Youth sports leagues generally can’t exist on entry fees alone. Although community organizations such as a park district, school, or church group may sponsor leagues, there never seems to be enough money to buy and update all the uniforms and equipment, rent courts and fields, and hire the best officials. Often, fundraising is necessary to fill in the gaps.
Unfortunately, many leagues encounter fundraising fatigue. The same sales of candy, wrapping paper, and cookie dough, year after year, get old in a hurry. Creative sports fundraising ideas help break this fatigue and can produce better results than what you might be used to. Here are some of those ideas:
Programs and Yearbooks
The end-of-season tournament is an event, and you can celebrate the event with a souvenir program that includes rosters, results, pictures, and ads. The advertising component provides the sports fundraising idea by giving families the opportunity to buy ads (with pictures) wishing their kids luck in the tourney. These programs become great keepsakes, and parents won’t hesitate to purchase multiple copies to send to grandparents and other friends and family. Does your league not sponsor a tournament? A sort of yearbook will work just as well.
This sports fundraising idea is the traditional “-athon”: shoot-a-thons, walkathons, run-a-thons, inning-a-thons, and so on. Skills challenges aren’t necessarily contests, but rather, the chance to let young athletes apply what they have learned to raise money. For example, a free-throw fundraiser might direct kids to shoot 100 free throws, and donors pledge a certain amount for each make. Besides “-athons,” these challenges can include events such as home run derbies that kids pay an entry fee to participate in.
Here’s another revenue stream: Offer sweatshirts, hats, gear bags, window stickers, and other items with your league logo on it. Kids love personalized gear, and if presented as a fundraiser, parents will be more likely to open their wallets to buy the imprinted goods.
Some community organizations will partner with sports leagues and other nonprofits on clothing drives to raise money. Here’s how it works: The league collects used clothes to give to the sponsoring organization, which in turn pays the league for the donation, usually up to a quarter per pound. The organization then sells these clothes to thrift stores or finds other uses for the items. The nice thing about clothing drives is that they don’t require any selling or buying by your league’s families—all they simply need to do is clean out their closets.
Local businesses may already sponsor your league, but well-placed banners advertising these businesses is another potential revenue source for your organization. Outfield fences are an obvious spot for these banners, but other locations can be just as visible: for example, a banner hanging from the scorer’s table on a basketball court. You may be apprehensive to sell ad space on your venues—it can feel like a pro sports team selling naming rights to an arena—but when you look at it as a sports fundraising idea, and realize how much the extra money will help your league and, ultimately, the kids, it’s much more palatable.
Carnivals, featuring games and food, are a great way to fundraise and “fun-raise,” but unless you own some of the equipment yourself, you might not raise as much money as you would hope. For example, a dunk tank rental can run a couple hundred dollars—you would need many paying throwers just to break even. There are a few ways around this. First, parents in your league may own or know someone who owns equipment such as snow-cone and cotton candy makers and will be willing to let you use it. Second, you can try convincing party rental companies to donate the use of their equipment, but don’t hold your breath. Third, the league can come together to do-it-yourself the carnival. A combination of creativity, handy parents, and the Internet can help build your own equipment and booths that can be used year after year.
The official pictures for which you hire a professional photography company to take don’t generate income for your league, and these pictures are posed shots—the same shots you might have posed for when you were a kid. Alternately, action shots are truly memorable and unique, but the hired photography companies are never at games to take those. If you know good freelance photographers—ideally, a parent or two in your league—willing to volunteer their time, you can turn action pictures into a great sports fundraising idea. The photogs shoot a game, then sell parents and teams access to the digital files, with all the proceeds going to the league. Again, you need to be fortunate enough to find volunteers to agree to this, but if you do, parents can obtain high-quality action shots better than anything they could capture on their smartphones.
What creative sports fundraising ideas have you tried for your league?