Time for a Boost
Syndicated from AthleticManagement.com with permission.
Looking for people to help out at home games? For additional funds to travel or purchase new uniforms? Upgrading your support group is often a great solution.
By Caitlin Hayes
For Armijo (Calif.) High School, it ensures there are new volleyballs every year. For Ohio State University, it means upgrades to the locker room. At Allen (Texas) High School, it pays for the end-of-year banquet. And for Florida Southern College, it will fund a trip to Italy this summer.
That’s the power of a strong booster club—and the reason many teams are working hard to upgrade theirs. While booster clubs have long been a part of programs, volleyball coaches are finding ways to make them more effective.
“Our booster club provides supplemental income to help us create an incredible program,” says Jill Stephens, Head Coach at Florida Southern. “But there are other benefits, too. A lot of our boosters have supported us forever—they’ve become like family. It’s so special when I can connect with them and introduce them to our new players and families. It really adds to our program.”
At the high school level, booster clubs can also take many responsibilities off a coach’s plate. “Before we had our booster club really set up, I worried about everything—the activities between games and whether we had enough volunteers and a host of other things,” says Tom Weko, Head Coach at Mounds View (Minn.) High School. “Now, we’re at the point where I just have to worry about coaching.”
From high school parent groups to donor-driven entities at the collegiate level, volleyball programs are tapping into the concept in bigger and better ways. In this article, coaches provide advice for starting or revamping this crucial element of any team’s success.
UP & RUNNING
Whether a support group is non-existent or flagging, the first step to building it up is defining its goals. This will vary from team to team, depending on the level of play, the school culture, and what supporters are looking for.
At Allen, Head Coach Kelley Gregoriew looks to the current group of parents to define how the program will evolve. “I think I’ve only missed one booster club meeting in 23 years,” she says. “I like to hear their ideas and see what direction they’re going in and what they’re excited about. And I give my approval to their ideas and update them on anything they need to know.”
With the booster club at Mounds View, there is an emphasis on players’ families having decision-making power. “The parents stay engaged in the program when we ask them to volunteer and to be a part of it,” says Weko. “Also, when they join the boosters, they can vote. They get to choose the things that will enhance the program. That choice gives them an investment in the team and the direction we’re going.”
At Florida Southern, the program benefits when the relationship between the boosters and the team is strong. This is accomplished through giving perks to donor-members, such as invitations to family weekend events and banquets and exclusive newsletters and updates on the squad’s progress.
“We try to meet up with our boosters whenever we can,” Stephens says. “We’re going to Oregon next year, and we’ll look up our boosters out there and try to see them. This past season, a couple in their 80s who are longtime supporters surprised me at an away game. I got to introduce them to the team, which was really special for me and for my players.”
Ohio State University has been working to reinvigorate its support group. Head Coach Geoffrey Carlston and his staff recently gave the club a name, The Scarlet Spikers, and they have been focusing their efforts on connecting with existing members and recruiting new donors.
“To engage friends of the program, we try to be really accessible,” says Carlston. “Our players are the ambassadors for anything we do, so we organize a lot of events after games, such as question and answer sessions and photo opportunities. When you get people interacting with the players, they tend to feel more connected to what you’re doing.”
Beyond the goals and culture of the group, most teams have found it effective to employ a structure. Allen’s club has a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer, and regularly scheduled meetings allow the coach and the boosters to work together to accomplish objectives.
“The meetings are very structured and that helps keep people focused,” says Gregoriew. “The president runs the meeting and has an agenda that is sent to me in advance. I’m always an item on that agenda, so that I can update them on anything they need to know.”
Mounds View parents are organized by task. “Within our booster club, we have different chairs and committees for many things,” says Weko. “And then we ask all of the parents to volunteer for one committee. They sign up online so it’s pretty easy and organized, which is great. I don’t have to worry because I know that the parents are doing a great job.”
Putting a board together is on Carlston’s wish list. “That’s the direction I want to go, to make it more professional and organized,” he says. “We want a wide variety of people to make up the board—alumni, business sponsors, maybe even a parent of a player in the program. You don’t want to have just one contingency represented.”
Florida Southern has a looser structure, with no formal board. “Organizing the boosters is on me and my staff, but we’ve made it a part of our routine,” says Stephens. “Every year, we do a big mailing out to all of our alumni, and we add the recently graduated alumni, friends, and any new people who we want to involve with the program. This is our invitation to be a part of the booster club.”
