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Super Fundraising

For the 27th year, a Chicago suburb's Super Bowl party raises thousands of dollars to benefit an all-girls school's sports program.


by Danielle Catalano


The Super Bowl is the mother of all U.S. sporting events—94 million Americans watched 2007's contest between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears, advertisers spent $2.6 million per 30-second television spot, and there was at least a 20-percent increase in workers calling in sick the Monday after the big game to recover from all the celebrating that took place the night before. Some booster clubs have taken note of this fanfare and have found that when organized properly, the NFL championship game serves as the perfect backdrop for the biggest of their fundraisers.


Since 1980, the sports booster club at Rosary High School (RHS), a Dominican all-girls college preparatory school in suburban Chicago, has been holding Super Bowl fundraising parties to help subsidize its athletics program. This year's Bowl bash raised more than $50,000, in large part because of an assortment of goodies specifically geared to the 21-years and older crowd: 230 silent-auction items, $12,000 in raffle prizes, a $10-all-you-can-eat buffet, and—for the ultimate viewing pleasure—large-screen projection televisions.


"When we first started this event, our profit was $8,000," says Athletic Director May Lou Kunold. "We always try to improve and add something new to keep it interesting."


But how? By planning events five months in advance, maintaining excellent correspondence with business donors, and having dedicated parent volunteers.


EVENTS EXTRAVAGANZA
Rosary High's Super Bowl party is one of four annual fundraisers the booster club conducts, and its popularity within the community means more than 300 volunteers are needed to pull it off. Sign-ups begin in late July, and hardly anyone says no. "The parents are a very supportive group and make the wishes of the coaches and myself come true," Kunold says, adding that a big reason for such a strong backing is that parents are asked how and when they would like to volunteer for the party.


"You want parents to be excited, not miserable," she explains. "We make sure no one feels burdened. For instance, those who sign up to work the day of the game work one-and-a-half to two-hour shifts, and that's it. If they're having fun volunteering, they'll sign up again next year."


Planning what special events will take place during the party starts the first week of August, along with the formation of 10 committees. These committees are comprised of the core officers, booster club members who can commit themselves long-term, and school officials. This year's special events included a silent auction, raffle drawings, lottery prizes, Vegas games, and "quarter packages".


Toward the end of summer, booster club members sell tickets for the raffle, lottery, and quarter packages. A significant portion of the money raised from the Super Bowl party comes from this pre-selling period. Tickets for the lottery sell for $50 each, and 500 were sold this year. For the raffle drawings, 4,500 tickets were sold at $5 a piece. Those who purchased a ticket had a chance to win five gifts: a 50-inch plasma television set, a choose-your-destination trip valued at $1,500, a GPS system, an iPod, and a digital camera. Quarter package tickets sell for $100 each, but the investment is worth it, says Kunold: Each package—raffled at the end of each quarter of the game—is valued no less than $1,500 and usually includes tickets to a Chicago Cubs or White Sox baseball game and an overnight hotel stay.


To sell as many tickets as the booster club does, it distributes the tickets in mailings to current RHS parents, parents of former students, and alumni. Those purchasing tickets simply mail back checks and ticket stubs to the booster club. But fear not for those who don't purchase tickets at this time. "There are also a variety of walk-around raffles and split-the-pots during the party," says Kunold, adding that in a good year, raffle tickets raise between $20,000 to $30,000. "We try to keep prices low so everyone has an opportunity to buy."


Vegas games are coordinated a little differently. During the party, attendees buy play money to bet on games such as blackjack and dice games, and each dollar won is equal to one raffle ticket. The raffle tickets can be used one of two ways. The first way is that the tickets are redeemed for prizes such as dinner certificates, outings to area family functions, oil changes, spa packages, etc. These prizes have certain raffle-ticket values assigned to them. The winner of the prize is the first person who accumulates the required number of tickets that prize is worth. The second way to use the raffle tickets is to buy numbered spaces on one of four Bingo-like boards ($2-, $3-, $5-, and $10-boards). If one chooses to play the $2 board, each space on that board costs $2 or two raffle tickets. At the end of each football quarter, the person whose space on a board matches the last numbers of each team's score wins a cash payout, with money based on which board he or she played. At the end of the game, one final drawing is conducted for a final cash payout.


The silent auction is the feature event of the Super Bowl party so it's no wonder the Silent Auction Committee is the biggest group. The Special Events Coordinator chairs this committee and is in charge of coordinating all prizes and gifts donated to the booster club, setting up the events areas, scheduling volunteers to work the auction, lottery, and raffle drawings, and keeping Kunold up to date on how things are progressing.


OCTOBER MAILINGS
Approximately $40,000 worth of items is donated to the fundraising event, and the process of soliciting these donations begins the last week of October. The Contact Committee individualizes and mails about 350 business solicitation letters, each of which explains the booster club's cause, background of the Super Bowl party, and how the money raised will be used. If a company made a donation the previous year, that donation is mentioned in the letter.


Ninety percent of companies solicited this year made donations to last year's party. But even with the great return rate, soliciting is still hard work, notes Kunold. On average, only 15 percent of companies respond to the initial mailing.


