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Networking Net Funds for L.I. School

By Danielle Catalano - writer for FundraisingforSports.com.

Knowing the right people helps save 11 sports programs from being cancelled in Long Island.

Annual school budgets in most New York communities must go before the local voters, and if a board of education's proposal is rejected twice, a district is forced to adopt a bare-bones contingency spending plan, typically with little or no funding for extracirricular activities.

Such was the case for Shoreham-Wading River (SWR) School District in Long Island, NY. July 19, 2005, became its Black Tuesday. The second school budget vote failed that evening, forcing the district to cut eight middle school and three high school junior varsity sports programs.

Widlcat Athletic Club President Linda Rotanz and club members sat down that very night and started organizing. Since the group oversees all the sport-specific clubs in the district, it had to set an appropriate liaison system amongst its members. Also, it needed to figure out which boosters would be effective, yet not compete with other fundraising organizations. Furthermore, it needed to stay on the minds of those in community at the time of year when nobody wants to think about school. Two weeks would pass before a solid plan would be set.

The plan was implemented the following week on another Tuesday. The convincing words of Wildcat Athletic Club Vice President Leo Greeley persuaded the board of education to allow the school's booster club to fund all of the cut programs. According to Greeley, the club asked for four installment-type payments, but the board was cautious, and the two sides compromised. The Wildcats agreed to raise $25,000, or roughly half the $47,473 budget, by September 13 or those sports temporarily cut would be canceled for the entire 2005-06 school year.

The group was overjoyed and overwhelmed.

In a normal year, the club runs two fundraisers, a golf tournament and business dinner, along with a membership drive. The money raised helps to cover the athletic department's needs, such as a new public announcement system and wireless outdoor scoreboard monitor. The money is also applied to eight scholarships the club awards each spring to graduating male and female student-athletes.

This year's fundraising task is completely different. Any money raised goes toward vital but far less high-profile needs such as transportation cost, coaches' salaries, and district fees, meaning the Wildcats' fundraising plan involves a different kind of community support: connections.

Great Location For Marketing
The Shoreham-Wading School District is about 30 miles outside New York City, near the island's fork on the north shore. Lacrosse is hugely popular, and wineries dot the countryside. More than 6,000 households and businesses call this close-knit area home. SWR is among the smaller school districts in eastern Long Island, and one of an even smaller number of communities without a large commercial center.

Its curse is its blessing. "There's not a lot of business in this particular community," says Greeley. "There is no large commercial presence, but we're lucky in that we're engaging with people in the community who either work for large businesses or are active in these businesses to get the word out."

The 140-member athletic club agreed on car washes and bucket drops, a second business dinner, park tickets, and discount coupons as the main fundraisers. Networking and being visual suddenly became key factors to success, say Rotanz and Greeley.

Several booster club members had already worked with Modell Sporting Goods, the large Mid-Atlantic and New England sports products retailer, to create discount coupons. For each coupon spent in the store, the club receives five percent back. With over 50 stores in the New York City-area alone, that five percent adds up fast.

A previous fundraising connection led to a substantial new source of revenue. A booster club parent knew the manager at The County Fair, a large amusement park that becomes the mecca of entertainment for families throughout Long Island during the summer. He had worked with her on another fundraising project that involved his child earlier that year.

"This parent did the work before and established a relationship with this manager. It was a package deal," says Rotanz. The big advantage for us was 'learning from your mistakes,' so to speak.

"The County Fair charges non-profit groups $6 per ticket," Rotanz explains. "The club this particular parent was involved with before charged $15, making a $9 profit. But when the club started selling them, people buying the tickets assumed they were $20. Although the group kept selling them for $15, the parent realized how much more money the club could have really raised. He said that was his one regret."

The Wildcats are selling these tickets for $20.

Networking also extends into the district attorney's office, as Greeley quickly found out.

"Parents have really good ideas, but most were not legal for school non-profit organizations, such as Texas Hold 'Em and Bingo games and lotteries. Luckily, a member of the booster club worked in the DA's office and was able to find out what the group could and could not do."

Word on the Street
When the club received approval to fund the cut sports, the group immediately sent out 6,200 letters to the residents of the community, stating the club's purpose and needs. Because of the urgency, Rotanz and another member specifically designed with graphics, bullet points, and a synopsis for the best visual effect.

About a week later, Greeley and booster club officer Ronnie Malave sent press releases to the local media: two television stations and three newspapers. The group heard back that same week, and has since been in all five media outlets.

But, Greeley and Malave didn't stop there. Knowing that the local papers cover school board meetings extensively, they made certain that booster members attend each board meeting and speak about the Wildcat's fundraisers. The meeting attendance was twofold: guaranteed free press coverage and continual updates to the community on the club's progress

In the meantime, Rotanz spruced up the club's Web site, www.swrawc.com. "Initially, the site was to give athletes recognition," says Rotantz. "It had never received much traffic, but I'm constantly updating it as it serves as a means for the media to obtain information and for others to gather information about our cause and future fundraisers."

The site also provides a place for the club to thank donors until the club decides the best way to show its appreciation

Little Things Add Up
Any type of fundraising for kids is important in a small community, say Rotanz and Greeley. It means using all available resources, but not exhausting them.

"The club is extremely cognizant of other sports and students asking for support," Rotanz says. "We don't want to create competition among sports, and we definitely do not want to compete with PTAs and hurt their funds."

The booster club president realized that just because a group limits the types of fundraisers doesn't mean it limits their impact. "Make little fundraisers in your major fundraising efforts," advises Rotanz. "For instance, there's no food at The County Fair, so we're setting up concession stands. At the dinners, we run raffles from items donated by area businesses."

Innocuous things, such as family togetherness and confidence, have also contributed to the club's successful fundraisers, as displayed at its most recent car wash.

"Parents have had the attitude of, 'Yeah, we're out there to raise money for sports—but we're going to raise the money'," says Rotanz, "so kids never felt as if they wouldn't play sports. I was amazed at seeing how the dads and kids loved being around each other. The students see that their parents are working to make sure their (the student-athletes') goal is met, and most kids haven't had to work this hard toward one. They're anticipating it. I don't care what you say, kids like working with their parents."

A Sigh of Relief
Greeley sighs a breath of relief. All Wildcats teams are playing this fall. The booster club reached its goal the last week of August, two weeks ahead of schedule. He is happy the time restraint is removed, albeit temporarily. Nervous about making the next deadline? Quite the opposite.

"I'm excited. Our approach is community first, business second. I'm pretty confident we're going to make the November 8 deadline. We've already sold $14,000 in park tickets, and we haven't even solicited the big companies yet. I think we can make it by October. We haven't fallen below $500 a day in money received through mail donations."

If all goes according to the July fundraising plan, and the booster club does raise all the funds needed for its sports programs, eight scholarships still need to be raised.

"We will definitely have eight scholarships to hand out at the end of the year," says Greeley, the confidence from the car wash deterring all doubts. "We'll start fundraising for that in February and March, like we usually do."



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