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Fundraising Creativity Key in Sports Event Planning: Tips to Secure Your Share

28 Feb, 2009

By: Amy Henderson

With so many organizations competing for the same fundraising dollars, it's time to get creative.

Fundraising has become a mainstay in all levels of sports. Youth and intramural teams utilize the funds to finance uniforms, facilities, and tournaments. Minor league teams are making sure they attend high levels of competition to qualify for national and worldwide events and professional sports teams are reaching out to finance their own charitable organizations to help their cause.

Fortunately for teams and event planners looking to raise money, there are several ways to reach your individual goals.

Plenty of Competition
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, 1,418,445 public, private and other types of non-profit organizations registered with the Internal Revenue Service. Of those, 128,480 were categorized in Recreation and Sports.

Although those numbers sound daunting, the total revenue reported for 61,922 of the recreation and sports organizations was $29.5 billion. The economy has always played a major part in how much corporations and individuals are willing to donate, and 2009 will provide its challenges, all the more reason to get creative.

Grass Roots
There's comfort in familiarity. That's not to say there isn't a place for traditional fundraisers. Teams selling cookies, candy, popcorn, and magazines have met the needs of hundreds of sports teams across the country since the inception of door-to-door marketing.

But with all that competition out there, teams are finding new ways to approach individuals and companies. Utilizing your area resources are a great way to meet your team's financial needs and also provide a necessary service within your community.

With the popularity of sports ever growing in the United States, the success of a team has quickly become a family affair. Parents are going to great lengths to help not only their children succeed but also help the community.

During the 2005-06 Pee Wee AAA season in Nova Scotia, the parents of the Cole Harbour Red Wings dedicated two weekends to the team through their own sweat. They offered aerating services to anyone with a lawn. With the initial goal of $4,000 reached in the first weekend, only one weekend was needed to exceed their goal.

Mimi Bartholomew's 16 year old daughter has been in competitive cheerleading for six years with the Odyssey All-Stars, in Concord, North Carolina. "We have done everything from car washes, to selling cookie dough to selling calendars," said Batholomew. "Per season there is opportunity to do up to 15 fundraisers."

"The simple fundraisers work the best," according to Bartholomew. "We have had girls make $900 in three hours at a car wash. The benefit is that there is not a big investment [from the club] and there is immediate satisfaction for the club. The nicest thing is that the girls do it as a team; it really creates a nice team feeling because they are working toward one goal."

This can be applied to any organization throughout the country. Identify a general need, get organized with volunteers, develop a time line and hit the streets. Providing landscaping, painting, garage sales or any other out-of-the-box idea can be a money maker waiting in the wings.

Tradition with a Twist
In this economy, there are several key things to remember when planning your fundraising event.

First, supporters are looking to get something of value for their investment. The days of pure financial donations are dwindling. That's not to say they aren't willing to help, they would just like something to show for it. Try to make sure you either have a viable product or a way to show a return on their investment, whether it is through recognition on promotional pieces or database retrieval.

Second, remind your supporter why they are attending your event. Make sure each guest is aware of where his or her money is going and what benefits it provides.

Golf tournaments, black-tie dinners, silent and live auctions are everywhere. We've all either attended, or planned one of these to help raise money for our cause. You can find a golf tournament almost any day of the week in warm weather climates and dinners in the hotel ballroom are plenty. But are these events still effective in maximizing your fundraising dollars? They can be if the venue and theme remains interesting.

Speedway Children's Charities (SCC) in Concord, North Carolina is working hard to do just that. SCC was established in 1982 by founder Bruton Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. and Sonic Automotive. Generated around the motor-sports racing community, one of its most successful events was a singular fundraising event surrounding the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 weekend, a black tie dinner with a silent and live auction.

However, instead of resting on their laurels, Speedway Children's Charities changed the format of that event three years ago. They have since incorporated "Keys to the Future." This element allows everyone in attendance the opportunity to walk away with something unexpected from the event. Single keys are sold for $25.00 each and guests test their key on a lock box, perhaps winning one of more than 50 prizes offered, ranging from handbags, jewelry, gift certificates, stereo equipment and weekends away.

This strategy has garnered more money for the fundraiser and created a buzz about the event, "By far it has gotten more people involved," said Roberta Rotondo, national administrative director for SCC. "More people are talking and are excited about the event. Everyone who purchased a key the first time came back for another key before the event was over. It's the opposite of other events in that generally sales go down as the event goes on and with this event, key sales increase."

