By Charlie Keaton | Tuesday, September 4, 2018
Among hundreds of participating Swim-A-Thon teams each year, only a handful have topped the 100,000 mark. Houston-area 501(c)3 Katy Aquatics Team for Youth (KATY) joined that exclusive club in 2018, but their $105,502 tally has less to do with good fortune and more to do with a solid, well-executed plan.
What was once the small programmatic offshoot of a summer league team is now more than 1,200 swimmers strong, with roughly half that total comprised of learn-to-swim participants. KATY, a USA Swimming Foundation Make a Splash Local Partner since 2011 and a previous recipient of Foundation grant funding, also boasts a competitive program with Olympic Trials-level talent, a non-competitive team for kids just looking to exercise, a U.S. Masters program for life-long swimmers, and creative opportunities for special needs children.
About 20% of their learn-to-swim newbies eventually join the competitive team, and even more remain with the club in one capacity or another.
Travis Sandifer, KATY’s Executive Director, knows the importance of introducing kids to water through swim lessons. He put his own daughter through the program in order to feel comfortable taking her to birthday pool parties.
“Even though I’m a swim coach, that was the main thing,” said Sandifer. “That’s what a lot of parents are looking for, to get their kids safer around water.”
Since their 2014 haul of $61,548, KATY has boosted annual Swim-A-Thon donations by 71 percent. In 2018 alone they added nearly $20,000 year-over-year.
The obvious benefits of a large member base notwithstanding, what’s the secret to their fundraising success?
Authentic member engagement.
Consistent (and practical) communication begins long before KATY announces their Swim-A-Thon date with comprehensive informational packets for parents and sponsors. Weekly themed emails dispense practical guidance: One encourages members to ask employers about matching donations; another demonstrates how to format solicitation letters to swimmers’ friends and families; another outlines how to get the most support from social media.
Sustaining momentum also means recognizing swimmers who take extra initiative to promote their involvement. It’s not unusual for an autographed swim cap or water bottle from Olympic champions like Misty Hyman or Aaron Peirsol to be awarded publicly during practice. At the same time, keeping everyone aware of which KATY teams have raised the most money fosters a certain level of healthy competition. We are, after all, talking about swimmers.
All of which led to KATY’s most financially successful Swim-A-Thon to date — with an impact that extends to complementary partners and programs.