Lately I have been endeavoring in a little fundraising venture for the wrestling team I coach. Unbeknownst to many, school sports teams (at least in the district I work) are responsible for coming up with the lion’s share of funding, not the school. The school pays for about 20% of our expenditures. Student-athletes, for example, even have to pay to ride the bus–a $100 fee–to our meets. It is what it is, and this isn’t a complaint post (I actually think there are some benefits to this), so I digress.
Usually, a parent or booster is responsible for leading the fundraising charge, but though I have parents assisting, I am heading up the fundraising for now; I feel that I need to be at the helm here at the start to get things going, though I hope to hand it off to a capable parent or booster member eventually within a few years.
The specific fundraising venture in view is advertising in a program/media guide. You know the little booklet you get when you go to a football game that has player pics and bios and such in it? Yeah, that, except for wrestling. Those programs usually have advertisements in them that cost a tad, for it gives the businesses therein exposure to the fans and community. Things like this *can* turn out to be win-wins for both parties: the team gets funds, and the business gets exposure.
Doing all this has been *incredibly* time consuming, and not exactly easy. For some people, sales and fundraising comes easy. Not so for me. I’m a teacher and coach, not a salesman. I’ve had to do it often as I grew up, but I always hated it. Even when the product I’ve offered is my own services that I know are exceptional–for example, when I was a fitness trainer–I still have dreaded the selling, especially in tough economic times in which many people I come across simply can’t afford it. I’m not one to push in that circumstance. I’ve always done the selling/fundraising, though, for I’ve always recognized the need and larger purpose for it all.
Even though I have not really enjoyed doing this, I’ve learned some valuable lessons and I feel I’ve grown through it. Here is a not-so-brief list of some of the things I’ve learned through this whole process:
1) There’s a capitalistic element to this venture. I just finished reading a book on the virtues, biblical and otherwise, of capitalism, called *Money, Greed, and God* by Jay Richards. Some of the things he talks about in his book I’ve seen in fundraising for my team. Part of what I do I see in terms of building, creating, and investing in a business. Though that certainly doesn’t capture the whole of my job–the bottom line is not the bottom line, it’s about discipling young men–it is a part. Yes, technically since this is a public school, I work for the government, but given that this is a sports team, there is a “free market” element to it that I hope becomes apparent as you continue to read.
2) People appreciate the little things. In other words, “sweat the small stuff.” You’d be surprised at how some of the little stuff makes a difference, things as small as providing a SASE for people to mail in the support. Calling first to ask if I can stop by to merely introduce myself (rather than doing a straight cold call and pitching for a sponsorship right there) is another one businesses have tended to appreciate.
3) Don’t be afraid of the word “no.” I’ve contacted and visited lit-ra-lly hundreds of businesses. Seems like darn near every day I’m putting on my dress clothes and my best smile, and going to meet local businessmen and women. I’ve gotten a “no” (or sometimes they ignore me, don’t return phone calls, etc) in the overwhelming majority of times. I started contacting businesses (some of which I already know, some not) way back in April, and so far have garnered a pittance–about $1000 short of breaking even when factoring the cost of production in. Some of this is no doubt due to my approach, which I am tweaking as I go along, but most of it is the nature of the beast.
It’s a numbers game, and this has given me a chance to grow some thicker skin, lean on the God who truly gives me self-worth (as opposed to my performance or people liking me), and learn how to keep going amidst much rejection.
4) In just about everything, relationships are paramount. I elaborate on this in the other pointers, so rather than just beating a dead horse I’ll move on.
