Grassroots fundraising is any kind of money-generating effort, led by the public or a volunteer organization, that focuses on drawing money from the community and non-governmental businesses. Most people think of bake sales and car washes, but grassroots fundraising is used to raise millions of dollars for presidential campaigns. Just because it’s “grassroots” doesn’t mean that it has to be small.
You will want to call a fundraising strategy meeting with the core group, or even with the more diverse skatepark advisory committee. At this meeting you will outline the community’s fundraising stake, be it $5,000 or $500,000. Your first fundraising meeting will lay out some broad strokes for where the money might come from. It will also have some qualities of a pep rally. An enthusiastic fundraising team is going to be more effective than a group that is discouraged by the epic task ahead of them.
Your pep rally portion should focus on supporting those personality characteristics that make individuals effective spokespersons. Many people are uncomfortable meeting with the public, and equate asking for money to “begging.” (It’s humiliating.) To be an effective grassroots fundraiser, you and participating members of your group need to embrace these qualities:
- We enjoy talking to people, even if it’s about money
- Local youth deserve a skatepark
- The occasional “No” is inevitable
- This is an invitation to share a success story
- We know our material and are ready to do this
- The skatepark is inevitable; it WILL happen
- People give to people. Keep your message about the people, not about the facility.
The last item in this list bears expanding. Whenever you can, underscore the benefits of the skatepark project by linking it to a personal story, or to a specific person. The skatepark is a place to skate, for example, but the important thing is WHO is skating there. It’s about the person, not the facility.
Most of your volunteers will be talking about the skatepark project to their friends, families, and general public. The more practice you have, the better you get at it. The smallest skatepark presentation you can give is known as an “elevator pitch.” It’s a description of your organization and its mission delivered in about as much time as an elevator ride. Your elevator pitch will be useful for all of the times you’ll be out in the public eye representing the skatepark mission.
The skatepark is about the person and not the facility.
There is a well-documented study that looked at charitable giving. Researchers found that a pamphlet with a picture of ONE hungry child produced more donations than the same pamphlet with a picture of a GROUP of hungry children. It’s because people find it easier to empathize with an individual than with a group. Think about this as you prepare your fundraising materials.
The rubber hits the road when you begin discussing the specific dollars that you intend to raise. For simplicity, let’s presume that you intend to raise $100,000. You won’t raise it all through any one program or event; you will earn a little here and a little there. Eventually, you’ll meet your goal.
Tiered Fundraising Strategy
A good approach to fundraising is to start small and work up to larger donations as you gain experience and influence in your community. You cannot reasonably expect that a small number of donors will meet your fundraising goals. It will take lots of people contributing to achieve success. To reach all of those potential donors, you will need to provide opportunity for them to donate. Those opportunities will come through a series of events and programs.
A six-tier fundraising model is a reasonable place to start. You will tweak this model to suit your interests and capabilities over time. Each tier in this fundraising strategy leverages the successes of the previous tier. For example, your in-kind donations can be used to demonstrate popular support when you engage in other grassroots fundraising events. Later, photos from your grassroots events can be used to open hearts (and wallets) from local businesses. Your fundraising success grows as each tier in this fundraising model is pursued.
Each tier in this fundraising model is maintained while you expand your scope to include the next tier in the model. For example, you will start by seeking in-kind donations. After you have established some success in soliciting in-kind donations, you can leverage these while you pursue your grassroots fundraising events and programs. However, throughout the grassroots fundraising stage, you will continue to solicit in-kind donations. In other words, each tier does not replace the previous tier but rather adds to the scope of your fundraising effort. As you near the mid-point of your fundraising goal you should be seeking donations from all six sources.
1. In-Kind Donations
In-kind donations are items and services that individuals and companies may donate to the skatepark project. A great in-kind donation would be construction materials that would come in handy during skatepark construction, but this is rare. What you will probably receive are items and services that do not relate directly to the skatepark. You should accept these donations graciously and use them to “trade up” to the kinds of materials you specifically need, or turn them into cash. (Cash is king.)
For example, a local pizzeria may donate 10 pizzas to the skatepark project. You might raffle these off or use them to feed attendees at a fundraising event.
About 16% of all skatepark fundraising efforts successfully solicit in-kind donations for their projects. The average total value of these in-kind donations is $28,000.
