When booster clubs hijack athletic program funds
There are parents who occasionally have a vendetta against a coach, perhaps due to playing time or their child’s role on the team. Unfortunately, this isn’t unique to just your school.
What’s worse is these parents might also be members or officers of the booster club. And they are going to put strings on their fundraising efforts stipulating that the coach has to be removed, or they will withhold or divert the money.There might also be a small group of booster club parents who did the bulk of the fundraising and have a vested interest of where and how the money is spent. They feel that because their efforts brought more money to the athletic program, they should have a vote in where that money is allocated. Most times, they want it directed to the sport in which their child plays.
This expectation by parents may be totally contrary to Title IX compliance or even the basic principle that all sports within the program should be treated fairly.
Their behavior is undoubtedly inappropriate, but how do athletic administrators deal with a booster club that has been hijacked by a few misguided parents, those who are extremely vocal and have a hidden agenda? You have to develop a course of action, and these seven suggestions should help.
1. Rules in writing.
Make sure that you have a written constitution and bylaws for your booster club, clearly spelling out the following:
- The duties of the officers
- The monies raised will be used to benefit the entire athletic program and not one or two select sports
- The booster club, regardless of the money it raises, will not have influence on the hiring or termination of any coach
These are only a few examples. All items, aspects and concerns have to be clearly explained and stated in this guiding document. And when a loophole appears, a bylaw has to be created to cover and control it.
2. Set a meeting.
Meet with the officers prior to every school year to review their duties and remind them that all money is used to benefit the entire department without strings attached. Even if these individuals have served during the previous year, this step has to be repeated as a proactive, preventative effort. If anything goes wrong during the school year, you will be glad that you had this meeting and can refer back to it. Always keep the agenda and notes from this gathering on file as reference.
3. Attend booster club gatherings.
This is imperative to head off any behind-the-back efforts to divert or withhold fundraising money. It’s also important to review the monthly financial report. As the athletic administrator, you are responsible for overseeing the operations of the booster club, monies raised and how they are spent. Even if the club is incorporated as a nonprofit organization, they do fall under the purview of the district because they use the school’s name and facilities.
4. Outline the priorities.
Establish guidelines and priorities of what will be purchased with booster club fundraising money. This step should be completed, revised and in place before the start of every school year. This document might include a statement that booster club funds will be spent on large capital items, benefitting the entire department or several teams and will not include items such as uniforms for a single team. You need to share these guidelines with the officers at your initial meeting prior to the start of the school year.
5. Keep supervisors in the loop.
Make sure that you keep your supervisor — principal or superintendent — informed about any vested interest groups and their efforts to divert or withhold fundraising money. Depending on the organizational hierarchy within your district, this person is ultimately responsible for the athletic department and the booster club. Therefore, you want and need their support in the event of a problem. You never want your supervisor to be blindsided by a problem.
6. Develop an action plan.
Create a step-by-step plan to be used if fundraising money is diverted, withheld threatened. If you detect any inappropriate activity, you need to advise those involved that their efforts are unacceptable and they run the risk of being removed from their position. It’s usually helpful to inform individuals with a letter or carefully crafted email so that you have documentation. Removing offending booster club members should be your absolute last step, but one you must be prepared to take.
7. Allow for due process.
Arrange a meeting with any booster member once it’s been determined that they will leave the club. The purpose of this meeting, which should include your supervisor, is to provide this individual a chance to hear your decision while offering him or her an opportunity to explain their actions. This step really extends the opportunity for due process, which is important to rectify problems properly and with finality.
While most booster clubs do a great job, you want to be prepared in the event that you encounter a hijacking. It’s important to remember that booster clubs exist to serve and support your program, and this means that they always have to meet the school’s expectations — they cannot act independently.
Booster clubs always have to function under the control and policies of the school, and this should be clearly stated in the organization’s constitution and bylaws to protect your program and everyone involved.
David Hoch, CMAA, has 16 years of experience as a high school athletic director and served for 12 years as the executive director of the Maryland State Coaches Association. In 2000, he was named Athletic Director of the Year by the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association. His column, A.D.ministration, focuses on issues in athletic administration and appears regularly in Coach & Athletic Director magazine.