New & Different

January 29, 2015
Searching for a unique idea to boost money-making efforts? Need to add a little life into your annual fundraising banquet? Eight schools explain the innovative events that worked for them.
By Kristin Maki

Kristin Maki is an Assistant Editor at Athletic Management. She can be reached at:

At Spanish Springs High School in Sparks, Nev., the athletic department raised $12,000 through a quarter auction. In California, the Newport Harbor High School volleyball team filled its coffers by putting on a fashion show. The tennis team at Friendswood (Texas) High School serves its fundraising cause through a tennis marathon.

A karaoke jam at Russellville (Ark.) High School put coaches in the spotlight while mud volleyball is a successful fundraiser at Sequoyah High School in Madisonville, Tenn. Edinburgh (Ind.) Community Schools tapped into adults who yearn to relive their high school days through an adult prom.

Most athletic departments conduct some type of fundraiser every year. This article showcases innovative ideas that have worked for a diverse array of high schools.

A dinner dance and silent auction is a go-to fundraiser for many high school athletic departments. The Edinburgh (Ind.) Community Schools put a unique twist on the idea by holding an adult prom. More than 160 community members donned formal wear and helped the athletic department raise $4,200.

"A group of us send our kids off to the prom every year," says event organizer Kami Ervin. "And it seems like we always have moms who are wistful about wanting to relive their prom--or go to one if they didn't get to in high school. So we decided to hold an adult prom."

The event was planned so it would be similar to a typical high school prom, with the addition of a silent auction that contained 20 items. There was a catered dinner featuring two entree options, a few hours of dancing, and the chance to be crowned as a member of the prom court.

Tickets cost $40 for a couple or $25 for an individual, and once purchased, attendees could check a box indicating if they wanted to be considered for the prom's court. Ervin took a picture of each competing couple upon their arrival and posted it in a public album on the event's Facebook page. Attendees voted using their phones and people at home could vote by going to the Facebook page.

"The five couples whose photos received the most 'likes' were crowned as the court, and another vote was then taken for king and queen," says Ervin. "Using Facebook was a fun, easy way of doing it--and it gave people who couldn't attend a chance to be involved by voting from their homes."

For the silent auction, Ervin limited the number of items so that people would be excited about each bidding war. "You need to have things that adults really want--a free night's stay at a hotel, gift cards for dinner, or something else that appeals to them," she says. "I'm a photographer, and I had a few prints from poignant moments in our sports program framed and enlarged. Those went over really well."

Additional money was brought in through table sponsorship. "The table sponsors paid $100, which got their name printed in the event program, listed in a 'thank you' in the local newspaper, and put on a sign on their table," says Ervin.

The key to the event's success was playing up the theme. "The main driver is the nostalgia of going to prom," says Ervin. "People seem to really enjoy getting the chance to relive that experience, and a lot of them went all-out. Women got their hair and nails done, and couples rented limos. So, from an organizing perspective, we didn't have to do all that much."

It may not get approval from sleep experts, but the Friendswood (Texas) High School tennis program brings in more than $12,000 through a 48-hour tennis marathon. Held prior to the school year every other August, it begins on a Friday evening and concludes on Sunday.

The event's simple concept is fun for the team, as well as community members: There has to be a match on the court at all times over the 48 hours, even overnight.

"There are so many fundraisers run by different teams," says event chair Jay Milton. "I think we've continued with this event because it is different from what the other teams do, and it's fun for the student-athletes. But we don't want everyone to get burned out from it, so we alternate years."

To raise funds, the club asks local businesses and community members to sponsor the event at one of four levels: Tennis Friend ($25), Silver ($50), Gold ($100), and Platinum ($200+). The marathon also features a silent auction, and community members who want to play are asked to make a donation.

Each member of the freshman, j.v., and varsity tennis teams is required to attend, but they do not have to stay for the whole event. "We have four-hour shifts with players and parents at each shift," Milton says. "The student-athletes cannot be unsupervised during the marathon since it's considered a school function. So we have a minimum of two parents sign up for each shift, and four players.

