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Hitting the Pavement

By partnering with a local shopping center, the Big South Conference raised $10,000 for middle school athletics with its inaugural 5K road race. The keys, says Big South's Chad Cook, were scheduling the race alongside the area's fall festival, plotting the course to enlist the help of corporate sponsors, and working closely with a wide range of supporters.


By Chad Cook
Director of Marketing, Big South Conference


At the Big South Conference, we're trying to build awareness in the Charlotte, N.C., area, where we're based. We want to make sure we're doing everything we can to promote our league, and we felt that by holding a 5K Road Race we could raise interest in our member schools while also giving back to the local community.


With budget cuts in our school districts here, athletics have taken a pretty big hit and schools are being forced to institute a pay-to-play system. As a collegiate athletic program, we thought a fundraiser for middle schools would be a logical tie-in because so many of our college student-athletes began their competitive careers at the middle school level.


We worked directly with the booster clubs, athletic directors, and principals at the middle schools in the two counties that are closest to our headquarters. When people registered for the race, either on-line or in person, they indicated the middle school where they wanted us to direct a percentage of their registration fee. Between public and private, we had 46 schools participate, which was a big advantage in getting a lot of people interested.


We announced the race last summer and sent out a second press release in the fall, which was three or four months ahead of the event. Then in August, when kids came back to school, our promotional campaign really took off. Because budget cuts are such a hot topic here, the media picked up the story and a lot of local businesses stepped up to support us.


We had two premier sponsors, SunTrust Bank and Keffer Automotive, along with 40 local businesses and a range of sponsorship packages from $200 in in-kind contributions all the way up to $5,000. We made a special effort to reach the businesses that were close to where the race was taking place, and found creative ways to drive the traffic back to their locations. Before the race, we had informational packet pickups at our sponsors' locations. After the race, runners picked up their awards at our sponsors' businesses. A lot of stores and restaurants donated prizes, and everyone who gave was recognized on our Web site and at the event.


Early on, we decided to start and finish the race at Blakeney Shopping Center in South Charlotte, and we chose that location because there's a strong, underserved running community in that area. There's a triathlon/running store that allowed us to tap into their database, and we were able to call on all the businesses in the shopping center, offering a chance to capitalize on all the people that would be coming for race day.


The company that manages the shopping center suggested we hold the event on the morning of their fall festival, which is called the Blakeney Boo Bash. It's a family-friendly event with face-painting, bounce houses, pumpkin giveaways, and free tastings from the shopping center's restaurants. We wanted this to be more than just a race--we wanted it to be a community celebration, and partnering with the Boo Bash was a perfect way for us to cross-promote the two events.


Some schools sent their cheerleaders and mascots, which was a tremendous boost in building atmosphere. Our race started at 8 a.m., and we were done with awards by 10 a.m., which led directly into the Boo Bash. Because of our road race, the management company was able to double the number of people who ordinarily come to that event.


We thought it went really, really well. Our initial goal was to draw 500 runners, and even though that seemed ambitious for the first year, we ended up with close to 1,000 participants. As a result, we raised enough money through registration fees to cover our expenses and were able to distribute $10,000 back to middle school athletics. We had one school with about 100 runners, which received the highest percentage of the proceeds, and for the schools that only fielded one or two runners, we gave a flat $50 donation, which is the equivalent of one pay-to-play scholarship.


If you want to put on a road race like this, I'd definitely encourage you to do it. As long as you're smart about where and when you hold the race, it can be a great fundraiser. First, you need to find a place where you can easily tie-in sponsors. Think of creative ways for sponsors to take advantage of the number of people that will be coming to your event.


Next, make sure that there aren't other big races going on at the same time. Find someone who knows how to put on a race--we hired a race director--and have a committee of people who can handle the details, from arranging permits to staffing security to renting port-a-johns.


When you're planning your budget and organizing your race, you've got to reach out to a lot of people who've done races before to find out what your costs may be. If you're going to succeed in raising money for your cause, you have to budget accordingly.


It's always challenging the first year to sell an idea, and now that the race is established, it's going to be a lot easier to promote in the coming years. We have photos and results to show people, which is a big boost in prospecting for support, and we did surveys afterward, which were very, very positive. Our goal is to raise twice as much money next year, and after this year's success, we feel confident we can do it.



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