5) Success, as Hugh Hewitt says, is not a zero-sum game. Win-win relationships are potent currency in the business world. I’m not the only one benefitting…the businesses that place ads benefit as well. Options in which both parties gain something are the best options in our free market economy, and they are the engine that drives progress. I’ve had this conviction for a while: what I have yet to figure out, admittedly, is a particular win-win that businesses will go for. A football team with a weekly game attendance of over 3,000, with considerable media coverage to boot can command much more interest when it comes to advertising in their program. A wrestling team with 300 weekly attendance (that will change if it’s the last thing I do! :) ) and with close to zero media attention (that will also change, with time)–not so much. I’m constantly trying to think outside the box, so I’ll let you know as I progress…one thing for sure: don’t even think about suggesting car washes, cookie sales, and the like. I’m convinced the only things like that get is a whole lotta sweat, but relatively little funds in return…and a good dose of colon blow from ingesting all those cookies. What’s more, everybody under the sun does them…coincidently, I’ve found out that everybody under the sun also does ad sales in programs, and getting ads is sweat-inducing. Hmmm…
6) Even if the business says “no” at first, build a relationship with them anyway. Why? Because you never know when a door for a win-win might open. This is one of the things that has led me to change my approach as I’ve gone along. Whereas in the beginning I approached a business and directly asked for funds, now I approach a business with a wider goal in mind, of which sponsorship is merely a part. I approach a business with the honest intent of getting to know the person, what her business is, the role she plays in the community, and I want her to simply be aware of my team. I give her a copy of our highlight DVD as a opening gift. I ask if I can send them a fan request from our facebook page, and I do a few other things, but the goal is to open a simple introduction, then I want to cultivate that acquaintance as best as I can given my particular time constraints as things go along. I figure the more they are comfortable with me, the more likely it is that genuine win-win options will arise. If a sponsorship arises out of that, great. If not, there are other fruitful options that might pop up in the future. And simply having more “supporters in spirit” is a good thing too.
7) Coaching is more than coaching. As J. Robinson, head wrestling coach for the University of Minnesota once quipped, the success of your program won’t depend upon how well you can teach a double leg takedown. I can’t just expect to show up and win a title only by teaching great technique. When it comes to coaching a successful team (which, I admit, isn’t the end of coaching–molding the next generation of young men is. Still though, having a successful and competitive team is nice), there are all sorts of administrative, bigger-picture things that factor into the success of your team. There’s PR. There’s communicating your vision and motivating the athletes, the parents, and the larger community to get involved. There’s marketing…yes, that matters. You can have something in your garage that’ll change the world, but if no one knows or cares about it, it’s about as good as the old broomstick it sits next to in the corner. Marketing puts butts in the seats, which increases the notoriety and name of your program, which increases the numbers of participants. Then there’s the funds. As much as I hate to admit it, this matters. I know Holywood is replete with hit movies of coaches who won world titles with nothin’ but a mound of dirt and a few ne’r-do-well derelicts, but reality is a bit less rosy, and funds really help.
This is not so much something I’ve learned in the process as much as it is a conviction that got me into the fundraising venture. Let me give you two particular examples:
First, without funds we don’t compete. It costs money to enter tournaments. Teams usually go to enough tournaments such that only the talented few get to compete, but what about the guys who show up day in and day out, bust their tails, but aren’t talented enough to make one of our squads? I’d like to have enough funds to send them to some competitions. Not only will it make them better, but it will keep them involved and invested. The more they stick around, the more they’ll help the other guys on the team, and vice versa. The more they stick around, the more young men I’ll get to mold with the character lessons of wrestling. This takes funds.
By the way, that was me in college. I was always sitting behind an NCAA qualifier or All-American, and never made first string. Those were the guys that got all the matches. I got an exhibition match here and there, and paid my own way to open tournaments, but that was it for me. Most athletes I know won’t put up with that. It’s rough. If I can keep those kids on the squad through four years, I know they’ll look back as I did on their wrestling years with fondness and see how it positively shaped their lives. If I quit years ago because I rarely got to wrestle, I’d be half the man I am today. Now the question is: who can I keep out for wrestling that can gain the same lessons I did?
Second, lifting weights is an integral part of wrestling. However, at our school, the football team occupies the weightroom the overwhelming majority of the time. We have a tough time getting in there. However, rather than continually butting up against that brick wall, why not do an end run around it? With just a few dollars, we can purchase some things and make an interesting weightroom ourselves. And I’m not talking about Eleiko bars, bumper plates, and squat racks. I’m talking about some rather inexpensive items–marine ropes, bungee cords, sandbags, gymnastics rings, wheelbarrows, truck tires, hurdles, etc. With stuff like that, we can make a quite functional “weightroom” and get our weight training outside, in nature, without ever having to step foot in the weightroom. Problem solved. Plus, our workouts will have a “farm boy” quality to them. I myself grew up doing manual labor like bailing hay, and it forged some good toughness in me. I’m convinced that physical tasks inherent in handling equipment like the above contain some potent character lessons for boys…but it takes funds.
There are other examples where funds make a world of difference. It all adds up.
So those are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned lately through trying to fundraise for my team. Work hard, but work smart. I’m not quite there yet. This is not a finished venture by any means, so I’ll add to this list as time goes along.