Some people pick up change when they see it and some people don’t. Those that do understand that the effort doesn’t provide any immediate rewards. If you pick up a nickel every day, you’ll have $18.25 by the end of the year. Get 10 people to find a nickel a day and you’ll have $182.50 within the group. Get 20 people to commit to finding $5 a day and you’ll have $36,500 within the year. This is the idea behind grassroots fundraising; a little here and a little there adds up to a whole lot.
There are two kinds of grassroots fundraising. Fundraising programs are ongoing, long-term efforts that (hopefully) don’t require much attention after they’re set up. Fundraising events are one-time efforts that require more preparation and work but (hopefully) earn your group more money at once.
Not all of the programs and events listed here will work for your group. Some events and programs require special resources, skills, or status (such as your organization being a recognized nonprofit organization). Some of the following exercises can be prepared by a single person, while others are group activities, and some may even require professional paid services.
Fundraising costs money. The secret of effective fundraising is to make the largest amount of money for the smallest investment. This relationship is known as the “return on investment,” or ROI. The highest ROI are those fundraising activities that cost nothing because all of the money is free. The worst ROI are those activities that earn as much as they cost to conduct. As you might imagine, a negative ROI means that you lost money on that activity. (That happens more often than one would think.)
A good way to understand ROI is to compare two likely scenarios. Group A decides to hold a skate jam and put out a collection jar and sell shirts. Group B decides to have a pizza feed.
Group A invested $300 in their skate jam event. They built a mini ramp, hung fliers around town and put them in stores, paid some permitting fees, and got event insurance. They figured that they were reducing their expenses by using mostly donated lumber and volunteer labor, and the bottled water was donated. On the day of the event, 100 people showed up to watch and 10 people competed. Of these people that come to watch, 15% donate some amount of money or bought a fundraising t-shirt. The graphic to the left illustration how that looks, (green donors, black didn’t donate). If, on average, each person donated $10 then the total event would have lost $150. It happens all the time and it can be very discouraging for the planning group. This is terrible ROI.
One problem in Group A’s thinking was that the skate jam would get hundreds of spectators. That didn’t happen because people aren’t that interested in skateboarding. Another problem is that they thought that the spectators would be more generous. That also didn’t happen. Although the event looked pretty good, it didn’t take long to see that the event actually lost money.
Now let’s look at Group B. They decided to have a pizza party. The local pizzeria donates the pizzas (but not drinks since that is where they’re going to make their money). Everyone needs to eat, and nobody doesn’t like pizza, and 50 people show up. (That’s half as many that showed up to Group A’s skate jam.) Group B makes it clear that there’s a suggested donation of $10. Since they didn’t spend any money on the event, their revenue is $500. This is great ROI!
Before you do any specific fundraising, you’ll need to define your group’s policy on paying for fundraising events and programs. If you’ve done any fundraising already then you should have some money in the skatepark account. It is recommended that you practice a “no money out” policy from the very beginning. This means that all money donated to the skatepark fund stays in the skatepark fund. No money is ever withdrawn to pay for an upcoming fundraising program or event, to reimburse staff for personal expenses, or to cover operational expenses like postage and printing. All of these operational and program expenses should be raised separately for that specific purpose. For example, if the total cost to put on a particular event is $400, those funds are raised independent of the skatepark fund (in cash and in-kind). Similarly, if you want to print a fundraising calendar, the production costs are sought independently and do not come out of the skatepark’s bank account. Event organizers should be tasked with raising the funds to fund the event. (There are lots of stories of skatepark fundraisers costing 10 times as much as they end up raising. Don’t let your event get added to this group.)
There’s another aspect of a program’s ROI that you might consider while organizing your fundraising campaign. Some fundraising activities may have a lower ROI but the skatepark project will get a lot of positive public exposure. This is a difficult quality to put a price tag on, but marketing professionals call these “exposures.” Some events will produce more exposure than others. If your advocacy effort has been plagued with NIMBY resistance and a disinterested City Council, fundraising events that are likely to be covered by your local press or that will expose a lot of people to your skatepark vision can help raise awareness and build public support for your cause. That’s something you might consider while outlining your campaign. If there is already widespread awareness and community support for the skatepark project, your time will be better spent on traditional fundraising events.
