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Downloading for Dollars

by Danielle Catalano

Looking for a way to reduce the amount of time parents spent preparing for fundraisers, a Burnsville (Minn.) athletic director found his solution by downloading music.


The 2006-07 school year will be one of firsts for Athletic Director Scott Garvis. This is his first year running the athletic department of Burnsville-Eagan-Savage Community Schools in Burnsville, Minnesota. This is the first year he'll be working with an all-sports booster club, which is the first of its kind in the school district. It's also the first year that Garvis will see the results from a fundraising project he began in December 2005 with his previous school in Muscatine, Iowa.

In December 2005, Garvis attended the National Conference of High School Directors of Athletics/National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Conference in Orlando, Fla. Part of his intention was to find a way to make fundraising more efficient for Muscatine's sports programs.

"It's a bit ironic," says Garvis. "Parents spend an awful lot of time fundraising so their kids can play sports, but they can't actually watch their kids play because they're busy fundraising. That just doesn't seem right."

During the trade show portion of the conference, Garvis came across a vendor from Nashville called PassAlong, an Internet fundraising company that works with the music industry to provide legal music downloads at competitive prices. PassAlong had been exclusive to the college market, but in 2005, the company made its fundraising programs available to high schools. Garvis was impressed with the company's 15-minute demonstration, but he was more enthused about how little effort the fundraiser entailed.

"The biggest thing is that there really isn't a lot of legwork," says Garvis. "There's some publicity and some marketing that goes along with it, but there's no door-to-door sales. It's a relatively easy fundraiser for schools."

Although the program was gaining popularity among the 25,000 residents of Muscatine, it was still in its infancy when Garvis was hired by Burnsville. Between $5,000 to $6,000 had been reportedly raised by the time he left Iowa in July.

Garvis talked about Muscatine's success with members of Burnsville's new all-sports booster club later that month, which Garvis restructured from the high school's 14 sports booster clubs. Members were excited, recalls Garvis. "Athletics doesn't get a lot from the school district. We're totally reliant on gate receipts, fees, and any fundraising we do. Members were elated about the idea just to eliminate the time dedicated to fundraising," he says.

With the Burnsville Athletic Club's approval, Garvis contacted the PassAlong sales representative he worked with at Muscatine, and the two sides started to work together quickly to implement the fundraiser for Burnsville Senior High School by the first week of August.

The Low Down on Downloading
According to Garvis, working with PassAlong is very easy. The company offers a handful of benefit programs specific to the high school market. All programs include a PayPal account for the high school to manage its money; e-mails that are generated by the company for users to invite others to download music; quarterly statistics that track the number of users and their downloads; and a flat 20-percent profit per song downloaded.

The athletic club agreed to a one-year contract and has its own Web site through PassAlong—http://blazemusic.passalong.com—where visitors log on to create their own user accounts, including user names and passwords. Visitors can download MP3s anytime they wish at 99 cents each onto Microsoft Windows Media Players, and by the end of October, they can download songs onto iTunes and iPods as well. When the download is complete, 20 cents is immediately deposited into the booster club's PayPal account, while the company receives the other 79 cents.

How users purchased their music, though, created a problem for the booster club. Currently, users have one of three payment options: an existing PayPal account in the user's name, a credit card, or a gift card. Since this fundraiser targets teens, not all visitors have access to credit cards or the authorization to use them. The athletic club liked the gift-card option and worked with PassAlong to better promote this alternative form of payment. "We're going to have $10 gift cards available at our school store, so kids will be able to buy music without having to use their parents' credit cards," says Garvis.

The athletic club keeps all the money from the gift card sales. Only when a user redeems a gift card will money be deducted from the athletic club's PayPal account—minus the percent it receives per download. For example, if a student buys a gift card for $10 and downloads one song, 99 cents is automatically deducted from the gift card. However, only 79 cents—not the entire $10—will be deducted from the Burnsville Athletic Club's PayPal account. The 20-cent profit remains in the booster club's account, 79 cents goes to PassAlong, and $9.01 is left on the gift card.

Creating Traffic
The key to making this fundraiser profitable is that people must visit Burnsville's PassAlong Web site. In order to get people to the site, the booster club is using whatever means and media it can to attract local visitors.

"We're placing radio ads, putting ads in newspapers, and putting ads in our school newspaper," says Garvis. "We're putting banners up at our football stadium, and we handed out flyers at our 50th anniversary recently. I also have a bunch of promotional gift cards for free songs we'll be handing out to people to get them to go on the site and check it out."

Although the money for the ads and banners is coming out of the athletic department's budget, the booster club has enjoyed the free publicity from reports on its new fundraising program by Minneapolis' ABC affiliate KSTP and the Star-Tribune newspaper.

"Student-athletes, parents, booster club members—we're all working to get the word out. And, as soon as school starts, we'll start placing notices in school announcements," explains Garvis. "We'll be hitting the three junior highs, getting announcements over there. We also have a senior campus, which is like a junior college, where our seniors spend half a day. It offers community courses and continuing education classes, so we're getting others in the area involved, too."

The next step, in terms of electronic publicizing, is generating e-invites. "The nice thing about it is that anyone on the site can pass music to friends or family in an e-mail," says Garvis. "The e-mails are created by PassAlong. When the kids go on the site, there are icons. One is to 'Buy,' and there's an icon to 'Pass It.'

"When you hit 'Pass It'," he continues, "a little pop-up screen appears, where you fill in the e-mail address you want to send the message to. If the person wants to purchase that music through the e-mail, it links to our site. You can replicate the e-mail across the country, so it's really limitless as to the people you can reach."

One Last Concern
For Garvis, downloading music as a sports fundraiser solved his major concern of fundraising overkill. "I think this is the direction to go," he says. "A lot of booster clubs duplicate their work. Instead of sharing the load, they take on all that responsibility."

Downloading music also solved a growing concern for the new athletic director: fundraising fraud. According to Garvis, both Muscatine and Burnsville fell victim to alleged fundraising calendar scams, in which Booster Club Publications solicited businesses for advertising using the high schools' names without their school districts' consent.

"That's something that booster clubs have to compete against," Garvis says. "Those people are the ones taking away equipment and other things from our kids for their own selfish gains—and using our school names for their benefit! By using PassAlong, you eliminate that. I think working together like this helps build a better sense of community and a better sports program."

Because the athletic club and its fundraising methods are new, the members haven't set a goal for this school year. They decided that whatever is raised through its PassAlong site will be evaluated at the end of the school year to determine its 2007-08 financial goals.

"I just know that from all the buzz that's being generated here, I feel this will be a very successful fundraiser," says Garvis. "This fundraiser is not an over-inflated $2 candy bar. You're actually selling something at a competitive price that matches any other music Web site. The school district makes money off of it, so it's a win-win situation for the consumer and us raising funds."

For more information on the Burnsville Athletic Club and its fundraising program, or to find out more about Burnsville athletics, contact Scott Garvis at (952) 707-2111.



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