2. Grassroots Fundraising
Grassroots fundraising are those community-run events that solicit funds from the general public, usually in a public place. Car washes, t-shirt sales, coin-drives or jars, and raffles are all typical grassroots fundraising programs. Grassroots fundraising is the go-to for most skatepark groups. The advantage of this kind of fundraising campaign is that the activity also raises local awareness about the skatepark and puts a human face on the effort. It also provides an opportunity for campaign organizers to recruit and activate local skateboarders that may be looking for ways to lend their support.
On average, about 77% of all skatepark groups rely on grassroots funding as part of their total fundraising effort. Although this activity does not tend to yield much money—only about $27,000 on average—the awareness-building benefits are immeasurable. Grassroots fundraising produces tangible advances in your skatepark effort than mere cash.
3. Business Cash Solicitations
Asking for cash from local businesses is tricky. Retail businesses are struggling across the nation, and those that appear to be doing well are often allocating all of their profits into various investments. In other words, it’s unlikely you’ll find a local business with piles of money sitting around waiting for a proposal like yours. If you are able to get cash from a local business, it will probably be a token amount on par with what you might expect from an individual or family.
You should look to businesses for in-kind donations instead of cash. Businesses that handle products, such as retail shops, distributors, and manufacturers, can deduct the value of their product donations from their taxes. Companies that provide services, such as house-cleaning, restaurants, and windshield-repair, may benefit from tax-deduction as well. (There are stipulations in the national tax-code about write-offs for services.)
Business cash donations, on average, are successfully reached by 25% of all skatepark fundraising groups. It’s important to note that their average contribution, when they DO contribute, is only $17,000. It is the smallest amount of average contribution among all the six tiers. For that reason we recommend that you do not spend a significant amount of energy on business cash solicitations and, instead, encourage those businesses to contribute in-kind.
4. Service Organizations
This category can be a bit difficult to define. Service organizations are those nonprofits active in your area that promote some aspect of public service. This service might focus on improving quality of life, public health and wellness, environmental sustainability, historical preservation, and so on. Service organizations can also be fraternal groups united by some altruistic principle. The Rotary Club, for example, has chapters in many American cities. Rotary’s mission is to provide a social networking platform for members, promote ethical business practices, and encourage service-guided principles among their individual, organizational, and business members.
Some examples of service organizations that may be active in your area: Rotary Club, Elks Club, Fraternal Order of Eagles (FOE), Altrusa, Boys & Girls Club, Boy Scouts of America, Masons, Lions Club, Oddfellows, Shriners, Kiwanis.
Service organizations are great sources of support. Not only are their members committed to public service and charitable work, but they are often well-connected to other resources within the community. It is recommended that you spend time fostering ongoing relationships with the service organizations active in your community.
About 45% of all skatepark fundraising groups indicate that they’ve received financial assistance from local service organizations. The average contribution to each project is $38,000.
5. City or Parks Budget Allocation
These are funds that are earmarked for specific uses within the City or Parks budgets. It takes time to achieve the kind of support within your community for the City (or Parks) to allocate a significant amount to the skatepark project. Most cities will wait for the skatepark advocacy group to demonstrate a significant amount of public support and commitment to fundraising before they will consider allocating money from the general fund to the skatepark. Having the skatepark identified in a long-term master plan, (or comprehensive plan), can improve your case for a larger financial stake from the city.
Municipalities everywhere are struggling to make ends meet. Savvy skatepark fundraising groups realize that a city is unlikely to contribute to the skatepark fund until there is significant momentum and support for the project.
When city funds are used for the skatepark, it can change the way you talk about the project among your community. If, in your advocacy, you have been claiming that no tax-dollars would be used to create the facility, relying on general city funds would be contrary to this promise. When negotiating a city-stake for the skatepark, take caution that doing so won’t damage your credibility among your other donors.
City governments contribute to nearly half of all skatepark projects (46%). The average contribution is $99,000.
6. County, State, Federal Funds, and National Grants
Donations from national organizations and larger governmental bodies are fiercely competitive, but they can also inject massive amounts of cash into your project. Money from these sources are nearly always provided in the form of grants. Most grants require a formal application or application process. Sometimes this process can demand attention, resources, and coordination between your group, the applying agency (often your local Parks Department), and your fiscal sponsor.
Most skatepark groups seek funds at this level but only about 15% are rewarded with donations. When they are awarded, the average contribution is $142,000.
Who pays for the skatepark, and how do they pay for it?