Many skatepark groups beginning their fundraising campaign come up with ideas for skate jams, skate demos, skate video premieres, project t-shirts, special fundraising wheels, and so on. All of these things are interesting to skateboarders, but non-skaters don’t need a new set of wheels with your project’s name on them. The best fundraisers don’t target skateboarders but rather the broader public. In fact, the more “generic” the event, the more participation it is likely to get. Not everyone is going to enjoy a skate video premiere, but everyone needs to eat! Fundraising events that feed people are likely to get more participation and, as a result, more money raised.
There is one final consideration when identifying the various events and programs you’ll want to employ. Your fundraising should be fun and gratifying for your volunteers. Maintaining your core group’s enthusiasm will produce events that are energetic and positive. Reluctant volunteers will find reasons why they can’t participate, and when they do, they will be dour and unhappy. This is not the message you want to bring to the public. So, if your group is excited about a particular fundraising activity even though it doesn’t promise a significant return on investment, it may be worth pursuing for the morale-boosting benefits to your group.
If you have enough volunteers, you can propose fundraising teams for appropriate events and programs. The teams can have friendly competitions within the group, perhaps even competing for some kind of prize for the best performers.
Premiums and “Sales”
Premiums are a good way of encouraging donations. Premiums are products, services, or anything that has value to the donor or volunteer that can be exchanged for their support. You cannot legally sell items or services without an appropriate business license, so any premiums that you offer must be provided to the donor as a gift in recognition of their contribution. For example, if you have t-shirts printed, you aren’t selling them for $20. Rather, you are giving them away to people that donate $20. While you aren’t likely to get in any big trouble for slipping up and saying, “buy a t-shirt for $20,” it’s always best to understand exactly what you are permitted to do and say while you’re representing a nonprofit organization. Policies like this should be discussed openly and frequently with your fiscal sponsor.
The same principle is true for fundraising events for which you intend to charge admission. As a nonprofit, you aren’t allowed to charge a $10 admission but you can have a “suggested donation of $10” and most people will understand that it’s an expected amount to donate. Only a real jerk would come for the “free” pancakes without donating to the cause.
In-Kind Donations and Event Sponsorship
Many event organizers seek event sponsors. These might be local retailers, regional distributors, or even international manufacturers. (Your social network will largely determine who you have access to.) Event sponsors can donate to an event with cash, but usually they’ll be inclined to donate product that your group can leverage into cash in whatever way you feel is appropriate. There are some small risks in in-kind donations. For example, a distributor may want to unload all of last year’s Extra Small pink hoodies that didn’t sell too well on your group. They get a nice tax write-off and you’re stuck with a garage full of hoodies that nobody really wants. This doesn’t happen very often.
Here are the few incentives you can use to lure potential in-kind donors and event sponsors into your program:
- Tax write-off (if your group is a recognized nonprofit or you are operating under a fiscal sponsor)
- Logos on signage and marketing materials
- Sponsor-page recognition
- On-site recognition
- Facility naming rights
Collection boxes or jars at check-out stations in your local businesses can be lucrative and they don’t require much work. An additional benefit is that they help spread the word about the skatepark. It’s like advertising that actually makes money. Some advocacy groups claim that their collection jars were their top money-makers.
You will need the business owner or manager’s permission to leave a collection jar on their counter. You should have a sample of the jar and label with you when you propose the idea so that they can easily understand what you’re proposing. The manager won’t want to see the jars on their counters forever, but you can ask that they be there for a month to see how it goes.
You should approach any retail business in your community where small cash transactions are common:
- Gas stations
- Grocery stores and markets
- 99¢ stores
- Restaurants and diners
- Skate shops
- Community centers
- Local businesses
The jars don’t need any kind of elaborate security, though they should be configured in a way that a person can’t simply reach the money without tinkering with the jar. It’s better to use containers that seem permanent. Glass, wood and metal are good materials, while plastic can seem cheap and “disposable.” Consider the message you want to send to the public about your project.
