Funding a skatepark at the grassroots level.

“We learned that when our community is given the opportunity to participate in projects, the success is sweeter. This community has learned that when the people who benefit from a project are owners in bringing it to life, that the result has more value.”

Don Kalberg, Mayor of St. Helens, Oregon

If the city where you live is willing to donate the land and pay to have a skatepark built without donations from the private sector, then you truly have it made. However, in most instances it is the interest and support from the private sector that will help to start and keep the ball rolling. So fund-raising is really the time to roll up your sleeves and get ready to work. Fund-raising to build a skatepark not only includes raising cash, but it also includes identifying the materials and skilled labor that will be needed, and seeking donations or reductions in the costs of these materials. A short list of materials that you will need includes rebar, concrete, fill material, gravel, forming lumber, railing, fencing, picnic tables, trash cans, and landscaping materials.

How Much Skatepark Can You Afford?

The first thing you must decide is how large a skatepark you plan to build and how much money you’ll need. The size of the skatepark and money for the park are completely dependent on each other. Either the money you raise will determine the size of your skatepark, or the size of the skatepark you want will determine how much money you need to raise and the amount per square foot. Skateparks currently cost somewhere between twelve and 25 dollars per square foot to build. This cost usually includes all design and construction services, including labor and materials. The average skatepark is approximately 10,000 square feet. Eight-thousand square feet is the absolute minimum any community should consider. To figure square footage, multiply the length of the area times the width of the area.

Spending Money To Make Money

One of the first financial decisions a committee will have to make is how money raised during the fund-raising campaign will be spent. Many skatepark committees decide from the beginning that they have a “no money out” policy. This means they don’t spend money on anything not directly related to the construction of the skatepark. This approach takes more imagination and doing a lot of scrounging for funds and materials to carry out fund-raising events. But it also means the park will be completed faster. With the exception of multimillion-dollar projects, avoid the temptation to hire a promotional consultant or a professional fund-raiser. Most of the time they will do no more than what you can do yourself.

Always Invite The Dignitaries

Use fund-raisers as a chance to involve prominent members of the business community or the city council. Both will welcome the chance to have their names associated with a popular cause like a community skatepark. Usually, getting a dignitary to show up at an event is as easy as asking. Give them notice well in advance with a specific schedule of the event. Include the time you would like them to arrive, and let them know in advance if you will be asking them to speak. Follow up with a phone call to confirm their arrival, and then include the fact that a dignitary will be present in your press release announcing the event. When the dignitaries are politicians or members of the city council, it is advisable to submit a final copy of the press release to them or their office for review before submitting it for publication.

Tax-Exempt Status And Receipts

There are two very important aspects of fund-raising that you need to know: First, establish your group as a nonprofit organization with Internal Revenue Service 501c(3) status, or link your group with a nonprofit organization with this status. This will makall donations to your organization tax deductible. Second, tell people you are a tax-exempt nonprofit organization and provide them with receipts to be used when doing their taxes. Tax receipts are a very important part of any fund-raising effort. Receipts for a skatepark project can take two forms. First, there are simple receipts that the youth and adult committee members can provide for small donations during scheduled fund-raisers. Second are receipts that take the form of thank-you letters and are reserved for more major contributions. If possible, the letter should be printed on the letterhead of your nonprofit umbrella organization. For the personal touch that brings the donors back, also include a separate, handwritten note with each letter-length tax receipt. Have the youth and adult skatepark-committee members sign this more personal note.

Overall, it is extremely important to thank each small and large donor, and to give them as much recognition as possible. It’s easy to underestimate how often businesses get asked for cash or material donations, and how often they get little if anything in return. The better you can make a business or individual feel about their donation, the more likely they are to help in the future.

Starting The Fund-Raising Campaign

Establishing Contacts

The less a skatepark costs the city, the more attractive the project will appear, and the better your chances of success will be. Make a list of potential private donors and contact them. Stress the promotion and free advertising they will receive as the result of sponsoring a beneficial public facility. Always thank donors in a timely manner and always follow through on promises regarding promotion and advertising. Parent and adult connections are really important now. They may know someone who is a cement contractor, a structural engineer, or even on the city council. Perhaps they or those they know are willing to donate time or materials, or maybe they know how to procure materials at a reduced rate. Remember to solicit donations from all the business owners who signed the petition of support.

The Wish List

Many people who you talk to about the skatepark will be interested in your project and express interest in helping in some way,yet you can’t ask most of these people for the thousands of dollars it will take to build the park. For this reason it’s helpful to have a wish list that details some of the materials and services that will be needed to complete the skatepark. For many individuals, materials and/or services will be easier to donate than cash. During one fund-raising campaign, a local company that produced dimensional lumber (two-by-fours, etc.) balked at donating cash. But when the skatepark committee produced a wish list that included an estimate of the lumber needed to construct the park, the materials were delivered the next day.

