Teaching leadership and fitness to kids through a high-energy fundraising program, Apex Fun Run is the alternative hassle-free way for elementary schools to afford school supplies and equipment, without forcing teachers to dip into their own pockets.
Spending two weeks in elementary schools, Apex teams teach students specialized curriculums while collecting record-breaking funds for necessary school supplies. Raising over two million dollars for Phoenix elementary schools last year, today the winning concept is looking to expand into new territories.
Launching three years ago, Apex Fun Run came as the answer to revolutionize school fundraising. When first grade teacher Amy Cannon spent $500 on supplies for her class with no means of reimbursement, her husband and Apex Founder, Scott Donnell decided to take the matter into his own hands. Brainstorming with his former MBA classmates, the group began researching the fundraising industry for unique ways that teachers could raise funds for their classrooms. Aware that the school was tired of product-based fundraisers with no learning opportunities for students, they made it their goal to focus on two very important yet undervalued topics: leadership and fitness.
Developing the Apex concept, one of the most intriguing aspects of the program is that teachers have skin in the game. Offering 10 percent of all funds raised to reimburse teachers or provide a means to purchase needed supplies, this motivates them to get involved with the program. Boasting the slogan “Build Leaders,” along with the educational curriculum the program also features prizes to get students excited about raising money. Testing the fundraiser in Cannon’s school, the program saw extreme success, and within the first year branched into Texas and Arizona territories.
This is when Lisa Barnhart, a marketing director, discovered the program while searching for a fundraiser for her children’s elementary school. Bringing the program to her kid’s school, the program raised more money than ever before in the history of the school. Impressed with the results Lisa and her husband, Jeremy, a partner in public accounting, decided the program was a great product that could be used all over the country. Meeting with Apex’s owners, the couple introduced the idea of franchising the concept. Pleased with the proposal, they invited Jeremy to join the team as Vice President of Franchise Development. After designing the company’s FDD and franchise agreement, Apex Fun Run began franchising in 2012 and today has 24 operating franchises. “We’re experiencing 100 to 200 percent growth every year in business,” Barnhart explains, adding that from a franchising perspective they are also rapidly growing.
Seeking individuals who can relate to the business, those interested in purchasing an Apex Fun Run territory must be passionate about education, fitness and building leaders. Considering that the program revolves around building leaders and getting kids focused on fitness and heath, franchisees benefit from being a parent, and even more so if they are involved in their child’s school. “Franchisees must understand the need for kids to be taught leadership and fitness,” Donnell says. “Apex offers the opportunity to serve thousands of kids by teaching them these skills while helping to raise school funds, and have a business you can feel good about at the end of the day.”
The Apex Fun Run fundraiser takes place over a two-week period. This includes; a teacher huddle detailing the opportunity to earn money for their classrooms, a pep rally to excite the students, explain the theme, and announce the prizes awarded for various fund levels, and six days in the classroom. During classrooms sessions, Apex team members, who are typically young, high-energy, athletes, teach the leadership curriculum and hand out prizes based on the pledges earned the day before. Apex’s automated online donations software allows students to receive pledges nationwide as opposed to the traditional yet limited door-to-door pledges. The fundraiser culminates with a high-energy pledged-per-lap run featuring a course constructed of blow-up tunnels, tents, flags, sound system and cones.
This year’s curriculum is called “POWER UP.” Each day students focus on a different letter of the acronym; P for positive attitude, O for others first, W for work together, E for excising the mind, and R for responsibility. These traits are reinforced during recesses and lunch hour to show life examples about how being a good leader means putting others first. “The students look to our team members as superheroes,” Barnhart says, adding that by the end of the course students are swarming the team members decked out in the branded neon blue and orange jerseys, asking for their autographs.
Those interested in becoming an Apex Fun Run franchisee should contact the company to learn about its operations and also share their background with the team. “We’re very brand sensitive in the sense that we want people who are passionate about serving kids and serving schools, not just about business,” Barnhart says. Once the initial conversations take place, candidates attend a Discovery Day and visit a fundraiser in action. “You [franchisees] can see videos but there’s nothing like going into a school and seeing firsthand what we do.”
Once the candidate is approved and the paperwork is signed, franchisees attend a two-week training course in Phoenix. The comprehensive course covers the A to Z on selling the program, operating the fundraiser, and conducting collections. Franchisees are also given a 250-page manual, watch videos, and attend a live fundraiser to see how to implement everything they have learned. “We cater to all types of learners,” Donnell says. “Franchisees are given all the materials they need, see how they are applied, and at the end of the day all they have to do it sign up schools and serve them as trained.”
In addition to the extensive training provided to both the franchisee and their team members, Apex also provides ongoing support through weekly calls. “We get on the phone with our Company founder and franchisees, to share ideas, discuss the best practices, talk about obstacles encountered, and figure out how to get round them,” Barnhart says, adding, “Our franchisees bring a lot to the table. Apex is a family and helping each other expands the value of the brand.”
Currently located in seven states along the west coast, Apex Fun Run is looking to expand throughout the Midwest and east coast, and aims to serve one million kids within the next few years. The cost of purchasing an Apex territory is $35,000 and includes exclusive rights to 40 to 50 qualified schools in a geographical area determined by zip codes. Qualified schools are defined by the number of enrolled students and take into account any government subsidies. Provided with a list of qualified schools in their territory, franchisees are able to contact these schools to sell the fundraising program. Allotting 40 to 50 schools per territory allows franchisees to host 16 to 18 races a year per team and more if they choose to hire a second team.
Apex is currently working on a new program so that the fundraiser can also be offered to non-qualified schools. “Our goal is to make a difference and serve as many kids as we can. We know these non-qualified schools need money, and since our current model doesn’t work for them, we’re working on a new program that will work so we can build leaders and raise money for schools that need it even more,” Donnell says.
All of Apex’s marketing is done face-to-face, giving franchisees the opportunity to captivate and enlist many schools at once. For example, once a franchisee signs up one school they can invite parents and teachers from surrounding schools to watch the event in action. “When teachers and parents see the program in person they fall in love with it. It goes viral,” Barnhart explains. Since PTA committees are often looking for new fundraisers, especially ones that promote healthy living, a positive message, and are hassle free, Apex fills this niche. “We do all the work for the schools, and we don’t have to nickel and dime the parents,” Barnhart says. “Our program is able to raise enough money so that schools don’t have to do a bunch of fundraisers throughout the year.”
The Apex Run Fun difference is not only about teaching kids to be leaders, but it leads by example. As a testament to this, for students who raise pledges of more than $10 per lap, Apex makes a donation on the student’s behalf to the Special Olympics. “We don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk. We show students that it’s important to be a good leader and being a good leader means helping their local communities.” The focus on local communities is what makes Apex’s business model so successful. While competing fundraising companies fly their teams around the country to service schools, Apex’s franchise model allows for local business people to own territories in communities they care about, and hire employees who are also passionate about their neighborhoods and local schools.
Through Apex Fun Run, schools are able to raise funds otherwise unobtainable, while educating their students on how to be leaders and live well. Coined a “philanthropreneurship company” (combining “philanthropy” and “entrepreneurship,”) by the Apex team, in its first year franchising the company serviced over 150 schools. “When people find out about us they get excited. Apex offers the opportunity to own a business where you can make a living, and make a difference in the world,” Barnhart says. “Our franchisees have great pride in what they do, and at the end of the day they know they’re making a difference in kids’ lives.”