Fundraising for a Skatepark

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, fundraising is really the time to roll up your sleeves and get ready to work.

Fundraising to build a skatepark not only includes raising cash, but 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 will need. The size of the skatepark and money for 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 20 and 25 US dollars per square foot to build. That works out to approximately 270 US dollars per square meter.

This cost usually includes all design and construction services, including labor and materials. The average skatepark is approximately ten thousand square feet. Eight thousand square feet being the absolute minimum any community should consider. To figure square footage you multiply the length of the area times the width of the area.

Spending Money to Make Money

One of the first financial decisions that a committee will have to make is how money raised during the fundraising campaign will be spent. Many skatepark committees decide from the beginning that they have a no money out policy. This means that they do not spend money on anything that is not directly related to the construction of the skatepark.

This takes more imagination and doing a lot of scrounging for funds and materials to carry out fundraising events. But it also means that the park will get completed faster. With the exception of multi-million dollar projects, avoid the temptation to hire a promotional consultant or a professional fundraiser. Most of the time they will do no more than what you can do yourself.

Always Invite the Dignitaries

Use fundraisers 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 that 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 members of the city council or other politicians, 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 a two very important parts of fundraising that you need to know. First, it is very important to establish your group as a non-profit organization with Internal Revenue Service 501c(3) status or to link your group with a nonprofit organization with this status. This will make all donations to your organization tax deductible. Second, tell people that 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 fundraising effort. Receipts in a skatepark project can take two forms. First, there are simple receipts that the youth and adult committee members could provide for small donations during scheduled fundraisers. Secondly, are receipts that take the form of a thank you letter that is reserved for more major contributions. If possible, the letter should be printed on the letterhead of your non-profit umbrella organization. For the personal touch that brings the donors back, also included 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 is 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 that you can make a business or individual feel about their donation, the more likely they are to help in the future.

Starting the Fundraising 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 that they will receive as the result of sponsoring a beneficial public crusade. 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 that is a cement contractor, a structural engineer or even on the city council, and may be able to get materials or time donated or at a reduced rate. Remember to solicit donations from all the business owners that signed the petition of support.

The Wish List

Many people that you talk to about the skatepark will be interested in your project and express interest in helping in some way. Yet, you cannot ask most of these people for the thousands of dollars it will take to build the park. Therefore, it is 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 fundraising campaign, a local company that produced dimensional lumber (2 x 4's, 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 cannot 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 seeming ingratitude may spread between business owners.

Grants from Foundations

Who gets a grant and why? The only people that can tell you for sure are the reviewers that select grant recipients. All other answers are guesswork at best. When I asked members of grant panels about their selection criteria I was often told they liked the project under consideration, felt it had merit, or believed the group capable of accomplishing what they were undertaking. Upon digging a little deeper, the answers became more varied and seemed to boil down to an application feeling right.

Opportunities for grants come in all shapes and sizes. Some will not provide for capital expenditures, others are interested in only 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 is important to be aware of the foundations that might support you and the changes they are experiencing. Do not rely on the philosophy that if you throw out enough applications you are bound to get something. This is probably too much work and will not gain you anymore 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. Do not 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 experience that might be willing to volunteer.

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 does not mean that you cannot get many products like t-shirts or other promotional gear for fundraisers or a grand opening celebration. Rather, it is simply unrealistic to expect that a skate company will want to fund a skatepark when they have no control over the outcome. If skate industry players really want a park, they will just build their own.

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 is 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 the Skating Industry

Just because the companies involved in the skate industry are reluctant to send cash to support a skatepark does not mean that they will not come through with gear to help with fundraisers, a grand opening and similar events. Some of these companies have a policy of only bundling promotional items with an order. Yet, other companies will simply make donations of promotional items outright. Most all of these companies have a promotions agent that is responsible for corporate donations. This person often manages the company skate team as well. This is the person that 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 is 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 hardcopy 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 fundraising event, be sure that 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 Fundraising Events

For local skaters, fundraising comes with good news and bad news. The good news is that 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 fundraising 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 fundraiser as a promotional tool for the campaign as a whole. Then it will attract more money. Guaranteed. View fundraising 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 fundraising ideas that can be used with success. The "Top Ten" list of fundraising efforts I have chosen involved the motivation, work and support of both youth and adult skatepark committee members. 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 is a good way to make money. This group of skaters borrowed a truck and flat bed 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 5 to 10 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 when the committee redeemed the deposit on several thousand cans and bottles.

Dunk Tank

Every town has a carnival or celebration for one reason or another. Some groups take the opportunity to place a dunk tank at this kind of event. You know, a dunk tank is where someone sits on a plank suspended over a tank of water and people pay money to throw baseballs at a target to dunk the person into the water. This is fun and a major success, especially when you can convince schoolteachers or other school personnel to take their turns.

Donation Jars

In this instance about thirty businesses allowed a skatepark committee to place donation jars by their cash registers. All they had to do was to go to the business owners or managers, explain the cause, and ask for permission. The volunteer coordinator along with committee members emptied the jars at a set time every week. When the jars were emptied, a new packet of flyers about the skatepark was also delivered. The business community really bought into this fundraising event because it offered continual recognition of their support and didn't cost them anything except a little counter space.