You should check on the jars once a week. Keep a record of everywhere they are located so that you don’t miss any. When you empty them, be sure to leave a dollar behind in each one to prime donations. (People may not understand that it’s a collection jar if there’s not already money in it.)
Some enterprising groups have made collection jars from old skateboards, or used elements of old skateboards, to help create something that grabs people’s attention. The most important part is being able to see the money. Every coin in the jar represents someone from the community that believes in the skatepark project, and that’s a very important message.
You will need:
- Clear jars or boxes with narrow tops (or slots cut into their lids)
- Labels featuring a cool photo or illustration and “Town Skatepark Fund,” along with a very brief explanation of how the money will be used, and your website URL
- In small type, your name, email, and phone number (for the store manager to contact you should they need to)
Coin drives involve positioning volunteers in high-traffic areas and soliciting change from motorists or pedestrians. Firefighters in some areas dressed up this type of fundraising program by collecting change in their firefighter boots. For your project, you might fill skate shoes.
Standing outside of a grocery store or at a red light will require permission by the owner or the city, respectively. Your city may be reluctant to permit young adults from “busking” at intersections, but it may be worth asking. (You should contact your local Police Department to ask them “where” you can conduct this kind of program. If you ask “if” you can conduct this program, it provides a clear opportunity for them to say no.)
You can ramp up your change collection by performing acoustic music or some other theatrical presentation. The more fun it is, the more attention you will get from the public and local press. Most business managers won’t want to see you performing kickflips in front of their store (for liability reasons). An acoustic music performance (write a song about why you need a skatepark) or a small information table is about the most elaborate most will permit.
Coin drives, like collection jars, are great for raising awareness. Unlike collection jars, you have the opportunity to talk about the project and share your past successes. Your coin drive can even be more about raising awareness and less about soliciting donations.
Coin drives can be conducted in all kinds of places but many will require permission:
- Street fairs and Farmer’s markets
- Outside of retail businesses
- Public parks
- Historic downtown and business districts
- Outside of grocery stores and gas stations
- Highway rest areas
You will need:
- Volunteers (it’s more fun to work in pairs)
- Fact sheets (to hand out)
- Collection jars or containers
There are so many online fundraising tools it is impossible to list them all here. Facebook has special tools for charitable causes, called Causes. Lots of skatepark advocacy groups put a lot of attention to Pepsi Refresh Challenge Grant and Kickstarter. (Although, at this time, Pepsi Refresh Challenge Grant appears to be discontinued.)
A quick Web search for “online fundraising tools” will produce dozens of services. Some may be a good fit, some won’t. Buyer beware: Most of these services capitalize on your awareness efforts by extracting a percentage of your donations, so read the fine print before you go through the trouble of signing up.
Another word of caution. Online fundraising programs can often require a significant amount of administrative work. There’s a good chance that you will burn out your friends and Facebook contacts with ongoing links to your project page. You may create “fundraising fatigue” among your acquaintances, and that will result in them being less interested in your other fundraising or volunteer opportunities.
Online tools, particularly those dedicated solely to fundraising, provide almost no benefit to public awareness. For someone to visit your Kickstarter page, for example, they already need to be interested in and supportive of your efforts. (That interest and support is a direct result of your awareness effort.) For an online fundraising drive to be successful, you’ll need to spend a lot of time and energy promoting it.
For an effective fundraising effort to be successful, you will need:
- Strong community support
- Broad communication network of supporters, particularly online
- Copywriting and (perhaps) video-editing resources
- Business license or nonprofit status (depending on the tool)
PayPal (Direct Online Donation)
PayPal is a terrific tool because it’s trusted and easy to use. Setting up your PayPal account can be a bit of a chore, especially for nonprofit organizations, but once it’s configured and linked to your project’s bank account, you can point people to your donation page with every email, digital newsletter, Facebook wall, and so on. Donors don’t even need to be registered with PayPal; they only need a credit card. If your group is not an independent nonprofit, and you are soliciting donations from the public on behalf of a fiscal sponsor, coordinate with your fiscal sponsor directly before attempting to create a PayPal account in your skatepark project’s name.
PayPal exacts a small transaction fee from every donation. It’s generally worth it for the time you save handling checks, running to the bank, writing receipts, and so on.
