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Structured for Success

By Laura Smith - Assistant Editor at MomentumMedia Sports Publishing.

When businesses complained to athletic director Randy Richards about receiving too many fundraising phone calls, it was time to restructure the booster club's market plan.

When Randy Richards arrived at Greenville (Tenn.) High School as its Athletic Director one year ago, he was prepared for a fundraising challenge. The school supplies about $10,000 a year in the athletics budget, and boosters traditionally raise an additional $50,000 to keep programs afloat. But Richards wasn't prepared for the response he got from the first few donors he approached.
"Every one of them said, 'We're tired of getting so many calls from people asking for money for GHS athletics. Cut down on the calls,'" Richards says. "Basically, each of our sports was calling them separately."

Then Richards discovered another problem. Businesses were being contacted by people who actually had no affiliation with the school at all. "They'd get a call from a company claiming it was making us a calendar as a fundraiser," Richards says. "They would write a check to that company, and would get a calendar. But the checks people were writing weren't directly benefiting us at all."

Richards says he isn't sure whether or not the outside groups were unscrupulous companies. But one thing was clear: If he didn't stop the avalanche of calls, he was going to lose the funding that made his program viable.

His first move was to bring all calendars and miscellaneous publications in-house. He arranged to have them produced by the athletic department, and he let donors know that only those publications were official GHS documents. His second solution was to institute an entirely new fundraising structure-simplified, unified, and guaranteed to reduce his donors' annoyance factor to zero.

"We sent a letter to all local companies promising that from now on, we would only contact them once a year," Richards says. "We created a sponsorship program with seven levels of giving, ranging from $100 (a Devil sponsorship) to $5,000 (a platinum sponsorship). We invite them to choose a sponsorship level, and we offer them a series of perks based on the levels."Among other things, benefits include ads in sports programs, all-sport passes to home contests, banners hung in the stadium and gymnasium and at the ballfield, parking passes, and cushioned stadium seats bearing their company's name. The top level donors receive passes to a hospitality room set up at home contests.

A handful of sponsors pledged at the highest level, and two companies even wanted to donate more. "I said no," Richards says. "I wanted to have multiple donors at the top level and no one above that. If somebody gives more, they may feel like they are the 'main donor' and they should have a say in what goes on, so I capped it at $5,000."

One benefit of the new program is that it allows Richards to make revenue projections with greater confidence. "When I sit down to work on the next year's budget, I can see exactly what will be coming in," he says.

Another plus has been greater funding equity across programs, since all donations go directly to athletics rather than to specific sports. "Our football and basketball boosters are very active, and they have the most money, but they are the ones who need it the least," Richards says. "Now all donations flow through my office and I can make sure each sport has what it needs.

"That doesn't mean a donor can't earmark a contribution for a specific sport," he continues. "If they want to do that, I allow it. But then I don't direct as many of the non-earmarked donations to that team."

This aspect of the new plan has raised controversy since booster groups were used to having more control over their funds, but Richards is sticking to his guns. "I sat down with boosters and explained that my responsibility is to the entire athletic program and that this is a means of making things fair. Some parents accepted that and some didn't," Richards says. "Any athletic director who tries to follow this plan is going to encounter the same opposition, but you just need to be patient and most people will eventually see that it's the right approach.

"What has convinced people the most is the success we've had," he continues. "Donors are happy because they see that we have an organized, professional approach, and they're willing to give more."

In its first year, the sponsorship program generated $26,000, about half of the needed revenue, and the rest was filled in with smaller sales and fundraisers throughout the year. Richards expects the next pitch, which will take place in May, to raise significantly more. "One thing that went wrong before was that there was an error made, and many local companies never got the letter," he says. "There is a huge amount of additional administrative work needed to implement this new system, and I don't think it can be effectively overseen by a volunteer or by me. So this year, I'm working on getting a paid person to take care of updating the contacts database and sending out the letters," he continues. "I will pay them out of the athletics budget, because I believe the position will more than pay for itself."



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