Ten years ago, a ski racer could make up to $50,000 by competing for the middle rung of the U.S. Ski Team. Today, the same level athletes find themselves making nearly nothing and having to crack their own piggy banks in order to fund their entire season.
Friends and family can help — and so can a good fundraiser.
Developing good fundraising techniques is equally as important as dryland training. And just the way an aerobic base and strength build from year to year, so does fundraising. It’s not a one-time event. Next year, you’ll need support from the same group of foundations and donors, so keeping a strong relationship with myriad support networks is crucial.
There are three main types of supporters: foundations/sponsors, heavy hitters, and local supporters. Each requires a different strategy.
T2, The Five Rings, and other small foundations are in the business of giving grants to athletes. Spend time researching these foundations and applying carefully — if you’re having fun racing, it can feel like money for nothing. T2 supports 20 American snow sports athletes (including me for five years) in chasing their dreams. “Each year, we give $200,000 to cross country, alpine, and freestyle athletes,” says Marina Knight, T2’s executive director. “Over the last six years, the T2 Foundation has given away over one million dollars in direct athlete support to support elite athletes.”
By studying T2 and other foundations — including how the application process works and who the real decision makers are — you’ll up your chances of standing out and cashing in.
Generally, these are people with deeper pockets — sometimes hard to find for ski racers, but out there. Think board members of the local ski clubs and the U.S. Ski Team. People who back a local ski club typically find joy in supporting someone who is pouring their heart and soul into the sport. But think about how you can give back, too: they might be paying for you to ski with their children. Be a good role model, and give them access to the front line of your sport.
An even broader base are folks who don’t have the resources for big donations, but still want to help their community’s athletes: small business owners, for example, or co-workers, friends and family. The best way to unite them: Throw a party. It could be an online crowdfunding party, such as RallyMe, or an actual event where people can bid on good auction items, see some video and shake your hand. Maybe it’s a pizza night at a local restaurant where all the food is donated, or a golf tournament with cheap fees — either way, it’s an event that gets people who might otherwise never give money a chance to step up to the plate.
For eight years, I threw an annual golf tournament with 80 to 100 players each year at the Owl’s Nest Country Club in Campton, N.H., where I brokered a deal with the owners and operators (the family of a good friend) to allow top ski racers to come play for free. The year we corralled Bode Miller, Jimmy Cochran, Roger Brown, and Tim Kelley was the most successful for fundraising, thanks to the fun vibe. Other practices that we followed that might help your event, too:
- Organizing a committee to help run the tournament. My mother, father and local business owners would meet to discuss the event date, find sponsors gather auction items, and mobilize the local ski racing and golfing community. Without their help, it never would have been as successful.
- Adding up dollars and good sense. We charged $125 per person and paid around $65 per person for green fees, cart, and lunch, depending on the year. So in a good year with 100 players we would bring in $6,000 in entry fees. Then we would sell hole sponsors, green sponsors, and sand-trap sponsors to get some more revenue coming up with somewhere around $4,000.
- Bring in some bling. The first year we had Jagermeister girls selling shots on the 10th hole, and that was a huge hit, but the girls didn’t have any attachment to the tournament. In the future, I hired friends, who did a much better job and stayed all day. And then we went out and tried to find the best auction items possible: multiple stay-and-ski packages at local ski areas, vacation houses for a week (if we could get them), bikes, sunglasses, skis, and anything we could possibly pull out of the closet with value.
All and all, the tournament brought in about $20,000 after expenses; add in private heavy hitters and foundations, and I had enough money to support my skiing — including spending the summers training and skiing rather than working menial jobs. (For a few years we partnered up with local organizations to split up the proceeds of the golf tournament and support college skiers.)
By my final year of racing, I had a group of 30 people on my board of directors’ email list. This group was for my family, close friends, and the heavy hitters — anyone that did or might give more than $1,000 a year. I had another email and blog running for just my other, closest supporters who cared.
At one point, my inner circle and I decided that my back was deteriorating from the constant setting up and breaking down of tuning equipment and carrying five to seven pairs of skis everywhere.
I reached out to my board of directors, and within 48 hours we had raised $14,000 for my own van that could handle my traveling, tuning, sleeping and nutrition needs — the Mother Ship. Thanks to my supporters, to whom I sent personal emails and group emails on a regular basis, the Mother Ship was soon rolling through Europe.
Everyday I stepped into the Mother Ship or stood on the top of the mountain, I remembered the people who had rallied around me to get there. The friends and family members who made my ski racing dream possible by attending the golf tournaments or making donations were just as much a part of my success as the serviceman, sponsors, coaches, and my own hard work.
Finally, creativity is key. AJ Ginnis, a USST Europa Cup Team member, put every single supporter’s name on his helmet to gain support and show his gratitude. Fundraising is an integral part of an athlete’s success this day and age — without it, there’s no way to afford to train and compete. It’s something that takes diligence, but can be achieved to keep supporters and athletes on the same page, working toward a shared goal.