Skate Calendars

This committee published a calendar that covered the projected time of fundraising and construction of the park. Each page included a collage of pictures of local skaters. Each month another group of local youth was shown skating at a "prohibited" location. In each instance, they convinced the posted spot to let them have a one-hour photo shoot. Everyone approached was quite cooperative, because it was one step closer to the youth having a skatepark that was perceived as the end to illegal skating. The pictures of local youth are what really sold the calendar.

Mothers Day Bar-B-Que

Talk about catching the community off-guard. This skatepark committee held a bar-b-que on Mothers Day at a local library/community center. The library donated the space. They had skate videos playing in the auditorium, held skating demonstrations, had a clinic to teach new skaters the basics of skating, and a table to complete skateboard repairs in the parking lot. In addition, they had free hot dogs, hamburgers and lots of other food that was all donated by a local grocery. This event brought in numerous donations from very happy parents, which even included a ten thousand dollar check that the mayor brought on behalf of the city.

Silent Auction

Silent charity auctions are good fundraisers and have the added benefit of being a lot of fun. Start by distributing flyers to local artists and businesses asking for items to be donated. Collect the items, and in some instances combine them to make more attractive packages of donations. Then hold a silent auction party.

During the party, individuals who attend silently bid on the items by placing her or his name on a sheet with the amount of the bid. In one instance the skatepark committee invited professional skateboarders to do demonstrations in the parking lot and set up a room where individuals could watch skate videos. They also piped in music and had light snacks. A local printing company offered to do the lay-up for the invitations and donated the printing costs.

Skate Competition

In this community, members of a local church were upset by the damage that skateboarders were doing to the church by skating on their benches and other property. Well, church leaders were so excited by the idea of skaters having their own facility (away from their property) that they let the committee have a skateboard festival in the parking lot. The committee obtained permission by calling the pastor and explaining that they needed a place to hold a controlled skateboard competition and demonstration.

Before the request was made, they developed a specific time schedule, planned the structured competition format and had the volunteers ready to follow the plan. The skatepark committee requested the city provide insurance for the event, which they agreed to do. Again, never be afraid to ask for what you need.

Early on the morning of the event, the committee drove to various skateboarders houses and collected all of the wooden ramps and obstacles that they could find. Then they placed these obstacles around the church parking lot.

By ten o'clock, music was pumping, there was free skating at the makeshift skatepark and skate videos were playing in the church auditorium. Like church, the donation box made the usual appearance. In the afternoon was a formal competition with a five-dollar donation as entry fee. The local skate shop awarded prizes. By late afternoon things were all cleaned up and everyone was happy.

Donations of Portions of Sales

At different times over the life of a grassroots fundraising campaign, this organization convinced three separate businesses to give a percentage of their sales toward the skatepark. On multiple nights a local pizza restaurant donated 15% of their gross sales to the skatepark. The committee, in turn, would schedule meetings at the pizza place that evening and invite friends and family. The pizza place made more income than usual and the committee got a portion of the profits.

Once word hit the local newspaper, (media attention was planned) an auto dealership offered to donate twenty dollars per car sold during the months of construction. Not wanting to be outdone, a national tire chain then offered to chip in five dollars for every set of tires sold during that same period. Examine the potential in your own community for these types of events and use your imagination. Again, parents and supportive adults are a great way to access the business community. Many of these people own or manage their own business and may be in a position to donate portions of their proceeds to the skatepark project.

Letter Writing Campaign

Toward the end of construction of this park, the committee found that funds were running short. Because of the rapid progress of the construction it was expected that funds might run out before the park was finished. Summer was fast approaching, and it was feared that if the funds were not available to complete the entire project, the construction team might disband, and it would be difficult to get them back again. In a last ditch effort to raise funds the youth committee organized a letter writing campaign.

The campaign was grassroots. With some quick calculating they estimated that the project would need an extra thirty thousand dollars. This meant that 500 individuals had to give $60 each. Sixty dollars is roughly the price of a yard of concrete. The $60 from 500 people was the focus of the fundraising letter. Potential donors were gleaned from the mailing list maintained by the committee and by their umbrella non-profit agency. The letter writing campaign was successful in procuring the funds needed to finish the park on schedule. Not only because it was a worthy cause, but also the committee brought the level of financial commitment down to the point that almost anyone could help out.

Time to Hit the Fundraising Trail

When it comes to funding a community skatepark there are no easy answers. More than anything it requires a tremendous amount of time and effort in order to be successful. Consequently, it is the time during which many projects languish for years, or simply fall apart. For that reason it is important to enlist the help of anyone that is willing to assist and work in an organized fashion to achieve your goal. Try to accomplish fundraising in the shortest amount of time possible, preferably over the course of one school year or less. If possible, reserve all funds for skatepark design and construction. Soon will come the sweet success of being able to design, build and ultimately ride a skatepark that you helped to make a reality.

Written by Anthony Gembeck

Reproduced by permission of TransWorld Skateboarding Business Magazine