Fundraising is a challenge all gyms face, but done right, it can be an exciting, memorable experience for everyone involved. For inspiration, we’re interviewing gym owners who’ve found ways to put the “fun” in fundraising. Case in point: Mansfield, OH-based Spirit Ohio All Stars, which runs a Sponsor My Uniform fundraiser. Gym owner Steve Fuller spoke with us about why he thinks it’s something every gym should do.
How does the Sponsor My Uniform fundraiser work? We break the uniform down into parts—right sleeve $50, left shoe $25, etc.—until the sum of all the parts is what the total uniform costs each athlete. The athlete then takes this form to family reunions, parent company picnics, places like that—anywhere they’ll run into close family friends or relatives that would like to kick in a few bucks to help out. Uncle Bob sponsors the right sleeve, and Mom’s co-worker sponsors the left shoe, and before you know it, 11 people have spent a little money to help purchase the athlete’s uniform, complete with hair bow and shoes. We caution kids about going door-to-door without a parent’s okay.
We borrowed this idea from another gym and I can’t believe there’s anyone not doing this. It’s the easiest fundraiser we’ve ever done. Some parents put their own creative spin on it—we had a mom put the value of certain chores on each part. For instance, if a person sponsored a sleeve, they would get their flowerbed weeded for it.
Do most of the athletes participate? You always have a certain number of people who don’t need financial help, but the uniform is kind of a tough nut. It’s $450, plus there’s tuition due, so if you can share that [financial burden] with other people, it’s a lot easier to swallow. We have a lot of single moms, and cheer is kind of a luxury sport, so if people can get help with that one big bill, they appreciate it. Probably two-thirds of our kids participate in the fundraiser—and they don’t have to do the whole thing. Even if they get $200 worth of sponsorship, that helps.
On your end, what is involved in running it? The only thing we do is hand out the picture of the uniform with the parts and prices labeled. Everyone who’s on a team in our gym has a folder in our foyer, in bins that are labeled by team. We make copies of the uniform flyer, and every athlete gets one. We also have it up on our website, so if you lose it or need another one, you can just download it. That’s really all there is to it. Then they go out [to approach sponsors], and people write their check right to us. We hold all of those checks until they’re done, and they include their own check to cover the rest of the uniform.
Do the uniform sponsors get anything special? Athletes take pictures of themselves in their uniform and send them out with a thank-you note to everyone who sponsored them. We’re also have a sponsor page on our website and a monitor in the gym that displays the sponsor names. It’s not a huge deal—it’s more of a big deal for the child seeing their name up there than it is for Uncle Bob, who’s probably never coming into the gym. We also offer that to other sponsors. If you’re a pediatric dentist and you want 1,000 people who have kids to see your name, then you might run an ad in our gym, so your ad pops up there for 8-10 seconds.
Do you have any tips for a gym that’s interested in trying the Sponsor My Uniform fundraiser? No. This is the simplest, most effective thing we’ve ever done. Nobody these days wants to get involved in fundraisers—they always feel like a certain amount of work. This thing sells itself. If you’re somebody’s aunt, and your niece comes to you and says “Would you sponsor me?” [The answer] is, of course you would! Plus, you only need 11 people [to cover uniform costs].
Do you think it works so well because parents are benefiting by having to spend less on the uniform? Exactly. $450 is a lot to come up with at one time. We’re buying uniforms in July, typically, when you also have family vacations, and your kids are [on summer break], eating you out of house and home. It’s just an expensive time of year, and it’s nice to be able to spread that cost over a bunch of people. People are happy to donate $25 or $50.
Have you done any other successful fundraisers? We just did a Cartwheel-a-Thon, and I want to do it again this winter when the gym is packed. We got this idea from another gym. You give everybody a Cartwheel-a-Thon packet with a sponsor sheet. All the kids go out and get sponsors, and they can suggest a flat amount or do it per cartwheel. Week one is about getting donations. Week two, coaches and parent volunteers pull these kids at the end of class to see how many cartwheels they can do in two minutes. (If they’re little, they can do forward rolls.) In week three, they go out and collect the sponsor money. This is the first year we did it, and it generated about $2,000. You have prizes for the top three kids, like a $50 gift card.
Do you have any tips for a gym owner setting up their first Cartwheel-a-Thon? You need somebody to oversee the whole thing—an organized point person who keeps track of participants and winners, puts pictures on Facebook, makes sure the prizes are distributed—and makes sure all the money gets collected. It’s a three-week deal—a week to collect sponsors, a week to monitor everybody doing cartwheels and then a week to get the money turned in. It’s easy to lose focus during that three-week time, so you need somebody who’s going to keep the kids motivated.