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Fundraising Wizards

The Valhalla (N.Y.) Booster Club recently held its third fundraiser featuring the Harlem Wizards basketball team. This year's event raised about $2,000. Although the Valhalla Booster Club initially hosted the Harlem Wizards as an effort to offer something fun to the community, it didn't take long to learn that it could also turn into a successful way to raise money. "The first year, we just did this as an event that would be fun for the kids," says booster club co-president Sandy Riguzzi. "And we just happened to end up making money that year. So then after that, it became a fundraiser."

The club's first step in setting up the event is booking the Wizards and arranging the venue. "We pick a Sunday afternoon in the dead of winter," Riguzzi says. "Everybody's looking for something to do with their kids, just to get them out of the house for a few hours. But we don't charge a lot of money for our tickets, hoping to get more people to come. That's why we rent the gym at Westchester Community College, to fit more people in. Our date is also a cheaper time slot for the Wizards--it costs a lot more to get them on a Friday or Saturday night."

After those details are set, the rest of the planning doesn't begin until two or three months before the event. "The Wizards staff guides us along," Riguzzi says. "They send emails telling us what to do, making sure things get done--it really helps a lot."

The Harlem Wizards play against teams of school faculty members, local celebrities, and community leaders across the country, so they are accustomed to the event preparation process. The Wizards staff sends a packet with promotional items for the club to use. This includes posters, flyers, DVDs, and CDs explaining the team's purpose: Providing entertainment and fun for the community, while raising money for the sponsoring organization. "Once the club gets the packet," Riguzzi says, "we start getting the word out. We put the posters up in town, and we sent the flyers throughout the school district. We also send information about the event to the local newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations."

About a month before the event, booster club members start selling tickets. "We try to make it convenient for people to buy their tickets. But most people wait until the last minute, so I have to learn how to not panic," Riguzzi says. "For instance, over the whole month before the game, I might have sold 100 tickets. And then in the week before, I maybe sold 400 more. And then a few hundred more showed up on the day of the event. The same thing has happened every year we've done it."

At the game, the booster club increases its profit by selling refreshments and the school's spirit-wear, along with Harlem Wizards merchandise. "If we sell their souvenirs, they give back a percentage of what was sold," Riguzzi explains. "So no matter what, we're going to end up making money at the event."

If another club would like to hold a similar event, Riguzzi advises looking at the community and its demographics. "If your group is looking to make money, you should know that the Wizards can cost a lot of money," she warns. "So you have to realize that your club's profit can depend on the price you set for tickets-- you have to know who you're catering to. Our town is more of a middle class town, so we sell kids tickets for $8 and $12 for adults. People here are not going to pay twice as much for tickets, like they do in some other places."
 
Since the rate for booking the Wizards depends on the individual event, Riguzzi suggests checking directly on the team's website (www.harlemwizards.com) for more information, and to get an estimate.
 
Along with this advice, Riguzzi believes it is important to remember that the event is mostly for younger kids, so it's important to find teachers and principals that they want to see. "But honestly, the Wizards do a lot of the work for you. It's not that hard, having them come," Riguzzi says. "And from what I hear with other people doing it at their schools, they're at least 99 percent successful."


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