The Problem with Competition Between Booster Clubs

In sports, competition brings mixed blessings. In fundraising it can bring disaster.

Would another booster club “steal” your fundraiser?

I’ve seen booster clubs encroach on existing fundraisers, and it is ugly. In one Northern California town, High School X produced a successful crab feed fundraiser in March. The next year, the booster club from High School Y did a crab feed in February. X and Y were in the same town, in the same school district.

There’s nothing wrong with borrowing successful practices; that’s the whole premise of this blog. What about competition between booster clubs for the same donor dollars? That competition often results in suffering all around. Using the crab feed example, let’s look at why competition hurts fundraising:

  • Confusion: Donors suffer from confusion. Supporters of Booster Club X probably patronize the crab feed because they support X’s activities. They will return the following year because they’ve associated the crab feed  with X. Therefore, competition can damage the branding of a successful event.

  • Donor Fatigue: Booster Club X, the originator of the crab feed, suffers from their donors’ confusion as well as donor fatigue. By holding their copycat fundraiser a month before X’s, Booster Club Y killed the demand for crab among X’s supporters. It’s the same problem a single club would face it they held the same event every month.

  • Unsustainable: Booster Club Y, the “fundraiser thief” also suffers, though not at first. Their first crab feed, fueled by its place in the memory of X’s donors, might be have been successful. After all, they probably rallied their supporters and attracted Booster Club X’s supporters. However, they won’t be so successful the next year. By then Booster Club X’s donors probably will have realized that the fundraiser didn’t benefit their school. Meanwhile, Club Y wasted time by not creating a sustainable fundraising brand of their own.

In the business world, one might argue that competition would improve the quality of the crab feed. By that logic, the booster clubs could outdo each other, and create better and better crab feeds with more and more efficient fundraisers. But despite the many lessons that fundraising can draw from the private sector, booster clubs are not traditional businesses. None of their “clients” can afford to see them go out of business. The disadvantages of donor confusion outweigh the efficiencies of competition, as least in the way we think of them in traditional economics.

How Booster Clubs can Work Together

Cooperation, on the other hand, can yield great results for everyone. I’ve seen great examples of collaborative events, huge fundraisers that are only possible with the banding together of disparate clubs. In fact, here are a few ways that Booster Club X and Booster Club Y could have cooperated for a winning fundraiser formula:

  • A big event: the boosters could have created a giant crab feed together.  They would have produced a fundraiser at least twice as big, while sharing event costs, buying crab in bulk, and making more efficient use of volunteers.

  • Friendly fundraising competition: for example, booster clubs can compete to see which sells more tickets. That competition can energize volunteers and generate publicity for the event.

There are of course, accidents. One booster club might unknowingly initiate a fundraiser on another’s turf. This is one reason why some school districts require unified umbrella booster clubs, and most have a school administrator participate in booster club meetings.

A grassroots way to increase cooperation is to communicate. Board members can keep in touch with other clubs’ leaders. For example, clubs can work together to space fundraisers throughout the school calendar. And again, they can even collaborate on events. At the very least, they can avoid “stealing” fundraisers by staying informed of what events define the brands of other booster clubs. The takeaway, I suppose, is that a little communication can save a lot of suffering.

Last week I asked if competition in sports was a good thing. Now I’m arguing against competition. Hypocritical? I’d call it nuanced. But you are free to disagree in the comments or by emailing me here.




  1. […] for a piece of the pie, or they can work to make that pie bigger. We’ve written before about booster clubs treading on each other’s territory. In a recent story, we found a pair of booster clubs who shared, quite literally, the same turf. […]

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