PayPal is very useful for soliciting donations that are associated with some sort of premium. Most skatepark advocacy groups create custom t-shirts with their message on it. PayPal allows you to set up a page where the donor can indicate—at a certain level of donation—what style and size shirt they would like, for example.
Keep a careful record of who has donated and how much. If you are going to create a donor wall or offer some kind of “buy a brick” fundraising program, some of your past donors may qualify. Plus, good record-keeping is absolutely essential to running a successful fundraising campaign. PayPal provides a suite of tools for keeping good donation records.
In order to qualify for PayPal’s nonprofit tool set, you’ll need to be a recognized nonprofit organization. You will also need to link your PayPal account to your bank account. If you don’t have nonprofit status (or a fiscal sponsor) and a bank account, you’re not ready to set up your PayPal account.
To set up your PayPal nonprofit account, you will need:
- Nonprofit and/or PayPal account owner’s contact info
- Bank name and account info
- Nonprofit status evidence (i.e., letter of determination)
- Bank statement or voided check
- Organization’s mission
Person-to-Person Appeals (Doorbelling)
Soliciting donations from individuals is uncomfortable for many people, but even amateurs become very good at it with a little practice. Personal appeals usually happen at someone’s front door. With a map of your service area, plot out small neighborhoods to focus on…say, six blocks at a time for single-family homes. Working in pairs, four people can work opposite sides of a street and cover large areas.
You will need to have a quick introduction and reason for being there within 20 seconds. Many people will want to read over something and donate online rather than writing a check directly. You should have copies of your fact sheet or project brief prepared to leave with them. Even if they are simply trying to get rid of you, handing them something informative and compelling will help raise awareness about the need for a local skatepark. Don’t forget your website address and PayPal link!
Doorbelling is a great way to raise awareness about the skatepark. It isn’t typically a very effective fundraising exercise due to the time it takes to conduct.
Your doorbelling campaign should focus on areas within the service area that will directly benefit from the new skatepark, if you have a location selected, and lower-income areas of town.
For an effective doorbelling campaign, you will need:
- Volunteers working in pairs (particularly if the volunteers are minors)
- Fact sheets (to be handed out)
- Receipt slips for receiving donations
- Maps or map print-outs to record areas that have been canvassed (to prevent repeat visits)
- Maps or records indicating houses and names that have been contacted and the result of that encounter
- Petition of support or newsletter sign-up roster
- Handbills with local leaders’ emails and contact information (for letter-writing campaigns)
There’s another person-to-person opportunity: Your friends and family. These are great places to practice your elevator pitch. Just like door-to-door donations, you’ll want to diligently record every donation so that you can follow-up with these donors later with updates and thank-you notices.
Friends and family members can also provide in-kind donations. An uncle that has a woodshop might consider donating a custom bookshelf, or an aunt’s boat that can be used for a local fishing excursion. These are all good auction items.
Soliciting businesses for a skatepark donation is tricky. Businesses, particularly smaller ones, may not see the immediate value of a local skatepark. It’s your job to make that connection and show them why it matters. Small businesses tend to donate to a skatepark project because the proprietor likes the project and wants to support it, and not because the skatepark will help their business grow. It’s good to remember this when talking to them about a donation. Unless you are a successful business owner, it’s not in your best interest to presume to advise the business owner on what’s best for their company’s future. It’s not about doing good business, it’s about doing good.
Start by contacting the businesses that you and others in your core group patronize. If these businesses recognize you as a patron, they’re much more likely to hear you out than if you’re walking in cold. Business owners are more likely to make time to hear your pitch if you are introduced through a mutual acquaintance. This is a good opportunity to test your network; have your core group each produce four business contacts that would be open to a 15-minute meeting to discuss the new skatepark project.
To maximize the return on investment on your person-to-business fundraising efforts, consider your introduction to the business as the beginning of a partnership and not as a one-time shot at getting them to donate some cash.
To conduct a business solicitation, you should start by calling the company and finding out who is in charge of managing charitable giving. For smaller businesses, it will be the owner or manager of that location. Larger companies might have someone located in an entirely different state. You’ll need that person’s name, title, and contact information.
