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The Cure for Ambivalence in Youth Sports FundraisingI’m sure you’ve heard the axiom that “you can only get out of something what you put into it.” That is certainly true of almost any fundraising endeavor, yet you have to wonder why so many youth organizations bother to set up and conduct a sports fundraising campaign when they invest so little effort in making sure it is a success. It’s as though people believe if you “put it out there” it will be a success—a kind of “build it and they will come”. That may work in the movies, but you don’t live in Movieland.
A youth sports fundraiser is particularly vulnerable to being conducted half-heartedly and sometimes apologetically. When it fails, it is rarely subjected to an honest post mortem analysis. Instead, the tendency is to just look for something or someone to blame. Sometimes we reflexively blame the product that was sold, or we point to a sluggish economy, or maybe we rue that the members of our organization are just too indifferent to support a successful fundraising campaign. Some things are just too visible or convenient to point to. Chances are, none of those things were the reason your fundraiser under-performed. (See Why Did Last Season’s Sports Fundraising Campaign Tank?) "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars", and nor is it in the product, the economy or in others—but it is much more difficult to assign blame to ourselves.
The product you choose to sell will probably have very little effect on the outcome of your campaign. There is certainly no shortage of fundraising ideas for sports teams. It really doesn't matter whether you are selling fundraising discount cards, raffle tickets, ham sandwiches, or conducting one of the many frozen food fundraisers that are out there (cookie dough, pizza, etc.)—they all have the potential to succeed . . . and they all have the potential to fail. It's a sure bet that the fundraiser that didn't do so well for your organization last season was a smashing success for another organization. What will make your sports fundraising campaign a success or failure, then, is not what your organization has decided to sell; rather, it is what you put into it.
If you were the person in charge of fundraising last year and the fundraiser didn't do very well, then you are either in the position of not caring very much about the outcome or you are seeking a way to make your next fundraiser more successful. You are probably reading this article because you want to do better the next time out. For those of us who have had a child go from tee-ball to the higher levels of youth baseball we can remember how they started out—just kicking dirt in the infield or picking dandelions in the outfield. As they advanced in the sport they picked up skills and a love for the game. It's not much different for adult volunteers in a youth league. You may start out lacking the skills or enthusiasm for the assigned task, but as you grow into your position you learn things along the way, and then you develop the skills and the confidence to do things better. All it takes is a desire to move to the next level.
We can appreciate that many people have some degree of aversion to asking other people to sell fundraising items even if it is in support of a worthwhile cause. Because that is all too true, youth sports leagues are often willing to introduce a fundraiser without the force of making a robust call to action. In fact, most fundraisers are started without even telling the organization’s members the purpose for which the funds will be used, and with barely a word of encouragement for participation. Some campaigns are even initiated in an apologetic sort of way as though the person leading the campaign was pained or embarrassed to ask for support. Is it any surprise that a fundraiser conducted in this manner will not perform to its potential?
We all want to feel that others approve of the things we do. That’s human nature. Asking our peers to do something they don’t particularly want to do is contrary to our nature. Youth league board members are no different; they want the approval of their organization’s members and they intuitively know that asking them to participate in a fundraiser will not engender endearment. The combination of the desire for approval and the need to have a successful fundraiser is what creates fundraising ambivalence. This ambivalence can be paralyzing to a fundraiser. In fact, paralysis is what often happens.
"The cure for sports fundraising ambivalenceIf your fundraiser has been approved for a worthwhile cause (for example, to keep registration fees low and thereby make your youth program accessible to more families in your community), then why wouldn’t your board members give their collective and unreserved commitment to the purpose? After all, the objective of the fundraiser is not to win friends; it’s to raise money so kids can play. Frankly, nobody is going to pull their child out of your league because you asked them to participate in a fundraiser.
begins with an appreciation of your fundraiser's purpose."
Even in the off-chance that someone felt offended by being asked to participate in the campaign, think of the families in your community whose children will be able to join your organization (or return to your organization next year) because the revenue generated by the fundraiser kept registration fees low. Your sports organization is not exempt from the laws of economics. Your league is competing for the discretionary income of nearly every local wage-earner with children. Even if your organization subsidizes the children of families that are indigent, not everyone accepts charity and higher registration fees almost always means that some children in your community won't have an opportunity to play.
The purpose of a fundraiser is to raise funds so your youth sports program can be made more affordable to more families. Not everyone understands that at the core level, but they should be made to understand. It’s really not that hard. The cure for sports fundraising ambivalence begins with an appreciation for your fundraiser's purpose. To approach this enterprise meekly, or apologetically, or with ambivalence is to, at best, unwittingly send a message to everyone that your organization’s leadership has no clear and important purpose for the fundraiser and/or it doesn’t have high expectations for its members’ participation or for the fundraiser’s success. This is probably not the way you would approach any other endeavor in which you have the courage of conviction and the goal of success, so why approach your organization’s fundraiser that way? Why would you by the dint of your ambivalence telegraph the message that you don't care whether your fellow members participate?
A Worthy Purpose Isn't Enough;There is no room for ambivalence here. If your youth sports fundraising campaign is not being done for an important and worthwhile reason, then don’t do one. It's that simple. However, if the fundraiser’s purpose is important and worthy, then buck up and conduct it in a manner that will maximize its success. Your peers will respect you more for your ability to produce success than they will for any empathy you can offer them—and they're certainly not going to think better of you when you start making excuses for failure.
Successful Sports Fundraising Requires Commitment
If you want your next fundraising campaign to succeed, then you have to believe in the worthiness of its purpose. But that is just step one. You also have to know what makes a fundraiser work and what will motivate your organization's members to support it. (See Three Elements of Successful Sports Fundraising.) Furthermore, it's a real plus if the person who is leading your fundraising campaign has the ability to effictively convey to others the worthiness of its purpose.
Board members have been elected to a leadership position. True leadership may require them to implement policies that may not be popular but are nevertheless beneficial for the organization. Popularity in this context can be a paradox in that it is often dependent on success. That is to say, whatever endeavor may be perceived as unpopular may in fact become popular if it becomes successful. We all wish to be a part of something successful. That’s why kids on sports teams want to win. There is no requirement that your fundraiser has to be popular. However, there should be an expectation that it will be a success—and success can only add to its popularity.
Do you really want to have a successful sports fundraising campaign? Well, you’re truly only going to get out of it what you put into it. Edward H. Harriman said it better: “Much good work is lost for the lack of a little more.” With respect to the task under consideration, what Mr. Harriman just told you is that you’ve put the bloody thing out there, so now go make it work. If you feel that raising this money is for a good purpose and it is important to the mission of your organization, then tell everyone why you want their support. Better yet, go one step further and ask for a commitment of support—and then proceed with the expectation that everyonewill contribute to the enterprise’s success. Not everyone will, of course, but if you proceed in that manner you will certainly get many more supporters for your campaign this year than you did last year.
People should like you for the kind of person you are—for your character, your personality and your willingness to make a difference in the lives of others. They are not going to like you less for enthusiastically calling them to action in support of a worthwhile cause, and they will probably respect you more if you can lead them to success. It doesn't matter whether you are selling fundraising discount cards or cookie dough. What matters is that you shed your ambivalence, believe in the worthiness of the campaign, and act on your expectations for success. That is what will determine whether your fundraiser meets with failure, with mediocre results, or with the fulfillment of your expectations. That is what leadership is all about. Quite frankly, if you're not committed to the task you're just picking dandelions in the outfield.