Some stores that can’t donate a penny without the approval of corporate headquarters can routinely make donations of materials without this approval. But you must identify these companies and seek these donations; the companies will probably not come looking for you. Start by developing an in-kind donor sheet to list potential contributors, ask for what you need, record any donations on a donation¿recognition list, and send a thank-you letter and tax receipt. Avoid the tendency to put off sending thank-you letters and tax receipts to donors. You may need to approach some of the companies again in the future, and word of your lack of gratitude may spread to other business owners.

Grants From Foundations

Who gets a grant and why? The only people who can tell you for sure are the reviewers who select grant recipients. All other answers are guesswork at best. When I asked members of grant panels about projcts that passed their selection criteria, I was often told that if they liked the project under consideration, felt it had merit, or believed the group capable of accomplishing what they were undertaking, the grant would get approved.

Opportunities for grants come in all shapes and sizes. Some will not provide for capital expenditures, others are only interested in helping with the final tasks of a worthy project. The best advice is to do your research. From year to year, foundations and agencies open and close, cut budgets, increase budgets, and change their interests. It’s important to be aware of the foundations that might support you and the changes they are experiencing. Don’t rely on the philosophy that if you throw out enough applications, you’re bound to get something. This is probably too much work and will not gain you any more support than if you target certain foundations that have a history of funding similar projects. Potential targets include foundations that fund projects in your local area (county or state) or that are focused on youth or community development. Most libraries have books that list foundations, their funding interests, contact information, and past funding histories. Don’t be afraid to call the foundations to explore their interest in funding a project like yours. They are typically willing to talk to you. In the end, grant-writing experience is often needed to write a successful grant. Explore the backgrounds of individuals involved with your project. Ask around to find someone who has some grant-writing experience who might be willing to volunteer.

Local Business And Corporate Donations Plus Recognition

One of the first ideas to emerge among most groups is to approach companies in the skateboard industry for cash donations. I mean, who better than skateboard companies to fund skateparks? I know of committees that have followed up that logic with faxes, letters, and hundreds of dollars in long-distance phone calls. In almost every instance this led nowhere. This doesn’t mean you can’t get many products like T-shirts or other promotional gear for fund-raisers or a grand-opening celebration. Rather, it’s simply unrealistic to expect that a skate company will want to fund a skatepark that it has no control over.

First, realize that most skate companies get hundreds of calls a week from groups asking for money to build a skatepark. The number is often so great that it is not even feasible to send promotional items to them all. Unless you have deep connections, my advice is to leave the big guys alone until you need prizes for competitions, raffles, or a grand opening. Raise money for the construction of your skatepark at home. Concentrate on companies or corporations in your own backyard. Local companies have much more to gain by the daily recognition of their philanthropy within the local community.

In addition to thank-you letters for donations from local businesses and corporations, it’s a good idea to outline what else is in it for them. Often, skatepark committees decide to offer permanent recognition to any sponsor that provides significant funds. This can be accomplished with donor walls, plaques, tiles, or inscribed bricks. Many public buildings have donor-recognition areas,check them out for ideas, and choose what will work best.

Donations From Companies In The Skateboard Industry

Just because the companies involved in the skate industry are reluctant to send cash to support a skatepark doesn’t mean they won’t come through with gear to help with fund-raisers, a grand opening, and similar events. Some of these companies have a policy of only bundling promotional items with an order. But, other companies will simply make donations of promotional items outright. Most all of these companies have a promotions agent who is responsible for corporate donations. This person often manages the company skate team as well. This is the person you want to approaria, I was often told that if they liked the project under consideration, felt it had merit, or believed the group capable of accomplishing what they were undertaking, the grant would get approved.

Opportunities for grants come in all shapes and sizes. Some will not provide for capital expenditures, others are only interested in helping with the final tasks of a worthy project. The best advice is to do your research. From year to year, foundations and agencies open and close, cut budgets, increase budgets, and change their interests. It’s important to be aware of the foundations that might support you and the changes they are experiencing. Don’t rely on the philosophy that if you throw out enough applications, you’re bound to get something. This is probably too much work and will not gain you any more support than if you target certain foundations that have a history of funding similar projects. Potential targets include foundations that fund projects in your local area (county or state) or that are focused on youth or community development. Most libraries have books that list foundations, their funding interests, contact information, and past funding histories. Don’t be afraid to call the foundations to explore their interest in funding a project like yours. They are typically willing to talk to you. In the end, grant-writing experience is often needed to write a successful grant. Explore the backgrounds of individuals involved with your project. Ask around to find someone who has some grant-writing experience who might be willing to volunteer.