When you contact the person in charge of charitable giving, it’s great to start by asking how they prefer to receive information about important charitable giving opportunities. They may ask that you send them email, or something in the mail, a face-to-face meeting, or just a website URL.
When you draft the email, letter, or presentation, it should contain a brief overview of your mission and organization. Keep your message simple and straight-forward. There’s no need to outline alternative plans or present “what if” scenarios. As much as possible, consider how the skatepark project aligns with the company’s services or profile. (Again, don’t presume to explain the business opportunities of the skatepark project but rather the specific benefits to the individuals that need it.)
A face-to-face meeting with a liaison from the company is better than soliciting donations via mail or email.
Be clear about how you will celebrate their support at events, in your materials, or even at the skatepark when it’s done. The business will be more likely to donate if the solicitation is linked to an event or specific aspect of the project.
Businesses are much more likely to say “no” right off. There are lots of opportunities left. You can ask if they’d consider some other form of support, such as a product or service donation that you can auction or use to invigorate volunteers. In spite of their enthusiasm for your project, they may be in no position to donate cash at the moment. That doesn’t mean that they won’t be prepared to help in the future. Be sure to ask them if it’s okay that you contact them in the future with project updates.
If the conversation turns away from cash and towards a product or service donation, it helps to be specific about what you could most use. (This is where being familiar with the company’s products and services pays off.) By being specific in your request for non-monetary donations, you save the potential donor time in trying to figure out what’s appropriate and useful to your group.
Some typical business donations:
- Gift certificates
- Subscriptions (services, magazines, etc.)
- Services (“Free hour of…”)
- Unique experience (meet a celebrity or athlete, go on a live film set, etc.)
- Space available, or tickets (education, theaters, sports, and special events)
There are lots of one-shot events you can organize. Unlike fundraising programs, these efforts are prepared according to your resources and surrounding opportunities. Each of these events will require special considerations and ample volunteers, and it would be impractical to provide step-by-step instructions on how to put them together. These are offered as simple ideas that you can use as-is or modify to relate more closely to your skateboarding mission.
It’s worth noting that these fundraising events, just like the programs mentioned earlier, don’t focus on the skateboarders or the skateboarding industry. They are designed to appeal to the general public… that’s where your money is. As one skatepark advocate put it, “fundraising events that target skaters is like asking your poorest friend to donate money to the skatepark. You may like them, but that doesn’t mean they can help.”
When organizing any event, be sure to send out special announcements to your supporters, past donors, political liaisons, and the local press.
You will need things to auction, of course, and a system for managing bids. Silent auctions allow people to bid at their leisure and reveal what the current highest bid is at. eBay is a good example of an online silent bid system. If you have rare and non-regional items, eBay is a good option because your item will reach a wider audience and, presumably, people that are willing to give a little bit more to own it.
Live auctions require an in-person audience, an auctioneer, and plenty of volunteers. Live auctions are the stereotypical auction with people raising their cards, tweaking their noses, and all that. Live auctions are very rare in skatepark fundraising.
Skate Demos & Contests
This is a go-to event for a lot of skatepark advocates, but they soon realize that the demo didn’t raise as much money as they had hoped. Putting together demos and contests can be expensive, complicated, and require a lot of volunteer hours. One positive aspect of demos and contests is that it can spread awareness about your skatepark efforts to the skateboarding community.
Also note that contests and demos can reveal some of the worst aspects of skateboarding. Your local skateboarders may be less sensitive to the cultural stereotypes that you’re fighting against in meetings around town. One loudmouth skater trying to demonstrate how bad-ass he is can “reinforce” a stereotype to some people even when there may be dozens of other skaters in the area being normally respectful. Also, should one of your demonstrators or competitors get seriously hurt in front of a large public audience, it may reinforce an idea that skateboarding is inherently dangerous. (Nevermind that at a contest or demo the skaters are pushing the limits.)
If you are passionate about hosting an event like this, here are a few tips:
Recruit an MC that knows skateboarding but can explain tricks to a non-skating audience.
