In 2009, my business partner, Don Crouch, and I were among the 200 employees laid off by former fundraising giant, Varsity Gold, as the company was forced to declare bankruptcy.
At that time, there was no bigger player in the high school fundraising industry than Varsity Gold and their sudden shutdown left a large void that needed to be filled. So, drawn together by our common passion for youth sports and unique fundraising tactics, Crouch and I joined forces to start our very own high school sports company – NFP Sports.
Six years later, we can proudly announce that NFP Sports has become the nation’s first and fastest growing high school sports fundraising franchise. Working hand-inhand with our staff and franchisees, we’ve been able to expand to more than a dozen locations throughout the northeast and we’ve helped more than 1,000 high school sports teams raise more than $10 million in the process. In fact, one high school football team in Connecticut was able to raise more than $25,000 in a matter of weeks using the NFP Sports program – a huge success story at a time where billions have been cut from youth sports programs, putting their very existence at risk. And the most beautiful thing? We’re just getting started!
So – how can a small, upstart franchise company like ours thrive at a time when a giant national corporation in the same industry stumbled to a halt? The answer? We have prioritized the millennial generation and created multiple programs, features, and even a national holiday that showcase how NFP Sports stands for something much bigger than effective fundraising strategies.
And in order to help other aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to bootstrap their own franchise company, just like we did, I’d like to share the five key catalysts that have fuelled our success and allowed us to stand for something bigger:
1. We started with a clear and concise value proposition that generates real results
Of course, no company, franchise or otherwise, can survive without a powerful value proposition that resonates with target customers. It’s impossible to stand for something bigger until your company does, indeed, stand for something. At NFP Sports, ours is simple – ‘high impact fundraising for sports teams’. When we first got started, we focused all of our attention on establishing our reputation as the most thorough and effective results oriented high school sports fundraising coaches in the country. And that’s still the backbone of our success – the merchants and high school sports teams who work with us know we are committed to their success. Here are a few programs we’ve established to show that commitment:
• VIP Program – NFP’s next-level fundraising program. We work with leading brands to offer valuable products to local customers through multi-platform promotional campaigns. Each VIP relationship includes a custom-designed discount program, eMarketing and social media programs, mobile app exposure, and in person promotional item giveaways, like shirts and gift cards.
• NFP Sports Savings Club – With this mobile app, tailored to each specific team and community, high school teams can offer team-branded discounts from local businesses to customers who are seeking hyper local offers. Customers using the app can geo-locate these offers and ensure their finding the right deals.
• Hometown Heroes Online Campaign – This is a secondary fundraising program through which NFP Sports partners can secure online donations instead of writing letters and licking envelopes. NFP Sports offers each partner 80% of the profits and takes fundraising out of the hands of coaches.
2. We have been early adopters with regard to new technology
Unlike many others in sports fundraising, like Varsity Gold, who have been resistant to change; we embrace new technology with open arms. While other fundraising companies stick exclusively to print calendars and coupon booklets, we have created a multi-tiered digital and print fundraising program that appeals to the millennial student athletes who benefit from our fundraising strategies. For example, in addition to the programs listed above, we have recently created a digital calendar app customizable to each local high school that allows each team to post schedules, share updates, and engage with fans. Further, fans can submit photos, comment on game action, and access deals at local stores and restaurants through the app. Apps like these are key for our target audiences as the digital deals will generate additional revenue while sports teams and merchants extend their reach and influence with local fans/customers.
3. We reward the young athletes who make us great
With our unique fundraising concept, our success is completely contingent on our ability to connect with and motivate youth athletes. We take fundraising out of the hands of parents, coaches and administrators by training and incentivizing the athletes themselves to meet and exceed sales numbers that fit their team’s goals. For example, the top sellers each year receive sizeable college scholarship packages. In fact, we’ve given away more than $7,500 in scholarship money in the past three years – helping multiple high school students afford a college education AND develop public speaking and sales skills that last a lifetime.
4. We have created jobs and franchise opportunities that are perfect for young and aspiring minds
We also actively recruit young and motivated millennials to work for NFP Sports as staff members and sales people or lead our company in local markets as franchisees. We have noticed that countless recent college graduates and young retired athletes, veterans, and servicemen are eager to return to their communities and make a difference. What better way to do so than helping save the same local community high school sports teams and coaches that helped prepare them for the real world? Always remember that monetary incentives aren’t the biggest motivator for millennials – they want to make a difference and do something significant for their community. Keep that in mind as you build your business.
5. And lastly, we’ve created a powerful annual event and awards program that celebrates the coaches who shape youthful minds
To us, this is the key to our future success. Last year, we created the annual National Coaches Day event and awards program, powered by a website, blog and social media properties, to recognize the official October 6 holiday created in 1972 by Richard Nixon. Coming off an incredibly successful first year, we already have interest from multiple sponsors who want to host National Coaches Day parties in their neighborhood and do their part to help ‘celebrate coach’ in their community.
It’s a perfect fit for us as it inspires all of our target audiences (local business owners, student athletes, coaches, parents, and school administrators) to share emotional stories related to just how important high school sports have been to their development as a human being. We certainly don’t have everything figured out over at NFP Sports, but we do know that we must appeal to the nation’s youth if we are to achieve sustainable growth.
This is the new normal for any emerging or established franchise brand – it is the companies who work diligently to showcase how they stand for something bigger than their products or services who will grow and prosper. Be an early adopter…or begin creating your exit strategy!
James Thomson is a national high school fundraising expert who leads NFP Sports, the First and Fastest Growing Sports Fundraising Franchise. Thomson is a highly motivated entrepreneur with 13 years’ experience in the sports fundraising industry.
His main goal is to build and grow National Fundraising Partners, which goes by the brand of NFP Sports, into the most successful franchise operation in the fundraising industry. With the direct experience of running a highly successful fundraising business and coaching others to achieve similar success, it is Thomson’s passion to build the NFP Sports brand and franchise network.