Local Business And Corporate Donations Plus Recognition

One of the first ideas to emerge among most groups is to approach companies in the skateboard industry for cash donations. I mean, who better than skateboard companies to fund skateparks? I know of committees that have followed up that logic with faxes, letters, and hundreds of dollars in long-distance phone calls. In almost every instance this led nowhere. This doesn’t mean you can’t get many products like T-shirts or other promotional gear for fund-raisers or a grand-opening celebration. Rather, it’s simply unrealistic to expect that a skate company will want to fund a skatepark that it has no control over.

First, realize that most skate companies get hundreds of calls a week from groups asking for money to build a skatepark. The number is often so great that it is not even feasible to send promotional items to them all. Unless you have deep connections, my advice is to leave the big guys alone until you need prizes for competitions, raffles, or a grand opening. Raise money for the construction of your skatepark at home. Concentrate on companies or corporations in your own backyard. Local companies have much more to gain by the daily recognition of their philanthropy within the local community.

In addition to thank-you letters for donations from local businesses and corporations, it’s a good idea to outline what else is in it for them. Often, skatepark committees decide to offer permanent recognition to any sponsor that provides significant funds. This can be accomplished with donor walls, plaques, tiles, or inscribed bricks. Many public buildings have donor-recognition areas,check them out for ideas, and choose what will work best.

Donations From Companies In The Skateboard Industry

Just because the companies involved in the skate industry are reluctant to send cash to support a skatepark doesn’t mean they won’t come through with gear to help with fund-raisers, a grand opening, and similar events. Some of these companies have a policy of only bundling promotional items with an order. But, other companies will simply make donations of promotional items outright. Most all of these companies have a promotions agent who is responsible for corporate donations. This person often manages the company skate team as well. This is the person you want to approach by telephone.

The first thing to remember is that he or she probably gets hundreds of calls every week from people just like you, so be prepared to tell them how your event is different, or what exactly they can expect in return for their goods. Start by explaining your plans for the promotion of your event. Is the media invited? Will there be newspaper, radio, and television coverage, or a live Web broadcast? Tell them how you intend to include their company within that plan. It’s best to write out your script before you make the call until you get to be a professional telemarketer. While you have these individuals on the phone, ask if their companies have any sponsored-amateur or professional skaters living in your area, and if they would consider sending them out (free of charge) if the right event were organized.

In most instances, the promotions agent will request a flyer or other hard copy to verify the event. Be prepared to fax this information along with a copy of the 501c(3) form that verifies you are a nonprofit organization. In this way their donations will be tax deductible. Finally, if a skate company provides you with product for a fund-raising event, be sure the donation goes toward the cause. Under no circumstances keep or sell the items for your personal gain. Not only is that bad karma, it could potentially jeopardize a company’s willingness to assist with projects in the future.

Youth Fund-Raising Events

For local skaters, fund-raising comes with good news and bad news. The good news is most municipalities do not expect skatepark committees to fund an entire skatepark by themselves. What they do expect is a concept called “sweat equity,” whereby a group demonstrates the need for something by actively pursuing the goal before the city steps in to assist. Now for the bad news,many youth-oriented fund-raising events are perceived to range from silly to moderately humiliating. Which only means when you do it, make the effort worth your while. No amount of car washing is going to buy you a skatepark, so don’t focus on the numbers. Use that fund-raiser as a promotional tool for the campaign as a whole. It will attract more money, guaranteed. View fund-raising efforts as media events. This, more than anything else, will serve to spread information about the skatepark project to a larger audience.

There are undoubtedly thousands of fund-raising ideas that can be used with success. The “top ten” list of fund-raising efforts I have chosen involved the motivation, work, and support of both youth and adult skatepark committee members. Be careful not to judge these efforts harshly, as each of these communities now has a free public skatepark to session.

Car Wash

What can I tell you? Buckets, water, soap, sunshine, and location, location, location. All of these items can be gathered from the homes of youth and adult skatepark committee members. Choose a high-traffic area. Fast-food restaurants adjacent to the highway work great. Many businesses donate their parking lots for these events. In some instances they even provide free food and drinks to keep the volunteers motivated.

Bottle Drive

This sounds simple, and it’s a good way to make money. A group of skaters borrowed a flatbed truck from the city (driven by a city employee who donated his time) and hit the streets. They knocked on doors and asked residents to donate their refundable drink cans and bottles to the cause. Then they took them to the local center to redeem for cash. In some states these are worth five to ten cents each. In many instances, people who did not have bottles or cans would be so impressed that they would just donate some cash. Always carry tax receipts for such an occasion. The only disappointed people at the end of the day were the folks in line behind the committee when they redeemed the deposits on several-thousand cans and bottles.

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