"The late night shift appeals to the older players," he continues. "One of my sons is a senior, and he chose to work a shift from midnight to 4 a.m. This was his second time participating in the marathon, and he had a lot of fun with it."

The silent auction is held throughout the event. "This past year, we had an iPad, cookwear, tennis bags, racquets, tennis lessons, spa and chiropractic treatments, dental whitening, and several other items and services," Milton says. "The person working on it went to all of the parents and asked them if they knew someone who would prefer donating something for the silent auction rather than donating cash to sponsor the event. It worked out very well."

In addition to the silent auction, the marathon features a two-hour exhibition clinic put on by a local tennis club. "It is free to attend and is great to watch," Milton says. "We always hope to draw players of all levels so they can learn something and benefit from the event."

For the remainder of the time, student-athletes are kept busy on the court playing against teammates or community members. "If someone from the community comes to play, we ask that they give a monetary donation of at least five dollars," Milton says. "Some people write checks for $100, and others give $20. We have a variety in the size of donations, and having that flexibility works out really well."

When Hudson (Ohio) High School needed to raise money for a new football stadium last year, its booster club decided to hold a fundraiser in March. Very quickly, the idea of piggybacking on the popularity of March Madness emerged. Soon, "Hudson Madness" was born, and it raised $10,000.

The event takes place at a local country club before the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball tournament begins and consists of a live band, food, and raffle prizes. Admission to the event is free, and 64 attendees who give $250 have the chance to win $5,000 in the "Big Madness Bracket."

Those 64 contestants have their names randomly drawn from a hat and placed in a bracket on a board corresponding to a seed in the tournament. The first name would get the West region's 16th seed, for example. The winner of the raffle is the person whose team wins the tournament.

"There's the risk that you'd draw a low-seeded team, but people don't mind too much," says Thomas Murphy, who helped organize the event. "It adds a bit of fun and randomness to the raffle.
In addition to the bracket, there are five-dollar raffle tickets available for other items, including a spa package, drinks and dinner at various local restaurants, rounds of golf at a local country club, and tickets to a Browns-Steelers game. All the items are donated by community members or local businesses.

The country club not only provided the locale, but also staffed the event free of charge. "Other than sending out e-mails promoting the event, our only tasks last year were getting appetizers and finding a band," Murphy says. "We didn't set up many decorations, but we had live music because we wanted to create a party-like atmosphere, and I think we did."

The players on the Newport Harbor (Calif.) High School girls' volleyball team are impressive on the court, often winning league championships. Last summer, they proved to be impressive on a runway, too, when the team's booster club featured them in a fashion show that served as fundraiser, bringing in $3,500.

The show was held at a recently-opened clothing boutique that was looking for a way to drum up business. Tickets cost $50 for community members and $25 for students. The three-hour event included refreshments, the fashion show, and a silent auction that featured several items and gift certificates from local businesses.

"The team's juniors and seniors were our models," says fashion show chair Evelyn Yardley. "Then we had the sophomores and freshmen help out through other jobs behind the scenes. We're planning on making it an annual event, so the younger athletes will get to be in the limelight for future shows."

Leading up to the show, the booster club sent invitations to the team members' mothers, as well as the businesses that had donated items for the silent auction. The event pulled in 110 attendees, a full house for the space. "Originally, we thought we would have about 150 there," Yardley says. "But we couldn't have fit that many, so it worked out perfectly. We wanted to invite just the mothers this year so they would have a fun mother-daughter type of memory."

The show featured the athletes modeling both clothes and shoes. "Some of the designers brought in new items from their lines just for the show," Yardley says. "And a local jewelry designer offered some of her pieces for the girls to wear."

Makeup artists and a hairstylist volunteered their services to get the girls ready. "Everyone was really generous, and they all worked together to help us put together a great show," Yardley says. "The team members who served as models had a great day of pampering--and they got to wear something they may not have otherwise tried. It was a lot of fun."

