Four years ago, several school districts in central Illinois made news when they began posting the amount of money they were owed by the state government on the LED boards that greeted visitors outside their respective school buildings. The plight of those districts remains today as schools across the country feel the impact of tightened belts caused by reductions in government funding for education.
As high school budgets are trimmed, sports and activities programs continue to feel the squeeze, creating a greater emphasis on fund-raising efforts – both internal and external. For many high schools in this position, successful fund-raising strategies remain time-tested and tradition-based. Every dollar counts, whether it comes from the dinner auctions and golf outings at the higher end of the dollar spectrum, or the tried-and-true bake sales, car washes and local business coupon cards.
New, non-traditional ideas continue to emerge in the fund-raising field; and while they may not be the right fit for every school, the three fund-raising strategies below have proven to be successful and continue to gain more traction across the country.
Corporate sponsorships were once taboo for high schools, and remain so in some corners, but fund-raising ideas that were once relegated to professional and Division I college teams have trickled into the high school culture.
Corporate sponsorships have crept more visibly into high school venues via scoreboard and stadium signage over the past two decades, while a handful of high schools have managed to sell stadium naming rights to corporate partners. Williamsport (Pennsylvania) High School, ironically nicknamed the “Millionaires,” renamed its school football/soccer stadium “STA Stadium” last year after its bus company – Student Transportation of America.
“We were in the middle of a capital campaign through our education foundation,” explained Greg Hayes, the director of the Williamsport Area School District Education Foundation. “We were brainstorming ideas to find funding for athletic facility upgrades without having to dip into the tax base. We developed a number of packages for naming rights of various high school sports facilities, as well as other venues such as the auditorium and a commons area in the school.”
Williamsport has only sold one naming rights package so far, but it is substantial, as the school will receive $500,000 over a five-year span as part of a 15-year naming agreement.
“There were some grumblings initially from some of the traditionalists about the stadium no longer being called Millionaire Stadium, but that was to be expected,” Hayes said. “Eventually, I think people realized that this is a way to transform our facilities without going through the tax base.”
Hayes believes that more schools will be open to these types of sponsorships in the future.
“Schools should be open to a means to bring in funds that are so desperately needed. It’s important to break the mold. One of the things we were focusing on was strategies that colleges were using in development. I don’t know how fast it will happen, but with state and federal funding drying up, I think a lot more people will open up to new ideas in corporate sponsorships for high schools.”
Beyond the Booster Club
Booster clubs have long been vital to the fund-raising culture of most high schools, and can be the lone source for schools that do not allow their athletic director, coaches or team members to solicit funds. However, the turnover that booster clubs experience from year to year, coupled with sometimes limited resources or expertise in the area, can make it difficult for schools to expect a consistent donation amount from a booster group on an annual basis.
“Booster clubs bring great natural energy to fund-raising,” said Home Team Marketing (HTM) Vice President Jake Fitzpatrick. “Ultimately though, they are volunteers and an athletic director can’t go to a booster club and tell them they didn’t make their quota for the month.”
Third-party fund-raising organizations like Cleveland, Ohio-based Home Team Marketing look to provide that consistency for its high school partners. Home Team has given more than $20 million back to partner high schools through sponsorship agreements since it began in 2001 and Fitzpatrick believes they are just “scratching the surface” of being able to create sponsorships for high schools.
“The fact is that as resources decrease, the responsibilities for athletic directors increase,”Fitzpatrick said. “Fund-raising is not usually in an AD’s job description, but is something many of them have to shoulder. Our goal is to save them time while providing resources that may not have been available to the school.”
Third-party fund-raising organizations like HTM offer the potential of deals with larger national companies, but as Fitzpatrick points out, they can be just as valuable in dealing with long-time local partners.
“Local businesses should be investing in their high schools. However, in the current economy, they are scrutinizing their budgets like never before. They now want to be able to analyze the return on their investment for what was once essentially a donation to the high school. We are able to provide the data that shows them why they should continue investing in high schools.”
High school teams and coaches have begun to take notice of crowdfunding, and no, we are not talking about passing the hat for the 50/50 halftime raffle. Crowdsourcing or crowdfunding is a form of soliciting funds on the Internet through any individuals interested in supporting a particular cause. Sites like Kickstarter, Crowdfunder and Indiegogo all currently feature high school-related campaigns – from a mock trial team in Maine trying to raise travel funds to attend nationals in Wisconsin, to a theater advisor in Connecticut attempting to cover the costs of his school’s first production.
Julie Bounds, the band director at Santa Teresa High School in San Jose, California, is no stranger to fund-raising. Her school band and marching band generally combine to have more than 300 participants per year, but her annual band budget sits in the range of a thousand dollars. That led her to create her blog, The Thrifty Band Director (http://thethriftybanddirector.blogspot.com), where among many things, she shares ideas on fund-raising.
Bounds’ booster club raised $24,000 for new tubas a few years ago, and last year she set her sights on replacing the band’s uniforms, which carried a $40,000 price tag. The group sought a variety of avenues to raise the money, including a crowdsourcing campaign on Indiegogo (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ santa-teresa-high-school-marching-band-needs-new-uniforms). Bounds set a crowdsourcing goal of $6,000 and went on to meet 89 percent of it ($5,364) over the course of a 46-day online campaign.
“I had friends who had done Kickstarter campaigns,” Bounds said. “As we brainstormed with our booster club parents on how to raise this money, someone suggested we try crowdsourcing.”
Bounds stressed that getting eyes on your campaign equates to donations, as Indiegogo uses algorithms similar to “likes” on Facebook that make individuals with similar interests more likely to see the campaign.
“We shared the information about the Indiegogo campaign wherever we could – word of mouth, Facebook, Twitter,” explained Bounds. “The more views it receives, the more it starts to show up on the site for the average person who is interested in music or band. That’s when it took on a life of its own.”
As a part of the Indiegogo campaign, Bounds’ team set up eight different donation “perks,” ranging from being listed as a donor on the band website for a $10 donation, to a “band member for a day” experience for a $5,000 donation. Ultimately, 74 individuals donated, with the most popular perks being a band t-shirt ($50, 15 donations) and VIP seating at a competition ($100, nine donations).
The other added benefit of the new uniforms? Bounds also cited that the new uniforms appear to have done some crowdsourcing of their own, as the band grew from 86 members last year to 117 in 2013-14.
Matt Troha is assistant executive director of the Illinois High School Association and is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.