The increase in participation also allows the charity to capture more names for their database and contact those individuals for future events.

With over 60 events annually nationwide, SCC has also found great success in alternative events and allowed them to award more than $3.3 million to over 430 organizations in 2008.

One their fastest-growing and most profitable events on calendar are Clay Shoots, "They are one of our more successful events," explained Rotondo. "They are lower maintenance and players aren't looking for premium services."

With ample clay shooting ranges located across the country, this type of event is sure to gain in popularity. "There aren't as many clay shooting events as there are golf tournaments, so attendance is ensured and it's not an all-day event like golf. You can go from registration to competition to awards in four hours," explained Rotondo.

That's not to say there isn't a place for traditional events and auctions. According to Fundraiser Help, live auctions raise at least 30 percent more money than a silent auction. However, it's probably wise to at least create a theme to your event. The New Orleans Hornets raised $163,000 with their annual High Tops and Top Hats event in October 2008.

Success
Recently, the Harding High School Marching Band in Charlotte, North Carolina was invited to attend the Inauguration of President Elect Barack Obama. The 120-member band had approximately four weeks to raise more than $50,000 in order to make the trip. The money would cover ground transportation, lodging, meals, instrument repair, and some new uniforms for the females in anticipation of the colder weather in Washington, DC.

The band partnered with area restaurants CiCi's Pizza and Chik-Fil-A to raise money and band members literally stood on street corners with buckets trying to gain attention. They also held pep rallies and approached area churches for support.

"The support of the Charlotte community has completely blown me away," said Band Director Anthony Jones. "It surprised me and it didn't. I knew our community would give us the support we needed."

As of January 10th the band was just $17,000 short of their goal. Hoping to make a large dent in that amount, members of the band were staged around Bank of America Stadium and asked for contributions from Carolina Panthers fans tailgating before the Panthers vs. Arizona Cardinals playoff game. They also performed at halftime of the game on the field.

They managed to get $3,000 closer to their goal that night, but left a big impression on the team and the fans. Panther's wide receiver Steve Smith pledged $25,000 four days later to secure Harding High's place in history.

"Getting an opportunity to play for the president," said Jones. "I'm looking forward to being part of something completely historical, something that's never been done before."

The Panthers experience provided more than just money for Harding High School, it gave them pride. "We had lots of alumni come and tell us about Harding back when the school was segregated," said Jones. "They told us how proud they were that we are carrying on Harding's name into history and how proud they are to say they went there."

Hard Work Pays Off
AmeriKenyan Running Club is headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico and provides the opportunity and support for athletes from Kenya to compete professionally around the world as well as promoting good health through running.

Athletes are responsible for their own travel costs, accommodations, food, and clothing while training. To help these athletes, the club accepts in-kind donations from corporate sponsors and race organizers. "We've been working with New Balance for two years and they outfit the athletes," said John Thornell, club director. "They've supported the club with that in-kind of support which alleviates those costs from the athletes and allows the runners to give race earnings back to their families in Kenya and improve their quality of life."

To show their support of the community, the runners participate in clinics in area schools as well as other running clubs, "We get these inspirational people and you look at them and you just know they are fast," said Thornell. "It becomes educational. The kids get to learn about Kenya, the food in Kenya and life in Kenya."

"It started as a thank you from the kids. But we will do a clothing drive or a shoe drive to thank the athletes for their help with the community and they are able to provide those items back to their villages in Kenya," explained Thornell, who counted over 3500 pieces from the last clothing drive. "It teaches people to care on a global level."

There is a misconception that these elite runners are million dollar athletes. The average earning of a runner in one race can range $1,500 to $5,000 for first place. To put those numbers in perspective, the per capita gross national income for Kenya is $1,540 annually, which ranks 148th in the world. The United States gross national income is $48,850 and ranks 6th in the world according to Wikipedia.org.

Most Kenyan runners take their winnings, return to Kenya and help their own community through schooling, development of business or housing.

"These athletes are truly grateful for the opportunity that they have," said Thornell.

One of the great things about being involved in a fundraiser is the end result. Both supporters and recipients can walk away from an event or fundraising activity feeling good that they contributed to a worthy cause. More times than not, it's a win-win situation.

About the Author

Amy Henderson

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