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Sunday, April 28, 2019

High school booster clubs

Is your high school booster club struggling with membership, participation, and fundraising? Here are some great ideas and strategies to try, and things to ponder.

Ah, the old high school booster club. Long a main staple for supplementing school budgets by underwriting student experiences that enhance learning and create lasting memories. Many also award college scholarships. This largely parent-driven type of organization, like many other types of community service clubs and civic organizations these days, is grappling with challenges centered around areas like membership, active participation, and fundraising.

While this post is primarily intended for parents and others that are typically involved in high school booster clubs, high school and college students looking to get into areas like event planning, fundraising, marketing, food and beverage, entertainment, and/or volunteer work at some point may also find the information and ideas presented here to be helpful, as there are some great suggestions and important trends being discussed.

As with all of my posts, I welcome any questions, feedback, insights, and experiences you may have in the comments section below. Do you have any fundraising and event ideas not discussed in my post that are working well for your own high school booster club? Please, feel free to share in the comments! Let's make this a real conversation and learn from each other. In the end, it's all about providing opportunities for our children, students, and communities.

I've been involved in a number of organizations over the years, including two chambers of commerce. I currently serve as president of the Muskego Lions Club, and I handle marketing and assist with booking bands for Muskego Fest.

What we're learning and seeing the last several years is that the traditional dinner/raffle/auction and golf outing formats, in general, are really struggling. There are too many of these around, and they're all competing for the same wallets and volunteers. When it comes to festivals, in particular, we're finding out that live music and beer, alone, doesn't seem to be cutting it anymore, either. For those of us living in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area, it sounds funny to say that, I know. But people aren't buying beer like they used to. In the past, beer sales could be counted on to easily carry the financials for a festival or large-scale event, but not so much anymore. Finally, service clubs and organizations, all over, are struggling with membership and active participation, so fortunately and unfortunately, you're not alone here.

With all of that said, one possible solution is to focus on much smaller fundraisers that are easy and quick to set up, but do more of them throughout the typical year. Meat raffles are always popular. Team up with bars in the area that will let you do them. Ideally, it would be wonderful if these bars will donate the meat. But even if you need to buy it yourselves, the raffle can still be very lucrative. Sell the tickets at $2 each or 3 for $5. 50/50 raffles are still popular, as well. Doing them in conjunction with meat raffles can be fun and profitable. Again, $2 each or 3 for $5 is a good price point to stick with.

Does your high school booster club have the capability to take donations and payments by credit card, and, if so, year-round? There are quite a few great credit card processing options out there that aren't very costly or contract-based. So if you can accept payments and donations by CC all the time, you're making it that much easier for people to give.

Fishing jamborees are extremely popular. If planned and advertised properly, you can potentially bring in thousands of dollars between entry fees, event sponsorships, silent auction items, and raffles, including meat and 50/50 raffles.

A couple of places to chat with here in the greater Muskego area that do jamborees all the time are Danny Haskell's (on Little Muskego Lake), and AJ's (on Big Muskego Lake).

Murder mystery dinners and trivia nights are very popular options, as well. I see both advertised frequently. When it comes to trivia, specifically, I remember when the concept really started to take off in popularity around the mid-late 2000s. I know some old college classmates that started whole businesses based around trivia nights and events in the Milwaukee area and have done well with them. It's a trend that's managed to stick around and retain high levels of popularity, and today, we see a lot of trivia nights and events centered around specific themes, like hit book and movie franchises.

Reverse Bingo is always fun and lucrative. Best paired with a larger event. The concept is simple - rather than trying to fill up a Bingo card, players want to hope that their cards don't hit on a single number. Once a card has a called number, that card is out. The last person standing with a clean card wins the prize. The prize can take the form of a 50/50 arrangement, or, depending on your card sales, a flat dollar amount, like $500. If no one is left with a clean card, which can certainly happen, there is no prize - the house (your club!) keeps everything. A great price point to sell these cards at is usually around $5 each or 3 for $10.   

Do you ever approach other community service clubs, organizations, and foundations for monetary donations and financial/volunteer partnerships? This is a wonderful way to boost (pun intended!) your bottom line, build and strengthen alliances around town, and increase awareness and engagement for your cause.  

How often do you hold business meetings as a club? If it's once a month or once every couple of months or so, is it possible to move to twice per month, but limit the time of each meeting to say 45 minutes or so? We're finding that millennials and young families want to serve and do various charitable work, but they simply don't have the time to meet for longer periods.

Do you have any big annual sponsors? You'll have to promise some incentives for this. Devise a robust marketing package that provides regular exposure for business sponsors throughout the year via various avenues like social media, mailers, fliers, signage, event and game programs, press releases, and direct patronage (holding some meetings and larger events at those businesses). 

Do you have photos/videos from experiences you're helping to fund, like student trips, prominent speakers, scholarship awards, sporting events, post prom, etc.? Share them. Share your story. Proudly let the broader community (not just the immediate school community) know what you're up to.

Hopefully, you've found this post somewhat helpful and informative. Again, I welcome your questions, feedback, insights, and experiences in the comments section below. What's working for your own high school booster club? What's not? What changes have you made to improve your situation?

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