has an ongoing fund-raiser with a local company that produces medical id “wraps” for auto, backpack, bike helmets, even pet collars. We even have a “promo” code for the pack on their web site for sales there. It seems to sell well. I’m not sure if if the rules (advertising?) permit me to put their web site location, Bryan, so I’ll err on the side of not posting it publically.

  12. Chris McCabe // January 16, 2014 at 1:41 pm // Reply

    I still have a few of those 70s fruitcakes. We have them at all our troop camping trips. I just can’t figure out why all my Scouts keep going to other Troops.

    LOL !!! All classic old ads.

  13. We sold Tom Wat in the 70s. I always thought it was a bunch of junk, but it kept the troop running.

  14. Those animal candles are horrible! LOL Our troop up in NNY used to do a great job with Christmas wreaths and trees.

  15. My troop in the late 1970s sold the animal candles and the light bulbs that are on your list. One of the lightbulbs that my parents’ purchased just “blew out” – after almost 35 years!

  16. My troop is located in rural ranching country. For years we have approached the local ranchers and have offered to provide dutch oven cooking for their roundups and get-togethers. The ranchers purchase the supplies and we supply the utensils, cook staff and servers. At the end the ranchers are given an opportunity to donate to the Troop for this service. We have cooked for as few as six and up to 130. The events last from a few hours to three days. The boys have the added benefit of becoming excellent dutch oven cooks and camp outs on the private ranches augment our camping experiences. This is very well received and no selling is required. Over the years we have developed a great list of repeat customers.

    • Kelly Horton // January 16, 2014 at 2:16 pm // Reply

      Sounds like a good idea. Did you have to take any food service training or get any permits? Free use of ranches is nice as well.

      • No. As we are not selling anything and do not require a donation (never have had anyone not give one) no permit necessary in our State. We are going out at 4:00 A.M. this coming Saturday to cook breakfast for a ranch rodeo. The boys also pick up a lot of ranch and animal husbandry skills during these events – Cowboys love to teach someone who is interested in what they do!

  17. Back in the 1970’s we funded our Troop with a monthly paper drive to collect newspapers and send them to the recyclers. Last Saturday of every month we made the rounds in Camp Hill PA gathering up grocery bags full of newspapers stacked at the curb. Then the bottom dropped out of the recycled paper market and we were kind of stuck. I remember we sold lightbulbs one year. We had a Troop bus for years all funded by paper drives.

    Since the late 1970’s here in Cary, NC we do Christmas Luminaria as our fund raiser. Most of the Boy Scout and Girl Scout Troops and Venture Crews participate. There is a committee that assigns the neighborhoods. The Troops assemble the kits with six white bags 6 candles, 6 little cups to hold the candles and a separate bag of sand. The kits cost about $2.50 and we sell them for $6. We generally clear about $6k after all expenses are paid. The bags are set out on Christmas eve to guide the Christ Child into your home. They look really pretty as you head off to church on Christmas Eve. We give our Charter Org 144 bags and candles for lighting the walkways at church on Christmas Eve. If you aren’t familiar with the concept the Wiki link below explains the history.

  18. The animal candles (x2) are sooooo 1970’s perfect. I recall seeing one of those ((the droopy-eyed dog) at my aunt’s house as a kid. I don’t recall what (if anything) I sold as a scout during the 70’s.

  19. Kelly Horton // January 16, 2014 at 2:14 pm // Reply

    Our troop had some odd ball fund raisers in the past. We were paid $1,000 to burn a huge pile of tree stumps, branches, and logs. The boys used the branches to build wilderness survival shelters. We also directed traffic for a local fire works display for $1,000. We also were gate keepers at a local airport during an airshow. I am not sure how much we were paid, but we got to see the airshow for free and go to eat for free as long as we helped out at the concession stand for a couple of hours. Sometimes funding comes in various forms.

  20. Andy McCommish // January 16, 2014 at 2:44 pm // Reply

    You missed a few, Bryan — Remember the ever-popular stuffed animal candles?  Those fluffy li’l creatures made great fire-starters for a Tenderfoot’s first overnight!  And then there were the edible safety cones– When the emergency’s over, treat yourself to a sweet n’ savory energy snack!  But Oreo’s… Nah, they’ll never sell!


  21. H. David Pendleton // January 16, 2014 at 3:47 pm // Reply

    Our High School would sell the Tom Wat stuff. It was all a bunch of junk except to an 8-year old. It was cheap & broke easily. I guess the neighbors felt sorry for my sisters. I never wanted to sell any of it.

  22. Our troop (Troop 175 in Simsbury CT) used a website to create a great troop cookbook that was used to raise funds. All the scout families submitted recipes and then they bought them for family members and got local businesses to sell them as well.

    It was a fun project for the scouts, was visible in the community and actually raised more than $1,000.

  23. My troop growing up sold decorative Christmas candles.
    One of my kid’s school clubs did the citrus sale, I bought a box and was quite satisfied.