Keep the format simple. Avoid double-elimination ladders and multi-stage formats. Best trick contests are popular with skaters, but non-skaters tend to prefer “highest ollie” contests, skate-a-thons, and manual contests because they are easier to understand than who did the sickest inward heelflip. (Even games of S-K-A-T-E become too technical for most non-skaters.)
Focus on a course with simple structures. A manual pad and flat rail is better than a miniramp. This will keep your expense, logistics, and risk to a minimum. (Imagine a board flying off the end of a miniramp at 40 MPH. If someone is injured, you’ll regret holding the demo entirely.)
Mix up the format with live music, collection jars, shirt sales, and lots of reminders that this is a benefit. If you can’t get money out of your audience, at least you can raise awareness about the skatepark project.
Don’t let the event run for more than an hour or so. Most first-time contest organizers underestimate how long the event will take. It’s much better to have a short schedule that produces a quick event than one that seems to drag on and on.
Go Skateboarding Day (GSD)
GSD has become the national day of skateboarding activism. It occurs every year on June 21st, the first day of Summer. Some communities engage in mild civil disobedience, and others hold events in skateparks. The nice thing about GSD is that it gets skaters out. You can use this movement to promote the skatepark effort, but unless you have a way of monetizing this excitement, your GSD event is probably better suited to advocacy and raising awareness than it is to raising funds. Check with your local skateshops before arranging your GSD event. They may have something planned, and there’s an opportunity to work together for a joint effort.
Raffles are easy and popular. Unlike most other fundraising events, raffles require something valuable that appeals to everyone. Raffles can be event-based (a single day), or they can be sustained over a longer period, like a month. The length of the raffle depends on the value of the raffle prize or prizes.
Raffles should be held at larger community events, like street fairs and celebrations, to expose the raffle and the skatepark cause to the most amount of people. (One group put their raffle tickets inside red helium-filled balloons so that you could see who else had a skatepark raffle ticket in the crowd.)
Be sure to check with other local nonprofits that have conducted raffles. There are certain legal requirements that you should investigate before you pursue this type of fundraising program.
Dunk tanks can be rented at most major party rental places. Most can be delivered to your event. (Renting a dunk tank will be money out, of course.) You can “dunk a skater” or recruit well-known members of your community to sit in the hot seat. If you find out that another group plans on having a dunk tank at a public event, you might propose “sub-leasing” the tank for an hour to specifically benefit the skatepark project. This gives them a break and reduces your costs.
Donation cards are pre-printed paper placards that hang in a store or restaurant indicating a donation. When a customer donates a dollar, they get a small paper card to write their name on (or whatever message they choose). That card is taped to the wall or window, or hung from a string along with all the others. Some groups use different card designs for different donation amounts. This encourages people to increase the amount they might otherwise give.
Tournaments, whether they’re poker, golf, skeeball, bowling, or basketball, are fun ways to associate skateboarding with non-skating activities. It may seem strange at first to use a bowling tournament to promote a skatepark, but that association has advocacy value. Charity tournaments raise money through entrance fees.
Tournaments require lots of volunteers and plenty of event management skills. If you’re unsure of what a charity tournament will require, start small and work your way into larger events later.
In spite of the massive preparation and resources required, tournaments can be lucrative. There are three major places to monetize the event: Entrance fee, sponsorship, and tickets. (Few people are going to pay to watch a bunch of skaters bowl badly, but if it’s a celebrity tournament, you’ll attract enough people to make a “suggested donation” entrance fee worth considering.)
Benefit Night & Charity Dinners
If a local restaurant is willing to help out, a special evening at their venue can be a nice way to bring donors and skatepark advocates together in a casual setting. Your benefit evening should include guest speakers and snacks (or even a full meal). If you don’t have a full evening of entertainment scheduled, keep the event short. If you have an “after-hour” option, people with other plans can leave without feeling guilty. Charity dinners monetize the event through a recommended donation to attend. Charity dinners will probably have a significant up-front cost so consider your attendance projections before you get too far into organizing the event.