"The tough part of our soliciting timeframe is we are doing this close to Christmas—and people do not want to be hassled," she says. "Some businesses have either ended their fiscal years and aren't starting their new ones until January. So, we rely on our parents to talk to the people they work for or ask parents to make personal donations. We also work with three specialty sports collectors for autograph items, an artist who does sport stadium paints, and two jewelers for consignment pieces. Most donations come in the form of certificates or gift cards."


So what kinds of items were donated for the silent auction at RHS's Super Bowl XLI party? More than 100 signed sports memorabilia, overnight stays in hotels, family skating fun packs, restaurant gift certificates, DVDs, college basketball and NBA tickets, Notre Dame football passes, family gym memberships, oil changes and car wash gift certificates, Waterford champagne flutes, Swarovski crystal jewelry, and designer accessories, to name a few.


PREP TIME
Because of alcohol, the exchanging of money by a non-profit group, and the sheer number of attendees—between 400-600 at any time—Kunold has all state and local permits and the necessary security set by the end of December. Also in December, the Contact Committee follows up with calls to businesses that didn't respond to the October mailing. January is when the bulk of items is donated, so this month is dedicated to finalizing and collecting all contributions, which are held in locked storage at the high school.


The week prior to the football game is literally all about setting the stage for the celebration. Immediately following basketball practice Thursday night, the bleachers are pulled out for seating, tarp is laid on the floor, and any special wiring for the televisions is completed. Because the hometown team was featured in this year's Super Bowl, the booster club didn't know what to expect in terms of crowd turnout. So in case things got too crowded, volunteers placed televisions on tables and scattered extra sets in the surrounding hallways and classrooms. A total of 30 televisions were tuned into the game, says Kunold.


New this year were projection screens and two 55-inch televisions, courtesy of a local Best Buy, which has been donating electronics to the booster club since the mid-1990s. Also Thursday evening, the auction items are sorted and student-athletes start decorating the school. If a student-athlete doesn't help then, she works Sunday, checking coats, says Kunold.


Friday is a marathon day for volunteers, setting up the sites designated for the special events and food, including tables set for groups of six, eight, 10, 12, and 20. "I generally do not expect to get out before 11," says the athletic director. Walk-thrus and test-runs happen on Saturday, as are the creations of the auction books for attendees to place their bids.


Publicizing the event may be the easiest part. "The history of this event makes it well known in the area," Kunold says. Still, the booster club creates posters, posts announcements in area church bulletins and newspapers. "Because of our success, we occasionally get television coverage of the event," she adds, noting that parents bring out-of-community friends to the parties, who often return the following year.


INDOOR TAILGATING
The fundraising party is held at Rosary High's gymnasium, starting at 3 p.m. Super Bowl Sunday. Attendees pay a $10 admission fee which covers free beer, non-alcoholic beverages, popcorn, and trays of snacks and other finger foods volunteers bring in, all day long. Wine and concessions of hot dogs, Italian beef, pizza, pretzels, and sweets are available for a small fee.


When the Bears are not in the Super Bowl, the evening's itinerary is as such: The silent auction is open for viewing at 3 p.m., with bidding beginning at 4 p.m.—about the same time that walk-around raffles start selling. Around 5 p.m. the first raffle drawing is announced, with the Vegas games ready to get underway. Lottery and package drawings are called intermittently throughout the game. The silent auction ends sometime during the fourth quarter, with winners announced at the end of the game. At this time, guests receive a tax credit form for the items won.


An hour-long clean up then commences with help from RHS's prom committee, which receives a monetary donation from the booster club for its assistance. Any unclaimed prizes are stored, and, with energy from the game to expend, a basketball game between volunteers breaks out and committee chairs start chatting away, says Kunold. On Monday morning, those who bid on a silent auction piece and won but were not present are contacted, consignment items not awarded are mailed back to the store they came from, and all sales receipts are double checked.


INSIGHTS FOR MORE SUCCESS
Chicagoans love their Bears, and Kunold found out that when the team plays in the Super Bowl, RHS's fundraiser has an entirely different dynamic. She notes that many alumni who usually attend Rosary High fundraising events opted out of this year's party to host their own. Additionally, those who attended the Super Bowl party "were so enthralled with the game, that they just weren't socializing or walking around to look at prizes, as they normally would have," she says.


The net effect was that money raised from this year's fundraiser was off from previous years—but by no means is this a negative. The more than $50,000 raised will be applied to the softball and swim teams' expenses and toward the purchase of a Dartfish digital-training system that includes a laptop computer and software—a system the school has waited to buy for a year and is excited that it now has the opportunity to do so.


Kunold says that when new committees are formed in August for the '08 Super Bowl party, one of the discussions will focus on subtle ways of getting the audience to interact with each other when the game is played. "We got great feedback on the two 55-inch T.V.s," she notes. "So those are definitely coming back next year."


Regardless of the final decision for next year's event schedule, Kunold knows the booster club volunteers will give it their all, as they have done for the past 27 years. In fact, she gives them full credit for the positive outcomes these Super Bowl parties have afforded the athletics program.


"You need committees of people who like to work hard, get along well, bring new ideas, and know that what they do benefits their child and this part of their education," she says. "I have been blessed with great sport booster officers over the years. Their hard work makes the fundraiser seem easy."


To learn more about Rosary High School's fundraising efforts, visit: www.rosaryhs.com



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