There are two kinds of bowlers – those who wouldn’t miss the opportunity to play every week and those who bowl once in a blue moon just for fun. The goal of any successful bowlathon fundraiser is to merge these two groups and make money by asking bowlers to pledge a minimum amount and raise additional funds to be eligible for fundraising prizes.
In south central Pennsylvania, Furry Friends Network (FFN), an all-volunteer animal rescue group, throws an annual bowling bash in late winter aimed at raising much-needed dollars to support the organization.
Each bowler pays a minimum $40 registration fee and if he or she wishes collects pledges beyond that amount. FFN offers a T-shirt for those coming in at the $80 mark. Currently their “Strikes for Strays” bowlathon results in a net of more than $10,000, all of which goes to support their mission.
Not surprisingly, over the past six years, there have been plenty of “lessons learned” to go along with “success stories.” To help you ensure your bowl-a-thon is a strike… and not a gutter ball… here are some helpful hints and reminders based on Furry Friends Network’s experience.
High return bowling events are not slapped together in a few weeks. In fact, it’s best if you start planning about six months in advance by calling bowling alleys in your area.
Pick a target weekend date that won’t spell disaster; for instance, you’ll want to avoid major holidays. In the case of FFN, year five’s bowl-a-thon date was pushed back to the last February in Sunday after discovering that local Big Brothers/Big Sisters chapters had major bowling events scheduled throughout March (thus making it difficult to book an alley and attract bowlers.)
Not a natural negotiator? Then ask for help from someone in your organization who’s not afraid to ask for the moon (but will settle for the stratosphere.) Remember – a good event is one during which each team member’s strongest attributes are capitalized upon.
Find out which alley offers the best package deal for your organization and don’t be afraid to request free shoes for all bowlers, a free soda from the bowling alley’s café, and bowling alley passes to give away as prizes.
Snag Some Donations
What would any charity event be without tons of fabulous prizes for the attendees? Again, FFN discovered through trial and error that getting giveaways is a mixture of hard work and a little luck… but mostly the former!
One of the quickest ways to gather prizes for your bowl-a-thon is to hit the streets with letters requesting donations. Typically, FFN sends or gives about 100-150, with a 5-10% return rate (and a 80-90% return rate from past donors.)
Stop by your favorite haunts, whether they be restaurants, boutiques, pet stores, pizza parlors, or grocery centers, and make your pitch. Most places will be able to tell you on the spot whether they can help out, and the others will either say, “No,” or they’ll take your letter to give to their manager or send to “corporate.” (And don’t assume that means “no”; I’ve had plenty of great prizes come to us after our letters were received by the proper persons at the companies’ headquarters.)
Bowlers Need Energy
Never underestimate the power of food to keep bowlers active, alert, and happy. If you can get food donated, great! If not, order low-cost munchies such as pizzas, subs, hot dogs, veggies and dips, or other finger foods. Avoid messy items like casseroles, salads, and soup – they are too difficult to eat in a crowded situation and the bowling alley won’t appreciate having to repeatedly clean up spills.
Though FFN never used the bowling alley’s food court to supply its meals, it may be a good option for your group depending upon how much it will cost per person.
Stir Up Some Excitement
About two months before your bowl-a-thon, it’s time to drum up some bowlers! If you have volunteers’ email addresses on file, you can “blast” an announcement to your supporters, encouraging them to sign up for the bowl-a-thon as individuals or teams. Have a registration process in place first, of course; otherwise, you’ll be overwhelmed.
Next, work on press releases and send them immediately to your local papers, television stations, and radio stations. If you aren’t sure how to write a press release, get some information online or buy a book. The most important rule is be succinct, sending them weeks before the event.
Keep in Touch
As people start registering for your event, capture their email addresses and send them weekly notes. In 2006, I made a practice of sending out fundraising tips every 4-5 days, and no one ever told me, “Gosh. I really hated those.” In fact, most people thanked me for giving them new ideas on how to raise just a few more dollars. Remember – all those pennies and quarters can really add up. In both 2006 and 2007, FFN’s top fundraiser brought in more than $1,000 on his own.
If you’re still gathering prizes at this point (and you most likely will be – we sometimes get them the day of the bowl-a-thon), you can whet your bowlers’ appetites by telling them what’s in store. Maybe that $25 gift card to Applebee’s is just what the doctor ordered to encourage someone to ask a coworker for a donation.
Have a Game Plan
A few weeks before your bowling event, develop a detailed plan of who will do what at the bowl-a-thon. Include a timeline and assign a person (or team) to each area of your event – registration, prize table(s), bowling games (if applicable), food setup, announcements, etc.
Never, never, never assign every element to one person, as a single individual cannot hope to be in all places at all times. Besides – you want to enjoy your experience!
Your event is over. It was a terrific success! It’s time to relax… almost.
There’s one final element to your bowl-a-thon – sending thank you notes to every applicable individual and company, including an email to the bowlers themselves updating them on the monies raised.
If you’re the chair of the event, you might be too exhausted to write up letters yourself; that’s why it’s critical to assign this task to someone else. Last year, a FFN hearing impaired volunteer offered to tackle this assignment because she preferred doing something “behind the scenes.”
Are You Ready to Bowl?
Though the bowl-a-thon isn’t likely to raise you a half million dollars, it can add some serious bulk to your coffers. Best of all, it’s great for almost any grassroots or seasoned non-profit that wants to try something new.