Bake sales are easy and have a quality of being earnest. Cookies and cakes are easy and inexpensive to make, and finding donations shouldn’t be difficult. Unfortunately, bake sales don’t tend to yield much money. You can increase your return on investment by including some take-away awareness materials, encouraging patrons to support the skatepark project in other ways, and having a change jar handy. Bake sales have one interesting advantage in that they are widely perceived as very wholesome, earnest events. This can help soften the skatepark group’s image, if that’s a concern.
Painted-deck art shows are an easy and lucrative event that works well for skatepark fundraising. Skateboarding and visual art work well together, and painted boards are a fun way of bringing the two worlds together. They can be held in almost any kind of venue…restaurants and coffee shops, galleries and community centers. Art shows monetize the event by selling or auctioning the decks. Do your best to solicit work from established artists. You may have friends that are “artistic” that can do a fine job, but getting top-notch artists will yield higher profit margins.
Local artists should be happy to donate their work to the show. You will need to supply the blank decks for them to work with. There are some good deals online for unprinted blanks. This will require some money out, of course, but it shouldn’t be difficult to recoup your costs.
Movie Premieres and Screenings
Skate video premieres are typically awful fundraisers. One problem is that they appeal to local skaters (and skaters are usually broke), and the general public doesn’t generally want to sit through a skate movie with a bunch of loud, obnoxious teenage boys.
There are some good ways to fix this. Focus on movies that appeal to a broader audience. There are some skate flicks that have a broader appeal than others because they’re not as technical, and they don’t feature skaters doing similar tricks down the same rail over and over. (Try to look at the video from the eyes of a non-skater.) If you hold your premier or screening in local theater, you may incur some up-front costs. Premieres and screenings require a lot of promotion, so it’s great to present the event like a chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity. (“You’ll regret not going to this!”) One community had a locally-produced skate video premier and treated the local skaters from the film like stars—limo, red carpet, press—and the event was a huge success.
Every t-shirt you print and distribute is another person walking around with your message on their chest. T-shirts don’t produce a very attractive ROI, but they have other benefits. Namely, they give your organization shape and raise awareness. Unless you have the tools and skills to produce t-shirts yourself (and it’s not that difficult if you’re interested in learning), you will incur some up-front costs. Try to spend less than $5 a shirt total (combined cost of shirt and printing), and work with someone that is willing to produce smaller “runs” of shirts so that you don’t end up with a massive stock of XS shirts that you can’t get rid of. Your shirts are for a good cause, so you can expect a slightly higher donation in exchange. ($20 seems to be a typical amount.) If you’re feeling confident that you can unload them, you can also consider hoodies, hats, and even underwear.
One community partnered with a notable fashion designer to create their skatepark t-shirts. These were sold through the designer’s retail chain with the proceeds going toward the skatepark fund. This uncommon relationship produced a lot of press and public excitement. (This particular program netted almost $20,000 on its first day.) If you have celebrities with ties to your community, as this town did, don’t overlook some kind of fundraising partnership even if it seems an unlikely fit.
Almost every community group seems to do car washes. They’re cheap and easy, but they’re fun and boisterous. The more volunteers you can put together, the better. You’ll need a spot that has water that you can use. If you have electricity on site, you can also run a vacuum (if the patron wants it).
Pancake feeds don’t necessarily need to be about pancakes. You can cook up anything that everyone seems to like. Pancakes are cheap and easy to make. For a good pancake feed, you’ll either need a venue or portable cooking equipment and outdoor seating. A local catering company may be willing to donate their expertise and equipment to your event. Many skatepark advocates claim that their “pancake feeds” were their most lucrative fundraising events.
When you need a lot of money, you should be looking at grants. Grants are essentially financial gifts to your project. They don’t need to be paid back, provided you do exactly what you said you would do with the award.
Grants come in all sizes. Some grants might be as small as $1,000, and the largest ones are in the millions. Getting money from grants is challenging in two ways. The first obstacle is finding a grant that the skatepark project would qualify for. The second challenge is presenting this project in a way that is more attractive than all of the other proposals… and you don’t know who else is submitting an application or what their projects are. It’s a lot like a job opening that everyone wants.
1. Find the grant
2. Beat out the competition
The good news is that most foundations have a pool of money to split up among several proposals. It’s usually not a “winner take all” situation. For example, the Tony Hawk Foundation awards grants to more than a dozen skatepark projects every year.
