Whether the economy is booming or battling a recession, athletic program administrators and coaches face a formidable challenge when planning events, activities, and programs that will generate the most revenue for their organizations.

In his latest text, Fundraising for Sport and Athletics, Richard Leonard presents both the theoretical foundation and practical guidance that administrators and coaches need in order to effectively plan and execute a variety of fundraisers. Fitness Information Technology (FiT) contacted him for his perspective regarding the challenges athletic programs face and the possible fundraising solutions at their disposal.

Q: Do you think that grassroots fundraising efforts could benefit some athletic programs like golf, rowing, volleyball, etc. that don’t receive the same media coverage or ticket sales revenue as the bigger sports?

Leonard: Absolutely—that was the underlying inspiration for Fundraising for Sport and Athletics. My belief is that a majority of athletic programs need additional resources to be able to fulfill their obligation to their participants. The obligation is to provide a complete and rewarding athletic experience to all program stakeholders. Are there other variables besides funding that go into providing a complete and rewarding experience? Most definitely. Nonetheless, proper program funding is a core component.

Q: What are some tips you would give to coaches of sport programs like the ones mentioned above?

Leonard: The first and most important tip I would impart to coaches who are considering fundraising is to not ‘jump blindly’ into the process. Through research they should (1) develop a plan which creates goals and focus, (2) structure the fundraising program based on those objectives, (3) find and develop people who are committed to fundraising and the athletic program, (4) lead those people toward those goals, and (5) monitor and make adjustments to the fundraising program to keep it centered on its tangible objectives.

Q: What are some current financial obstacles faced by athletic programs at different levels (little league, high school, collegiate, etc.)? Are these problems unique to each level, or do they tend to be similar in most cases?

Leonard: Let me answer the second question first. A lack of funding is a lack of funding, no matter at what level or sport one is operating. The degree to which funding is needed will differ, but the premise stays the same.

Most financial obstacles are universal to all athletic programs and are well publicized. The current economic condition, which has led to less contributions and assistance, and overall lower budgets, is the overriding factor. Therefore, efficiency in fundraising to increase operational resources must be emphasized.

Q: Can these problems be solved by more/better fundraising efforts? If so, what types of fundraising should be the focus of these programs?

Leonard: I would not necessarily say more but definitely better fundraising efforts. Fundraising programs should always take into account the limitations of the athletic program’s capabilities and resources. In other words, a danger would be to ‘spread the program too thin’ with a multitude of fundraising endeavors. Most (if not all) would fail due to the lack of concentration and support.

As for what type of fundraising should these athletic programs focus on, as simplistic as this answer sounds, athletic programs should focus on the activities, events, and programs that give them the best chance to reach their fundraising program’s financial goals. Once again, this is done through planning and research—matching up the athletic program’s fundraising capabilities with what the targeted supporters want is a salient key.

Q: In  your opinion, should sport programs stick to the more ‘tried-and-true’ methods of fundraising, or experiment with new, varied methods?

Leonard: If the ‘tried and true’ fundraising methods produce favorable outcomes, then reinventing them could be risky—something to consider if an athletic program’s funds are limited and the revenue produced from these methods is a critical source of income.

Conversely, a new fundraising method (whether an activity, event, or entire program) could generate a new level of excitement and interest in an athletic program. Their introduction to potential supporters would have to follow a basic marketing concept known as A.I.D.A.—Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. The fundraisers would have to catch a potential supporter’s attention, spark their interest, develop a desire to participate, and finally have their action (contribution/participation/support/donation).

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