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How the Role of Fundraising is Transforming Athletic Departments

Contributed by Cynthia McMannon, CMAA

Cynthia McMannon is the Assistant Executive Director of Finance and Human Resources of the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA). She recently spoke at the 37th Annual National Conference of High School Directors of Athletics about how the role of "athletic director" is evolving, requiring additional management skills, higher levels of interaction and communication, and expanded relationships with many groups and individuals. During her presentation, she pointed out how fundraising is part of this evolution.

Due to the fact that more and more schools are faced with budgetary shortfalls, there is an ever-increasing need to turn to fundraising to adequately fund schools' athletic programs. Even the ability to perform the basic legal duties of sports programs, such as providing proper equipment, insurance, and/or proper transportation, are often contingent on fundraising. To deal with these new realities, athletic directors need to adjust or all out change skills and relationships, increase their level of interaction and communication, as well as accept the non-traditional role as overseer of school booster clubs.

As athletic directors become more financially accountable, they adopt a cautious and frugal perspective: It is the public's money, so we can't just spend it. One way this occurs is through evaluation. When evaluating their overall programs and developing immediate-, short-, and long-term plans, athletic directors need to include philosophical discussions and decisions related to fundraising goals, programs, and procedures. The athletic department's philosophy should center on doing what is best for student-athletes, period, and should be a team concept where all teams and coaches work cooperatively to support each other.

Also, to devise an athletic department's procedures and goals that fit district-wide needs, athletic directors should increase their interactions with school bookstore managers, district-level finance people (i.e. student activities or purchasing departments), school board members, superintendents, and coaches.

When it comes to overseeing athletic fundraising activities, there is a fine line between appropriate interaction and micromanaging booster clubs, which can backfire. Appropriate leadership/management techniques depend on the situation. Techniques should incorporate participative, authoritative, and assertive strategies. Booster clubs play a vital role in high school sports, and club members need to know that. They also need to know that they are supporters of the program, not decision-makers, and all decisions must follow the school district's policies. Finally, an athletic director's managing techniques should not alienate club members. The last thing an athletic director wants to have are club members sabotaging or undermining school authority and impeding the success of the sports program.

In addition to appropriate leadership and management skills, communication is the key to success. Sharing appropriate information with coaches, booster clubs, and sponsors ensures that all parties involved with fundraising understand the athletic department's overall philosophy, the school district's budgeting process and fundraising philosophy, and each party's financial-related roles. Coaches should have an understanding of department-wide needs and desires as well as what each team's share of the budget is and why and what needs can only be obtained by supplemental fundraising. To keep the communication open, reciprocity is a necessity: Coaches, booster clubs, sponsors, and other associated parties should keep the athletic director informed as to what projects or activities are proposed to raise money, what each party's current activities are, and what each group wants to achieve.

Depending on the school's fundraising structure, the athletic director should also meet with coaches, involved staff members, and booster club officers at the beginning of each year to discuss who needs what, what types of fundraisers will be used, which companies or vendors will be used, etc. If a school district has several sport-specific booster clubs, the athletic director should schedule a meeting to review the following:

With this new role, athletic directors need to either display or acquire certain attributes. While having excellent organizational, communication, analytic, and conceptional skills are necessities when it comes to developing fundraisers, temperament; interpersonal, leadership, and management skills; an understanding of the pulse of the school; and having insight into the community help maintain a program's fundraising success. Persistence and flexibility bode well when working with club members on projects, as is being articulate about objectives, should a booster club stray from its original goal or overstep school policies. Sometimes things just don't go as planned, and athletic directors must know how to deal with criticism and handle students, volunteers, and/or donors who are disappointed or upset. Lastly, success is shared, and athletic directors should recognize and accept that recognition goes to the students and volunteers, not to the administrator.

Overall, athletic directors can expect fundraising-related duties to include:
To assist them with this new role and increase their background and knowledge related to fundraising, athletic directors should seek mentors with experience in fundraising who can offer advice and counsel or contact their state professional high school athletic organizations—which also serve an opportunity to network. Other resources include national-level athletic organizations, such as the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association ( and courses they offer in leadership training. Athletic directors can look locally too for seminars, classes, and workshops offered at colleges, universities, and private organizations. Internet research and professional journals, magazines, and Web sites can also be consulted.

McMannon has been involved with athletic administration for more than 20 years and received her Master's certification in November 2006. While her background extends beyond fundraising, she was a contributing editor to the NIAAA's LTC511 course (Interscholastic Athletic Budget Concepts and Supplemental Fundraising), was the first state association administrator asked to join the NIAAA's national teaching faculty, and has taught the NFHS LTC511 (Budgeting and Fundraising) since 2002.

Sources for this article include:
Cynthia McMannon may be reached via e-mail at You may read more about the Arizona Interscholastic Association at is brought to you by a recognized and established name in the school athletics arena, MomentumMedia—publisher of Athletic Management, Coaching Management and Training & Conditioning magazines.