Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Paul Szymanski, activities director, Watertown-Mayer Public Schools in Watertown, Minnesota, and Jimmy Soltis, athletic director, Cardinal High School in Middlefield, Ohio, regarding fundraising ideas to supplement a school’s athletic budget.
Question: With all of your responsibilities and duties, how do you find the time to also organize and conduct fundraising efforts? Are there aspects that you can delegate, and is it possible to get help from others in the department?
Szymanski: Due to the responsibilities and the time demands involved with an athletic or activities director’s position, we strive to be as efficient as possible. In previous districts in which I have worked, overseeing fundraising was my sole responsibility as activities director. However, in my current district, I approve the various initiatives, and work with our principal to organize the fundraising process of all teams, clubs and activities within the school.
Soltis: It may be nearly impossible for an athletic director to organize and conduct fundraisers on his own. Therefore, my main goal is to encourage and align fundraisers so they do not interfere with each other. It is critical to get help from the coaches and staff. A discussion on the “who, what, when and where” needs to take place prior to any fundraising. By allowing coaches to do something specific to their sport, it really helps to get them to take ownership and to manage the fundraiser. This aspect and effective communication with all stakeholders is necessary for a fundraiser to be a success.
Question: With teams conducting their own fundraising efforts in some schools, do you have guidelines or a system in place to avoid overlapping or duplicated sales or activities? How do you, for example, avoid a rash of candy or pizza sales constantly throughout the year?
Szymanski: Avoiding duplicated sales is why our approval process is so important. A master schedule is created indicating which group will be fundraising during each week of the school year, what will be sold and who the intended market is in order to ensure a level playing field for all activities. We have limited community resources as well as participants in multiple activities. It would be counterproductive if our systems and procedures created a culture of unnecessary competition for fundraising dollars.
Soltis: Our coaches and advisors are required to fill out paperwork well in advance, ideally by the end of the season for the following year. This would include all of the details involved with a fundraiser including the dates, cost, potential income, vendors and solicitation methods, and it is approved by myself and the superintendent. Over time, certain fundraisers become “designated” for that team. In this way, it becomes easier to prevent repetition of similar activities.
Question: A booster club can be a very good and effective group to raise additional funds. What is your role with your booster club, and what type of leadership and control do you have with this related organization? Specifically, how do you ensure that monies raised will benefit all sports and not just a selected one or two?
Szymanski: Currently in our district, the Royal Booster Club operates all of our concession stands at every venue throughout the year. Seasonally, it donates the money raised to our department for projects or ideas that benefit as many participants as possible. I share with the club our continuous capital project list and we look at ways to maximize every dollar spent. While the booster club meets monthly, I usually meet with the group two to three times per year to provide guidance and oversight. All money it earns is directed to our general fund and, in this manner, the district is responsible for making the actual purchase.
Soltis: Since booster groups can be difficult to deal with at times, it is critical for an athletic director to stay involved and to also communicate clearly the expectations, roles and responsibilities of those involved with the club. To accomplish this objective, we meet at the beginning of each year and I outline the athletic department project priorities. The booster club officers are also required to fill out the same fundraising paperwork as the coaches do to ensure that there is no repetition or overlapping of fundraisers.
Question: While there is always a need for additional funds, how do you raise money for capital projects such as renovations of athletic venues and major pieces of equipment including scoreboards, sound systems, ice-making machines, weight-training equipment and specialized athletic training equipment?
Szymanski: In addition to our Royal Booster Club, we are also fortunate to have youth athletic associations in our community that assist with some of the smaller capital projects. For example, our youth basketball association provided the funds for scoreboards in our auxiliary gym. This was a great, much-needed addition and one that was lower on the district’s list of capital needs. Our youth associations are very generous and are always looking for ways to improve the experience for our kids.
Soltis: Most of these large projects involve sponsorships in the form of signage and donations. In a small-town setting in which the school may struggle to pass tax levies, it is difficult to easily and quickly cover expenses for capital projects. Local businesses may be willing to contribute larger amounts when they can walk into the stadium and see their logo or advertising on the scoreboard. In a school like Cardinal High School, it is extremely difficult to keep venues and equipment updated. We recently, for example, had a local flooring company donate $47,000 in weight room flooring material. With the project completed, they are able to use this as a marketing tool, which is priceless.
Question: What is your philosophy about involving student- athletes in your various fundraisers? There are some who feel that young people should never play an active role because their focus and effort should be on succeeding academically and on the court or field.
Szymanski: There are valuable lessons to be learned, I think, in our process of fundraising. Teaching our participants early that equipment, uniforms and other necessary items for their activity have a cost and need to be taken care of is critical to their understanding of basic budgeting. This is also a skill they will need as they move into adulthood. We do try and avoid the “door-to-door” type sales, but having our participants physically work or put in time to achieve our financial goal creates in us a culture of giving back to their group or our program. However, our concession stands are easily our best revenue sources.
Soltis: At Cardinal High School, our philosophy is to get the student-athletes involved. Just as with sports, kids can learn a lot about life from fundraisers. The organizational aspect, responsibility, communication and many other skills that can be developed from fundraisers is priceless. Many kids will take charge of an event and even come to me or their coach with additional ideas.
Question: What are a few of your favorite, successful fundraisers? Why do they work well in your setting?
Szymanski: Any fundraisers that meet our intended goals, work within our system and are as simple as possible to administer for the various groups are my favorites. Our communities seem to like our “Gold Card” program which offers various discounts at local businesses. Parents and community members like to support our efforts if we run them well, include some type of value and provide visible improvements to the activities they enjoy attending.
Soltis: Recently, we started an annual “Pig Roast” which is extremely successful. The event is in honor of an alumnus who had a profound impact on our community, and we raffle off a car donated by a local dealer. Since all proceeds benefit all extracurricular activities at our school, it literally brings the entire community together for a great cause. In addition, we have also had a lot of success with reverse raffles and auctions in which businesses and individuals donate items. This means every dollar raised represents a profit. Another quick and easy fundraiser in which our student-athletes are involved is the sale of pepperoni rolls.
Dr. David Hoch is a former athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple (Pennsylvania) University, is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 550 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as two textbook chapters. He is the author of a book entitled Blueprint for Better Coaching. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.