  24. In the early 1960’s my Troop sold Johnson & Johnson First Aid Travel Kits – I actually still have the plastic box! It was small enough to be good as a personal First Aid kit at camp when I was a Scout.

    • H. David Pendleton // January 17, 2014 at 7:38 am // Reply

      Boys Life has ads for First Aid Kits to sell from personal size on up to those beyond troop size. The only issue is after everyone gets one for their home & car, the market is pretty much saturated.

      I guess the more we think things change, the less it does in actuality.

      • Same reason flower bulbs don’t make sense. either they die and they don’t want more ore they live and they have no need for them as the space is filled.

  25. About every three months, my Troop would gather at the church about 6am on a saturday morning. One or two of the Troop dads would pull up in their station wagons(!) with 600 dozen fresh, warm, Krispy Kreme donuts. These would be parceled out to the Scouts and their parent cars, whence we went out into the local neighborhoods to knock on doors and sell warm donuts to still groggy folks (some of them) , surprised to see Scouts with fresh gooey glazed donuts. Sold them two and three dozen to a house. Rare was the “no thank you”, and frequent was the “where have you been? We wanted you LAST saturday!”.

  26. The “craziest” fundraiser my unit ever participated in was robbing red squirrels of their winter food storage. No, seriously. A little over a decade ago, the unit I helped with had a scout whose dad worked for a pulp & paper company. They would assign us a specific patch of forest to gather green pine cones that the red squirrels had gathered for their winter food supply. We’d leave sunflower seeds behind, ’cause it wouldn’t be right to let the hard little workers starve.

    We’d then get paid by the pound for these gathered pine cones, which would be stored until they dried and released their seeds. The company we gathered them for would then use the seeds to grow new trees.

    About 8 of us went out and we filled the back end of a full size pick-up truck in one afternoon with sacks of pine cones. We made close to $500 for about 3 hours of work. Our only expense was a couple of 50lb bags of sunflower seeds.

  27. One more: As a scout in the early 80’s growing up in central Maine, our troop collected used computer program punch cards (index paper) from one paper mill that made toilet paper, drove them 3 miles up river and sold them to a different, rival paper mill that recycled them into Chinet Paper Plates (and other paper products produced in the same mill such as fast food cardboard cup holders). I don’t know how much we made at it, but for several years, our only fundraiser was selling newspaper, old phone books and those computer punch cards to the Chinet paper mill.

    • Kelly Horton // January 17, 2014 at 9:31 am // Reply

      I can’t resist. This sounds like Pulp Fiction.

  28. My troop sold oranges, you can actually still sell them and they do quite well. Our sponsoring Lions Club has sold them for years. My favorites for fundraising in the late 70’s early 80’s were Tom Wat kits, those things had everything! My other favorite were McDonald Dollars. The local owner/operator is an Eagle Scout and would give you vouchers to sell for $1 that were worth $1 at McDonalds. At the end of the sale, you gave him 50 cents per voucher sold… Of course he always make sure and hooked us up with the orange punch at every court of honor and event. 🙂
    (I still get shivers from those sugar rushes!) 😀

  29. When we were in Cub Scouts back in the 1960s I remember going door to door in our neighborhood selling Fannie Mae assorted chocolates for $1 / box. That was our pack’s fundraiser for the year.

    The one thing I always had against so-called “character” candles, was that if you actually used them, you’d eventually have a headless character. My mother refused to burn any of hers (a few melted in the attic during one hot summer).

    • Never thought about that headless aspect! That could create some scary sights.

  30. I want to take issue with your characterizing these unique ideas as “bizarre” because it smacks of sensationalizing the products for the purpose of getting hits on your blog.Yahoo does that to death and it is all about hyping the blurb. These ideas were, like anything else, creatures of their time. It is unfair to dismiss them any more that it would be to look askance at buggy whip makers in the 1900’s.

    Having said, that we sold light bulbs in the 60’s and did very well, and did well enough to show up in the 50’s and 70’s. I have to wonder tho, in todays’ society, does anybody go door-to-door?

    • Fair point, Steel. Thanks.

  31. ramblin wreck // January 17, 2014 at 11:40 pm // Reply

    My troop just got done selling batteries

  32. That was pretty cool! I did not know there was a digital version of Scouting Magazine similar to the Boys Life one. Took a peek and some great stuff there!

  33. My favorite was the safety cone that you can set fire to. I’d buy a bunch of those just to set fire to them!

    • Same here! Somehow “safety” and open flames seem like opposites.

  34. Bobby Sammons // January 20, 2014 at 1:06 pm // Reply

    I just wish we sold Girl Scout cookies!

    • I’ve said for years that we should purchase a franchising agreement and sell them at the six-month interval after the local GSUSA council does its sale. That’s about when I run out of Do-Si-Dos, and I’d love the opportunity to restock while supporting my troop and council.

