Financial ingenuity for the field

Selling: In the high stakes world of club sports fund raising, creativity is key to keeping coffers full.

Howard At Play

November 11, 2001|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Raise money by selling pizza kits, candy bars, candles ...

If you have a child who plays sports, or if you know a neighboring child who plays, you've undoubtedly bought a variety of items.

While fund raising can be a pain for parents, the money generated is necessary, youth group leaders agree, to keep registration costs affordable and the quality of programs up through, for example, coaches' clinics, travel to tournaments and better fields and equipment.

"Assuming you're not the beneficiary of an estate, you're going to have to do some fund raising," said David Cooke, finishing up a tour as baseball commissioner of the Howard County Youth Program, which has nearly 2,000 children playing baseball and softball, and other programs for basketball and volleyball.... cookie dough, cheesecake, raffle tickets ...

While most county organizations rely at one time or another on players selling things listed throughout this article, at least one, the Savage Boys and Girls Club, another multisport group, has found that business sponsorships can generate money, too. Its sponsorship committee was so successful in finding backers for 52 teams that players are not selling anything this year, President Mike Cameron said.

The club, which serves about 1,200 children, has businesses sponsor an "in-house" or recreation-level team for $250 a season, or $500 for a travel team. Sponsors get their names on the uniforms, and they are treated as VIPs, invited to games and events, and can even toss out the first pitch.

"I think they do it as much to get out there and throw out the first pitch and meet the kids as much as the publicity," Cameron said. "Most do it because they like the kids."

"We've been very, very lucky to generate goodwill in the community," said Cameron, adding that the money is used for coaches' clinics and by providing improvements that the club depends upon such as new basketball backboards and rims for Hammond Middle School's gym.... long-distance phone cards, pretzels, sponsorships ...

When fund-raisers are needed, Cameron -- like leaders of many other sports groups, as well as other youth activities -- often turns to food. He favors Joe Corbi's Wholesale Pizza Inc. of Baltimore, but at least one competitor, Gianni's Gourmet Pizza Kit Fund Raising of Linthicum is known to many county households, too. A pizza kit includes ready-to-bake shells, tomato sauce, cheese and, among the options, pepperoni, for home-baked pizzas that can be prepared out of the box or embellished at home to personal tastes.

Nationwide, his company sells more than 7 million pizzas a year as fund-raisers, said Rocco Violi, president of Joe Corbi's. Pizza kits are popular, he said, because groups can't lose money -- there are no minimums, and an organization orders only what it has sold.

And he adds, "If you're going to spend money, it may as well be on something you can use or you buy once a week, anyway."... magazines, car washes, Christmas wreaths ...

Even successful fund raising can produce problems.

HCYP players are selling candles this year instead of competing in a lucrative batting contest, which had generating more than $30,000 a year -- money that bought lights, irrigation, and batting cages at the club's Kiwanis-Wallas Park at U.S. 40 and Route 144.

Why? Cooke said the organization did not have the volunteer base to run the all-day batting event. And while candles are not as common as pizza kits and candy bars when a kid comes calling, the organization would get to keep "a bit more than 50 percent of the profits," Cooke said.

"Both fund-raisers only work when you have adequate volunteers willing to see it through," said Cooke, whose organization has also canceled its annual bull roast-dance but finds the annual golf tournament for adults is still a good revenue generator.

How much profit groups make from fund-raisers is typically screened from buyers. Violi, for one, declined to say how much of a profit on, say, the company's typical three-pizza, $15.50 kit goes back to the selling organization, saying only that it is "generous."

Actually, he said, the reluctance to give information comes from fund-raising organizations.... golf, special coffees, gift wrap.

Who does the selling is a consideration, too, especially in a time when many people believe it is unsafe for children to go door to door, although finding parents accompanying children is not unusual.

"They'll, first of all, hit up grandma," said Beth Hodge, cheerleading coordinator for the Howard County Trojans whose organization likes this time of year for selling Christmas wreaths and cheesecake. `They'll say, `Oh, it's wreath time again.' We have repeat customers."

HCYP's Cooke said, "Frankly, we think it's healthy for the kids to have something to do with raising funds for their program."

Westminster start for fund-raiser firm

Jeanne's Gourmet, a business that makes cookie dough, pretzels and cheesecake that youth and other groups nationally resell to raise money, evolved from a Westminster mother's quest to buy a new bass drum for a school band. She mixed and sold cookie dough that, needing only to be shaped and baked, saved time.

"I fell into it," is the way Jeanne Link describes the 6-year-old, family-run business bearing her name. Her first sales as a formal business were to the Westminster Soccer Club, which overwhelmed her kitchen with orders for 700 tubs of dough.

"We were the first ones to do cookie dough," said Link, who won't disclose revenue or other measures of her company's size because "this has become a very competitive business." But she has three Baltimore-area processing plants on round-the-clock shifts at this time of year and sells through contractors in other parts of the country.

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