This is a huge question that will take time to answer. In the earliest stages, your Parks Department may resolutely declare that they have no money and that they are happy to create a skatepark if the skateboarders can pay for it. There’s a good chance that the Parks Department expects the skaters to walk away dejected, never to be seen again.
A lot of skatepark efforts end the first time they hear “no.”
Let’s presume that the city can’t afford the skatepark, and they expect the skateboarders to pay for the facility. In other words, the city is expecting the skateboarding community to raise the funds and pay for the facility, then essentially donate it to the city to manage. This can be considered a counter-offer to the hope that the city will pay for the facility outright.
Most skateparks are funded through a partnership between the skateboarding community, the city (and/or Parks Department), and outside sources. The percentage that each source will be expected to donate to the skatepark fund is really what you are trying to determine.
Let’s start with a funding strategy where the skateboarding community funds 100% of the total skatepark budget. (There are even cases where the city not only expects the skaters to pay for the facility’s creation, but also to raise funds for an ongoing M&O budget.) The problem with this scheme is that there’s little reason for the skaters to establish a partnership with the city at all. Why should they? The city has no stake in the facility and, after the facility is finished, can just as easily close it for any reason or impose unreasonable policies without the skater’s input.
In arrangements where the skateboarding community is expected to raise 100% of the funds for design and construction, the city will typically provide structural assistance and project management.
Now let’s look at the polar opposite funding scenario where the city pays for the entire facility and the skateboarding community contributes nothing. The city has no reason to consult the skateboarding community on matters of location, construction material, or design. Situations like this have led to the nation’s worst skateparks. When the skaters have no financial stake, they may get a “free” skatepark, but it’s almost certainly going to suck. These skateparks are often removed after a few years due to rising maintenance costs and apparent disinterest from the skateboarding community.
Both extremes have critical flaws. The best scenario lies in some sort of compromise. Let’s start with the simplest compromise: The skaters supply 50% and the city supplies 50%. That seems equitable, but what will happen is that the city will identify funding sources for their 50% stake by looking at grants, money from the general fund, or any money that may be allocated specifically for capital improvements. Because they’re dealing with municipal-scale amounts, finding $200,000 is not prohibitively difficult. When we check in with the skaters, we see them distributing coin jars, selling t-shirts, and doing car washes. The city may be able to raise their $200,000 stake within a year, but the skaters are going to take forever to raise their stake.
The fairest balance is when both entities, the skaters and the city, can meet their funding obligation at about the same time. On average, skaters can typically raise between 10–20% of the total skatepark preliminary budget. This amount happens to coincide with the cost of skatepark design services. Smaller, less expensive skateparks should burden the skateboarders with a higher percentage, while larger, more expensive skateparks would require a smaller percentage of the funds to come through grassroots fundrasing.
Within the overall cost of skatepark development there is a convenient relationship between costs associated with design, and those associated with construction. That relationship is about a 15% to 85% relationship. It can be as low as 10% to 90%, or as high as 20% to 80%. There are lots of factors that can influence this ratio. The larger consideration is that the skateboarding community might agree to raise the funds for design fees if the city will raise funds to manage construction. This is an equitable distribution of funding responsibility. Because the design comes first, the onus is on the skateboarders to demonstrate their commitment before the city is required to show any participation. While this may seem unfair to skaters, it’s an arrangement that cities will find more amenable than having the skaters request 100% funding from the city.
The skaters’ stake can be achieved through grassroots fundraising or by soliciting in-kind donations. Grassroots fundraising basically means any kind of community-operated fundraising event or program. Collecting change outside of the grocery store, bake sales, and raffles are all examples of grassroots fundraising events. In-kind donations are donations of materials or professional services. For example, if the skaters are able to have $5,000 worth of rebar donated (an in-kind donation) to the project, that’s $5,000 less that they have to raise washing cars and selling t-shirts (grassroots fundraising).
The same is true for the city. If the city is going to raise 80% of the skatepark funds, they’ll be looking at funding sources that can meet these larger numbers. The city employees won’t be out in front of grocery stores asking for change. They’ll be applying for grants, looking at their budgets, and seeing if there is any place that they can free up money. These are all things that the skateboarding community can’t easily do because they either lack the structure for applying or the awareness that the funding is available. In other words, in order to apply for a state grant, you need to be aware that the state grant exists, and know how to apply for it.