    • The only problem with that is the GS cookies, while awesome, have very little margin for the local Scouts. The popcorn is not that good (not as good as the Thin Mints, anyway) and is very expensive, though we don’t seem to have a hard time selling it as this is a Scout-friendly area. I would like to see selling something like first aid kits or preparedness equipment/food, having our “Be Prepared” reiterated to the community.

      • What is the margin?

  35. ramblin wreck // January 20, 2014 at 6:59 pm // Reply

    We need girl scout cookies the scouts could probably afford a trip to the Summit or Philmont on cookies alone.

  36. “Rent-A-Scout” where scouts were rented out for a couple bucks an hour (with agreed-upon restrictions in terms of work load, duration, weather, etc.) — usually things like raking and bagging leaves in the fall (New York area). Used the funds for winter camp (individuals) and for troop purchases for the Quartermaster.

  37. My unit sold light bulbs back in the 1960’s.

    BTW, the fact that we let units choose their own fundraisers, versus simply focusing on a single internal product like the Girl Scouts’ cookies, is why we get all that advertising revenue in Scouting Magazine. 😉

  38. Crusty Scouter // January 23, 2014 at 7:23 pm // Reply

    Those garbage bags were the BEST!

  39. I remember selling the fruitcake as a Scout. I think it sold pretty well and it was better than the Tom-Watt stuff.

    • I think I still have one or two of those fruitcakes around the house… They make good door-stops! LOL…

  40. Our band made a mint on those oranges in the 70’s. And none are stranger than the high school bands now that are holding mattress sales and clearing plenty without doing much more than advertising….

  41. If the animal candles or stuffed animals were available in Wood Badge critters, there would be a ready-made market!

    • This Fox says heck yeah! (and THAT is what the fox says…).

  42. I like the Scoutmasters Law. Was that officially used or just an article?

  43. I remember trying to sell light bubs in the greater NY Council in the fall of 79 or 80. a bunch of newbie Boy scouts fill of scout spirit and covered in poison Ivy going door to door to sell light bulbs. Needless to say we didn’t make much but our chartered Org St Benedict Joseph Labre never did run out of 60 Watt incandescent bulbs nor did any scout family for years afterwards.

  44. Wayne Newcomb // March 7, 2014 at 6:21 pm // Reply

    Anyone remember the Tom Watts salesman kits? (Late 70’s) Had to lug around those big cardboard suitcases full of trinkets to sell. It seemed to work, though, we seemed to make enough money to go camping.

  45. My Explorer Post did the Candy sticks,we also did fire extinguishers and Auto emergency/1st aid kit’s-end of 70’s begining 80’s.

  46. Kevin J. S. // March 8, 2014 at 9:06 am // Reply

    Back in the 70’s our troop sold plastic-chip Christmas decorations.

  47. Greg Pronger // June 29, 2014 at 8:59 pm // Reply

    I sold the fire extinguishers. My own family did not buy one. A few months later my younger brother accidentally set our kitchen window curtains on fire (toasting a marshmellow on the stove). No real damage, but they did buy my stuff after that!

  48. Early 60’s we had two fund raisers a year. Flats of flowers in the spring and nice box of chocolate candies. always looked forward to the house who would buy the candy and then the lady would hand it back and say “enjoy boys”. Made long door to door day rewarding. Money for ole Troop 52 and candy for my patrol.

  49. While out selling popcorn (door to door) we’ve had quite a few folks tell us they sold socks when they were in a troop.

  50. All our local hs bands still sell the Florida citrus.

  51. Fundraisers never stop evolving. Few of our local troops do the door-to-door method anymore. Last year several troops joined together and sold Christmas trees, and decorations made of craft florist evergreens from Oregon & Willamette Evergreen. 3 different weekends, rotating between each troops meetingplace. I thought that was pretty progressive!

  52. Awesome – used to sell a ton carrying my tom watt box to trailer courts and neighborhood’s then filled it up with fireworks and sold them at scout summer camp! Good old times

  53. My husband and I absolutely love the Florida oranges. Does anyone know where we can buy them in New Haven CT. County area? We bought them from my husband’s colleague , whose son was a cub scout 3 years in the 80’s . The 4th year he no longer sold them. They were the best we’ve ever had. Please email if you know where to buy them in our area. We don’t want to have them sent from Florida and end up with a lousy quality orange. Thanks sooooo much , if you can help, Bonnie

  54. Remember selling some those things when I was a scout

  55. Some of the scouting troops in our area are adding Pink Zebra Home Fragrance to their yearly fundraising. They earn 40% of their total sales.

  56. Back in the ’70’s we sold light bulbs. It was great. I remember several people starting to say they didn’t need any then giving up when I told them what I was selling.

  57. I would vote to sell any of these items over popcorn!

  58. Very disappointed there wasn’t something about popcorn in this post. 😉

  59. I sold those animal candles in the 1970s for Girl Scouts. The owl and hound dog ones sat on my dresser for years

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