Yardley worked with a graphic designer who volunteered to design the invitations, program, and tickets, while a local grocery store supplied refreshments. "The chairs, tables, glassware, and silverware were the only items we rented," she says. "We wanted it to be a nice event, so that's where we spent money--although we were given a discount on the rate."

Setting up for the show took some time, as it was held in the boutique's back room, which meant moving the clothing and fixtures stored there. "We did that the night before," says Yardley. "Believe it or not, the shop was still open to the public for most of the day. And the boutique's owner gave us 10 percent of her profit for everything sold that day."

The event kicked off with refreshments and Yardley's opening remarks, which included thanking the businesses that had helped with the show. Next, a CD started playing and the show began. Rather than introducing the models as they walked down the runway, their names and information on the clothing was printed on an insert in the program. Afterward, the silent auction was conducted, and dessert was served.

"We had never done something like this before and it worked out well," says Yardley. "We raised money for the team, while the boutique owner drew attention to her business and got some new customers. One thing we are going to change next year is to invite the team members' dads--we had a lot of feedback from them saying they would like to come as well."

Most student-athletes would pay good money to see their coaches do something silly. That was the thinking behind the "Russ-Vegas: Coaches Karaoke and Silent Auction," put on by Russellville (Ark.) High School, which generated $5,000.

Held at the school's new fine arts center, the event began with a silent auction in the lobby from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Karaoke started immediately afterwards in the theater, featuring school coaches as the performers.

The only expenses were $600 to rent the karaoke machine and $250 paid to a local DJ to act as the host. All told, the school made roughly $1,700 from admissions ($10 entrance for adults, $5 for students), $2,300 in the auction, and $1,500 from a sponsorship by a car dealership.

Many auction items were outings or events that the Russellville coaching staff provided. For example, community members could bid on a fishing trip with the head girls' basketball coach, the opportunity to watch a boys' basketball contest from the bench, and a sideline pass for one football game. Several coaches also offered free admission to their sport camps, or 30-minute sport-specific instruction sessions.

"We wanted to sell an experience," says Johnny Johnson, Russellville High School Athletic Director, who organized the event with the help of parents. "But we also wanted things that parents could get for their children, such as admission into sport camps."

Another unique aspect to the auction was a "Buy it Now" option, which allowed people to purchase an item immediately rather than engage in a bidding war. "I thought that would be great for people who really had their eye on something," Johnson says.

Overall, the show and auction was a rousing success. "I think administrators would be surprised at how easy it is to put on an event like this," Johnson says. "If you've got the facility and coaches who are willing to donate their time and participate in karaoke, people will be excited."

High schools teams are used to asking community members to break a sweat when helping with fundraising. But individuals who want to support the girls' volleyball team at Sequoyah High School in Madisonville, Tenn., do more than get sweaty. For the past four years, the Lady Chiefs have held a mud volleyball tournament to raise money for equipment and uniforms, with participants signing up to get messy for a good cause.

Last year, 18 teams and about 140 individuals participated in the tournament, which is held every August. Between the $5 entry fee and money from concessions, the tournament raised over $1,100.

The players do a lot of the legwork for the event, drumming up participation, serving as line judges, and working the concession booth. The school's groundskeeper is also a key contributor, as he is in charge of turning two 30-by-60 feet areas of grass in front of the school into mud courts. He is assisted by the local fire department, which brings a tanker truck of water to the school and creates the mud by hosing the field down. The tournament runs from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and the firefighters stay on hand to ensure the consistency of the mud remains just right.

The tournament is usually double-elimination, and each match consists of one set, played to 25 points, using traditional volleyball rules. The championship match is a best of three sets series. Members of the winning team receive free admission to, as well as free concessions at, all Sequoyah home volleyball matches during the season.

"The key to an event like this is making it possible for the school and community to show support," says Sequoyah Head Girls' Volleyball Coach Brittany Lynn. "For example, our football players always want to field a team, so we make sure the tournament is held during a weekend when there is a home football game. If the team is traveling back from a Friday night road contest until 1 a.m., they're not going to want to get up early the next day to play volleyball. Including everyone who wants to take part is a critical aspect of the tournament's success."