There are lots of places to look for grants. In larger towns, the Parks Department may have personnel dedicated specifically for seeking and applying for grants. Working closely with this person, or people, by investigating grant opportunities online may produce some viable funding opportunities but also demonstrate that your group is willing to look under every rock.
There are two things to consider when applying for a grant. The first consideration is if the skatepark project meets the qualifications for the grant. Eligibility might include things like:
- Is it in a certain area?
- Does it service a particular people?
- Does it address a specific economic or social issue?
For example, a foundation that offers grants for gang intervention in urban areas probably would not be a good fit unless you had specific plans to include gang intervention programs at the skatepark, or know that the skatepark will be located in an active gang area. In other words, it would be a stretch.
These are technical eligibility requirements. There’s not a lot you can do to make your project eligible if it doesn’t already seem like a good fit. A skatepark project in Kentucky does not qualify for a grant that requires the project to be in Tennessee. Making an appeal to that foundation and hoping for an exception to this requirement by emphasizing the incredible qualities of your project ultimately wastes your time and theirs.
Once your project is eligible for a grant on technical terms, it is considered for its qualities. These are not “hard” characteristics that automatically qualify or disqualify you. These are the hard-to-quantify aspects of the skatepark and the community it serves. Qualities included in your grant application might include:
- What need is being served by your project?
- What accomplishments has your group earned so far?
- How will you use the grant award?
For example, a Utah State grant that focuses on developing recreational space to combat rising youth obesity rates seems like it would be a great opportunity for skatepark funding. Your project is in Utah and will provide a popular active recreational attraction for local youth. In the grant application there are opportunities to explain your project. You use this space to underscore the fitness aspects of the skatepark project. Even though you’ve used lots of different ways of describing the skatepark to members of your community, for this application you focus almost exclusively on the health benefits. This is a good opportunity for the skatepark.
Some typical places to look for grant opportunities are foundations with missions that address:
- Youth empowerment, activism, and inclusion
- Recreational or athletic fitness
- Recreational facility development
- Urban renewal
- Economic development
- Neighborhood improvement grants
In almost every case, the process for applying for a grant follows a specific process determined by the foundation. Most foundations have instructions on how to apply for a grant on their websites. Grants are never offered based solely on a plea letter, email, or video. It’s generally fine to contact a foundation to ask a specific question, but contacting them with general questions that are addressed on their website is going not going to help your group’s credibility. Do your research before you contact them.
Tony Hawk Foundation
The Tony Hawk Foundation offers skatepark grants. The application process is simple. The instructions can be found on tonyhawkfoundation.org under “apply for a grant.”
THF grants are offered twice a year: once in the Spring/Summer, and again in the Fall/Winter. The application is a questionnaire and submitted online. An application worksheet can be reviewed here. Before you apply, download and review the worksheet. It will show you what kind of information you will need to have in order to apply.
You are invited to contact the Tony Hawk Foundation with your questions about skatepark development or the THF skatepark grants. However, writing THF with a request that they build a skatepark in your town is not going to do anything. THF does not build skateparks.
To be eligible for a THF grant, your project must:
- Be in the U.S.
- May not have previously received a THF grant in excess of $1,000
- Service a town or neighborhood with a median household income lower than average
- Service a community that currently has no skatepark(s)
- Be free to the public, and owned/operated by a public agency
- Be a permanent facility (not portable ramps)
If your project qualifies, THF staff and its board of directors consider your project’s qualities:
- Involvement by the local skaters
- Amount of fundraising already done
- Degree of “public excitement” and community support
- Ambition and “vision” of the project
THF grants are awarded at three levels. Applications are awarded based on that semester’s available funds and the number of competitive applications.
The project does not meet THF’s eligibility requirements, OR…
The project is just starting out and needs more time to develop, OR…
The project does not meet the competitive degree of need as other projects in the same group.
$5,000 (challenge grant)
The project is terrific but may have a few wrinkles that can be addressed during the development process.
The project is wonderful in every way. It is ambitious, inspired, and exceeds every qualification. (This level is generally reserved for only one or two projects per grant semester.)