Fundraiser Gets a Running Start

By Staff

Coaching Management, 15.1, January 2007, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1501/bbfundraiser.htm

Spearheading a large fundraising project requires years of experience and expertise, and coaches with neither shouldn’t bother trying, right? Wrong. A high school in Roanoke, Va., is getting new athletic facilities, thanks to a 26-year-old rookie coach who didn’t let his inexperience deter him from starting a campaign that has so far raised $300,000.

Laurence Loesel, a 1998 graduate of Cave Spring High School, returned to his alma mater in 2002 as Assistant Track and Field and Cross Country Coach. He quickly realized that the school’s track facilities were woefully inadequate, and decided to undertake a fundraising project to not only replace the track facility, but also benefit other sports within the athletic department.

Loesel’s first step was to give his project a title that would provide instant name recognition and promote a community connection. In light of Cave Spring High’s 50th anniversary, he proposed Project50, an overhaul of the school’s outdoor track (phase one) and practice football and soccer fields (phase two).

“At the end of 2002 I went into our athletic director’s office and told him I had an idea that would fund some brand new facilities,” Loesel says. “He listened and said I needed to talk to the principal. The principal heard me out and didn’t immediately shoot the idea down, but she told me I needed to do my homework and make a presentation to the booster club and get them on board.

“I researched and gathered information on successful campaigns at other schools and for the next month talked to experienced people who made those projects happen,” Loesel continues. “Then, when I provided that data during my presentation to the booster club, I received instant support. In fact, the booster club was so excited about the project that they added a fieldhouse with indoor practice facilities and coaches’ offices to the plans.”

Given the green light to start soliciting dollars, Loesel became a fundraising machine. His first idea was to run across America to generate publicity for Project50. So over two months during the summer of 2003, Loesel and two friends, one a fellow Cave Spring High alum and the other a fellow Roanoke College alum, loaded up an RV and took turns running almost 3,000 miles from Sacramento, Calif., back to Roanoke.

There was no specific fundraising associated with the cross-country run, but the local media attention it garnered along the way created a buzz about the project—the local paper kept a running update and Loesel posted daily a blog using wireless Internet hookups along the way. He made sure a contribution form was up online for donors to print out and send in with donations, and keeping in touch with the local community during the run kept the money coming in.

Loesel’s other fundraising projects over the past three years have included community pasta dinners and football tailgating where local business owners donated their “cooking expertise.” Loesel also hooked up with a local running club, the Star City Striders, to organize a half marathon and 5K race in which proceeds were donated to Project50. Back Creek Elementary School, where Loesel teaches, recently made a donation of over $3,000. There is a current push called “50 for 50” in which $50 donations are solicited on the project’s Web page. Loesel hopes this latest effort pulls in the last few hundred dollars needed to complete phase one, which includes installation of the eight-lane synthetic track.

Loesel has had remarkable success in connecting with the Roanoke community during his fundraising efforts. He says the first key was getting the right people on board with his vision. “We have highly involved parents and community members, but even they were skeptical at first,” he says. “To get their backing I had to identify the key leaders in our area. It was important to partner with business owners and high-profile members of the community because they did a lot of the recruiting for us. They did a good job of telling people, ‘This is a really interesting project that’s good for our community, our children, and our student-athletes. Let’s support this.’”

Persistence and patience has been another component of Loesel’s success. “You have to be ready to work over a long period of time,” he says. “This project is in its third year, and right now we have more people helping than ever before. Fundraising isn’t a one-month-and-you’re-done deal. It’s taken heartbreak and a lot of hard work. There is no simple formula. I believe that when you do something for the good of the community, the positive will come back to you.”

To learn more about Project50, visit Cave Spring High School’s Web site at: www.rcs.k12.va.us/cshs, and click on the “Project50” icon.