The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio are less than a year away. It’s crunch time for training, preparations, and finding the money to make it there.
Paying for the (Very Expensive) Olympic dream
The price tag to attend the Olympics is steep. “The average [American] Olympian only makes $20,000 a year,” says Natalie Coughlin, 12 time Olympic medal swimmer. “And it will cost $40,000 just to go to the Games in Rio next summer, after paying for training and daily living just to qualify to go.” Training doesn’t come cheap. In gymnastics, one of the most expensive Olympic sports, costs run an average $15,000 a year plus several hours a day in commuting time, usually over 300 days a year. Multiply that by the 5-8 years needed to reach elite status and the career cost just to reach the Olympics can run up to $75,000 and exceed $120,000.
Commercial sponsors can make up some of the difference, but they typically partner with bigger name athletes with the cultural clout to sell consumer goods. The younger stars who are early in their careers, especially those in sports that don’t draw huge TV ratings, end up needing to find ways to fund their own dreams.
Raising money for Olympic dreams is nothing new, of course. In the games’ early days, many athletes simply paid their own way, which is why many of the first U.S. champions came out of America’s moneyed collegiate classes. Until the 1970s, Olympic athletes were also required to be amateurs; they couldn’t sign up sponsors or get paid for their work.
North American athletes – unlike millions of athletes in other countries – are not fully financially supported by the government. The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) distributes millions of dollars to each of the 39 individual sports federation, but there are many more needs than these funds can fulfill. So athletes are learning that along with all of the hard work that goes into mastering their sport, success now also means marketing, sales, PR and a little good old-fashioned schmoozing in order to have the opportunity to compete.
Crowdfunding the Dream
Crowdfunding is a great enabler for athletes. Athletes and teams have the option to skip traditional fundraising bottle drives, chocolate sales, and big charity events, and instead can reach out to their communities online.
One of the biggest reasons that crowdfunding for athletes has become so popular is that it gives the athlete exposure, regardless of their official corporate sponsorships. By launching a campaign online, with a bit of work, you can reach a global audience and get the funding you need to compete.
And yes, it really can be global exposure. Canadian Olympian Megan Imrie of Falcon Lake, MB told the CBC prior to the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games that she received donations to her crowdfunding campaign from Slovakia.
As most athletes running crowdfunding campaigns learn pretty quickly, it’s simply not enough to set up a campaign online then cross your fingers – it requires work as well. It’s important to express gratitude to your donors and involve them in your journey. Not only do you increase your donations in this way, you also build an engaged fan base which can contribute to securing larger sponsors later on.
“You can’t just say ‘this is my dream’ please support it’ and then that’s the last they hear from you. The giveback part of it, to some people it doesn’t matter, but to a lot it does. They can feel involved in my journey and feel they’ve got something for their money.” Olympic biathlete Megan Imrie of Falcon Lake, MB
Here are some best practices to help you meet your funding requirements on the road to the Olympic games.
Be transparent about your budget
Break down the specifics of where you need financial assistance. Canadian Olympian Noelle Montcalm does a great job of laying out what her costs are.
This gives contributors confidence in her campaign and visibility into exactly how their contributions support her on the road to Rio.
Tell Your Story
This means more than a brief note about your sport and your ask for support – connect with people by sharing how much this means to you, videos of your training sessions and competitions, and anything else that will get people excited for your success.
Reach out to your community
The first people you should reach out to are those who have seen your blood, sweat, and tears in sacrificing long hours to excel in your sport. Your friends and family know first-hand how hard you’ve worked, and will be more likely to share your campaign with their networks as well. Once you get some donations, your campaign will gain momentum and reach out further than your personal connections.
Then you need to put your PR hat on and start sharing your story and your campaign with local media, school papers, alumni organizations, and athletic associations. The more exposure you get, the better.
Show Your Gratitude
It is imperative that you express your appreciation to your donors. They really are your biggest stakeholders, and without a ‘thank you,’ they’re definitely not going to be sharing your campaign with their networks. Using tiered perks is also a great way to set the increments at which people will donate. Successful perk ideas include signed race bibs and equipment, personal lessons or private workshops, personal phone calls, face-to-face meetings, and social media shout-outs, signed merchandise, or the gear you wear in competition.
Keep Everyone Updated
When people (quite literally) invest in you, it’s only good manners to keep them up to date. Your contributors are effectively your key stakeholders and they want to know how you’re doing! Two-time Olympian Georgia Simmerling does a great job of managing her blog and social media.
Work With Your Sponsors
Running a sponsored crowdfunding campaign can be highly beneficial to your sponsors as well, and you can use their reach to get your campaign a much greater audience. Sponsifi campaigns enable your sponsors to easily dollar match your contributors or provide some perks for you like discounts, swag, or coupons. They’ll get new customers from your supporters and you’ll get access to promote your campaign their existing customers, all while everyone is supporting your road to the Olympic games.