When Virginia Crago, a resident at McCrite Plaza Retirement Community in Topeka, Kans., started making beaded bracelets for staff members and other residents, one of the recipients was Kim Fertig, McCrite's Marketing Associate. That small gesture grew into a fundraiser for Fertig's children's school.

"When Virginia gave me the bracelets, she included one for each of my kids, in their school's colors," Fertig says. "And she told me, 'I've given them to almost everyone here, so I don't know who else I can give them to. But I don't want to stop making them.'

"I could see how much joy it was bringing Virginia," she continues. "So I asked her if she would consider making them as a fundraiser for my kids' school."

After getting approval from school administrators, who decided the bracelets would be sold for $1 each at the concession stand during basketball games, Fertig bought beads in the Cair Paravel Latin School colors, so Crago wouldn't have to use her own supply. And Fertig reassured Crago that she could make as many or few bracelets as she wanted.

"The school's administrators were very open to doing this," Fertig says. "They could have said it's too small a fundraiser, or it's going to give them another thing to keep track of at the concessions stand, but they were willing to bring the idea on board."

To recognize the contribution, and provide a recreational outing for McCrite Plaza Retirement Community members, the school invited the residents to a home basketball game. Even though high school athletic competitions may not always have the most senior-friendly accommodations, the school saved extra parking spaces close to the building for them. Inside, comfortable chairs were set up, so they wouldn't have to sit on the hard bleachers, and Fertig delivered food and drinks from the concession stand.

"It was a lot of work for the school, but a great experience for both the students and the residents that attended," she says. "It was nice for them to have a chance to participate in something together. And then the school recognized Virginia with a certificate for her bracelets, which made her beam for days afterward.

"There is a wealth of talent and knowledge in our older generation, but they don't always have an outlet for their skills," Fertig continues. "Giving them a way to contribute is important. Virginia was surprised when I told her that the kids would love the bracelets. She had no idea that something that brings her so much enjoyment would also be appreciated by a younger generation."

Auctions are a time-honored way to raise money in many communities. A fun twist on the idea is a quarter auction, which brought in $12,000 for Spanish Springs High School in Sparks, Nev., last year.

While there are several variations on quarter auctions, Spanish Springs booster club's event is simple. Upon arrival, attendees can choose whether they want a "limited" or "unlimited" bidding paddle for the auction. Each paddle has its own number, which corresponds to a ping-pong ball that is placed into a raffle drum.

Those who opt for the $30 unlimited paddles are set for the whole auction. They only need to raise their paddle if they want a chance to win a particular item. "But if you buy a limited paddle for $15, you have to put a quarter into the sombrero that's in the middle of your table each time you want to bid," says Spanish Springs Booster Club President Lori Fralick.

For each of the 150 items, the auctioneer reads a description. Attendees who are interested in that item hold up their paddles, but there are no prices read or raised since the cost of the item is covered by the sale of paddles and quarters. The auctioneer then pulls a ball from the drum. If the paddle with the corresponding number was held up, that person wins the item. Otherwise, the auctioneer draws until there is a winner. All of the ping-pong balls are then put back into the drum for the next item.

"It costs $25 to attend and that includes dinner and unlimited drinks," says Fralick. "We have a Mexican fiesta theme and if you want, you can just come for the dinner, drinks, and socializing.

"The event starts at 6:00," she continues. "We explain the bidding options as people check in, since lots of people have not gone to a quarter auction before. And we let them know that all of the items have a value of $25 to $100. They mingle for a while and then at 6:30, they start getting their food. We start the quarter auction a little after 7:00. We also have a silent auction set up in another room."

Fralick has 23 people on her planning committee and also gets a lot of help from the students and school. The culinary students provide dessert and help serve food at the event, and students who need to do community service for classes or the honor societies help set up before the event.
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