Focus on Funding
Of all its benefits, a support group’s biggest function is generating funds for your program, whether by a direct donation or by running fundraisers. The money can go towards program necessities, or extras that give student-athletes unforgettable experiences. “We’re funded quite well at Florida Southern, and there’s an emphasis on championship athletic programs,” says Stephens. “The money from our boosters allows us to travel to play in great competitions. Every four years, I try to do an international trip. This summer, we’re traveling to Italy for 10 days, so we’ve made an extra push with our booster club to raise the funds needed.”
Stephens and her staff created a “Europe” level of membership, where supporters could earmark their donations specifically to fund the trip. And to give credit where credit is due, donors at all levels are recognized on the booster club web page. Ohio State follows a similar model, with levels of membership corresponding to a donation amount.
“We use our discretionary funds for team building events, to help our coaches go to the Final Four, and for our athletes to go to Team USA tryouts,” says Carlston. “We also tap into it for any sort of overnight travel in the spring and for any All-American and Sweet Sixteen banners we hang, as well as any locker room upgrades. It’s great because 100 percent of that money comes into our program, and the school allows us to use it however we need to.”
High schools can’t rely solely on donations, so fundraising by the support group is a large part of its purpose. Allen High School’s booster club hosts three tournaments at the middle school, j.v., and varsity levels, taking in money from registration fees, concessions, and ticket sales. In recent years, they’ve also hosted a sand volleyball tournament and a serve-a-thon (see “New Ideas” on page 19).
“We used to do fundraisers like selling cookie dough or discount cards and things like that,” says Gregoriew. “But with the tournaments, the kids can go out there and enjoy playing, and it promotes the game.”
Mounds View is continually looking for new options. “We try to come up with as many different kinds of fundraisers as we can, and then we weed out the ones that don’t give the best return for the time we put in,” says Weko. “I personally don’t like having the girls go door to door, although it can be an effective way to get funds.
“We also have dues, which is one way to make sure the program has some guaranteed money before we have to do any fundraising,” he continues. “Not everybody is able to contribute the whole amount or even some, and that’s fine.”
And some booster clubs don’t require any membership fees. At Armijo, parents joining the group are asked to donate a new volleyball to the program. Head Coach Paige McConlogue says most of the booster funds are generated from concessions at games.
“We have built a good fan base so we make a lot of money from our concessions,” she says. “If your school doesn’t sell snacks at games, I’d say to consider it. We don’t do anything complicated, just chips, candy, soda, and pizza—all easy stuff.”
Beyond raising funds, boosters can often do much more for a program. From running community service projects to improving the game-time experience, support groups can contribute greatly to the culture of a team.
“We try to use the talents that the parents have to add to our program,” says Weko. “Some of them cook for our carbo-loads. Others create the video for our end-of-season banquet. Next year, we’re going on a team-building camping trip, and they’ll organize that.”
“Our parents take charge of our specials, like middle school night and senior night,” says Gregoriew. “They do activities to get the crowd involved—fun games where fans try to serve the ball into hoops or catch balls into big sweatpants.
“They’ve also organized nights dedicated to the Special Olympics or breast cancer awareness,” she continues. “And the boosters are in charge of our team’s website, Twitter, and Facebook profiles. They get people to take pictures and video at the games and they post it afterwards. I’ve had parents continue to help with the website even after their daughters have graduated and gone to college. It’s an important part of our program. We use it to register schools for our tournaments, to advertise our sponsors, to take donations, to sign up volunteers—for a lot of things.”
At Armijo, the president of the booster club runs the team’s Facebook page, notifying members about game times, results, and events. “Everybody’s already on Facebook, so it works great,” says McConlogue. “Our president is really good about updating it, and it’s something I don’t have to worry about.”
With all that boosters do, it’s important to remember to thank them. Many coaches ask players to handwrite thank-you notes to members, and they make sure to toast the support group at end-of-season banquets. Stephens also highlights them in her newsletter.
“For example, one of our boosters helped us go to a Red Sox game when we went to Boston, so we took a picture in front of Fenway Park and included that in the newsletter,” she says. “It was a different way to thank them.”
Gregoriew uses a similar, although less formal, tactic. “At different times of the year, I send out an email saying how excited we are and how all of the teams have been working hard,” she says. “I give accolades to the players, and I make sure to thank parents for their support.”
Possibly most important is for the head coach to keep the boosters top of mind. “The booster club sometimes gets overlooked,” says McConlogue. “Nobody really sees them or knows all that they do. But they do so much, from being at games to fundraising. Without them, I would struggle to get everything done.”