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Five Tips for Hosting a Spaghetti Dinner

Boosters at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Mich., ought to know a thing or two about hosting a spaghetti dinner--after all, they've been doing it for 28 years. In this article, the football booster club president and head football coach share their keys to success.

By Mike Creal
President, Pioneer High School Football Booster Club

Jeremy Gold
Head Football Coach, Pioneer High School
Ann Arbor, Mich.

At Pioneer High School, we've always consider ourselves part of the community. For us, hosting a spaghetti dinner is about more than just fundraising. It's about reaching out, building relationships, and letting folks know we're here to lend a helping hand. That's why we run our event the way we do, and why it's become our biggest fundraiser.

Here's what we've learned in the process:

1. Organize your team. Any fundraising event takes time, labor, and a lot of energy from the people around you. You need five to 10 people who are going to focus on making this happen, with one highly-organized person in charge. This year, we had someone who'd never done it before, and she did a terrific job. That's really what's going to drive your success: people. Once you have your team, let everyone know you're there to help and do your best to stay out of their way. It's a little like planning a wedding. You start with the big things: the location--which in our case is the high school cafeteria--the food, and the auction items.

2. Find a local business to donate the food.
This year, we approached Hello Faz Pizza, which provides food at our freshman, j.v., and varsity football games. The pizza has been flying off the shelves, so we approached the owner, talked about who we are, and asked if he'd consider providing the food. We put our needs out there, found out about his needs, which were to play a bigger role in the community, and came to an agreement that satisfied everyone. It was a good deal for Hello Faz, because they reached a lot of people who'd never eaten at their restaurant. And it was a good deal for us, because they provided all the pasta, sauce, breadsticks, and salad we needed.

3. Manage your expenses--and your relationships. All in all, we spent about $1,000 out of pocket. We paid for tickets, decorations, plates, napkins, utensils, and the plasma TV we used as a premium for the raffle. But that was it--everything else was donated. How did we do it? Well, we asked, which is the first thing you have to do. When you're talking to a business, make it clear what they're getting back. The names of everyone who donated are included on our Web site. Each donor gets a thank-you letter, and we tell our football community, "Here are the businesses to patronize, and when you do, make sure to say, 'I'm with the football program and we're really grateful for your donation.'" A $25 gift certificate is not going to make or break a business, but it can generate a lot of goodwill in the community, which is worth a lot more than $25.

4. Make every donation count. When you're gathering items for an auction, the more goods and services you get, the more money you're going to raise. If you have smaller items from local merchants, bunch them together into a themed basket. We had a Mother's Day basket that combined a lot of different things, like gift certificates to a local restaurant, a massage, a dry cleaner, and some other things. On their own, none of them would have gotten a big response, but when we put them together, we got a couple hundred dollars for the whole thing.

5. Pitch your program. To find partners who are willing to contribute to your fundraiser, you need to lead with your strengths. Here at Pioneer football, we're all about developing the young men who are going to be leaders of this community. We don't just talk about being part of this community, we do it. We're highly visible, holding benefits for breast cancer awareness, planting trees around the school, and letting folks know we're here to lend a helping hand. When we send players into the community to sell tickets, they're wearing clean uniforms, they have their jerseys tucked in, and they look nice. They're representing our program, which is why people are happy to support our cause. 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.