This is my step-by-step guide to starting a booster club. It’s intended to be a checklist, not an exhaustive manual. You can click links for more detailed advice on how to accomplish each step. I also put them in what I believe to be the correct order of tasks for starting a booster club. For example, you don’t want to register with the IRS with one mission statement, and then realize that the school doesn’t approve of its governance structure, or waste time trying to get a business bank account without an EIN number from the IRS.
However, don’t let potential blunders like those, or the size of this list discourage you. Many people have created booster clubs, often with no resources or advice to draw on. You’ll figure it out. The fact that you’re reading this means you’re researching and planning. You’re already off to a good start. Now take a look at this list to see where you need to go.
Do Your Homework, and Build a Team
0. Get your story straight: Why do you think that there needs to be a booster club? Has funding been cut recently in your district? Is there an ongoing need, or do you just need to raise funds for one-time investment, like an astroturf field or a refurbishing a theater stage? Taking time to list your reasons is the first step to recruiting parents and drafting your bylaws and mission statement.
1. Meet advisers: school administrators are particularly useful. They have a bird’s eye view of the district, and can share ideas that may be off your radar. They understand the school rules that need to be addressed in your mission statement and charter. They can also refer you to members of other booster clubs in your area, and the most pertinent art directors, teachers, and coaching staff. All these advisers, from administrators to coaches, will give you a fresh perspective and inform fundamental decisions about your club. For example, say you wanted to form a club to support a choir. The choir director might have an idea you hadn’t considered, like teaming up with the band booster club to create an music-focused super-booster club that’s more efficient.
2. Recruit volunteers: parents, alumni, and other community members. Reach out at parent meetings. Ask to put an announcement in the alumni newsletter. Contact local volunteering organizations and put up announcements on volunteering websites such as Craigslist or idealist.org.
3. Pass the hat: Even before you start fundraising, you’ll need a bit of money for start-up costs. Paperwork, IRS forms, bank accounts and your first fundraiser will require some money. See if your founding members can donate a little or make an interest-free loan.
Once You Have a Team, Get the Paperwork Done!
4. Create a mission statement and charter: this isn’t a few throwaway lines to scribble on a napkin. The mission is a ruler that will measure everything the club does. Like a nation’s constitution, the mission and charter will outlast your involvement in the club. You can certainly amend them later, but only through explicit and intentional change. One small detail to keep in mind is that you’ll probably want to become a tax-exempt non-profit. So read ahead to # 6 and make sure your mission and charter conform to IRS rules before your final drafts are adopted.
5. Apply for an EIN, from the IRS. Even if you don’t employ people, you’ll need one of these for tax purposes.
6. Consider becoming a 501 (c)(3), also known as a tax-exempt non-profit. Most clubs do this. Still, you should know that you’ll have to accommodate certain restrictions to your fundraising and fund spending. Apply to be a 501 (c)(3) with the IRS. Even before you have received approval, you can act like a non-profit and start fundraising. In the vein of legal structure, consider incorporating. Not many clubs do this, but it can help you avoid legal liabilities down the road.
8. Create a system of financial accountability: There are many ways to do this, including multiple check signers, third party audits, and you can even get your members bonded. Not only does embezzlement actually happen to clubs, but fear of embezzlement can create distrust among members. By creating good systems for financial accountability, you can relax and focus on fundraising.
9. Get a business bank account. You’ll need your EIN as well as copies of your mission statement and other incorporating documents, such as bylaws.
10. Introduce The Booster Club: while you can certainly fundraise, make sure your first event focuses on introducing your club to the community. Prioritize communicating your mission, educating about the programs that need your support, and showing your donors a good time. You’re not only telling people that you exist, but, bring it back to your mission, why you exist and how they can get involved.
Did you participate in the founding of a booster club? Please send me your story and let me know what I’ve left out! In future posts, I will highlight stories of booster clubs young and old, and how they got going. Don’t forget to include information about your first members, how they knew each other, and what their first event was.