When our league started out, it was due to a handful of coaches who desperately wanted a soccer league for their kids to play in. They took what they could get, which was the baseball field outfields at our local community center, some goals generously purchased by our city’s Recreation Dept. and ran with it. None of us expected the league to grow as quickly as it has. But as it grew, our city leaders realized they had underestimated the popularity of soccer and quickly moved to accommodate the growing need. We were extremely fortunate to have them approve the construction of a new soccer complex, which is due to be completed next year. This will allow us to practice in April and May after baseball starts (we had to relinquish the ballfields during the week once baseball began) and should allow us to bring in soccer events for our players to watch or participate in.
As anyone involved in an organization will tell you, once a large capital project is built, there are all sorts of new expenses that go along with it. Rapid growth can also present funding challenges. With goals costing over $1500 a pair, you can be faced with the need for additional funding in a hurry if you need more fields.
Our registration fees go towards things like referee equipment, basic equipment for new coaches, referee wages, and field equipment. Our sponsors are exceedingly generous so we don’t have uniform costs. Our league has been very lucky in that we get the use of the fields for a small annual amount. With almost 50 teams, our sponsors have donated over $15,000 in uniforms this season alone for which we are eternally grateful. Because of this, we have been able to keep our fees fairly low. But as we grow, we are facing some additional costs related to the new complex and there are also some additional things we’d like to do (coach training, etc.) if the funding were available.
One of our team managers approached us recently about our non-profit status (we had just filed to become one) because her company had a program that would contribute money to the league as a matching gift for the time she put in managing her team. I had heard of these programs before at companies I had worked for, but honestly had not made the connection to our league. What a great way for your league to gain some additional funding in recognition of the countless hours put in by some of your volunteers. Needless to say we are going to actively encourage our coaches and volunteers to contact their HR departments armed with the right questions to see if their employers offer similar programs that they qualify for.
The programs are commonly referred to a Employee Volunteer Grants or Matching Gifts. While most programs vary, here are some common traits:
- The organization (your league) must be a 501(c)(3) non profit corporation. While, this is a federal IRS designation, forming a non profit corporation (if you aren’t already) requires adherence to state guidelines.
- Some companies specifically exclude sports programs from receiving funds.
- You will need to keep detailed records of the time spent doing things for the organization.
- Some may require your league to have a business plan, annual report, etc. which are reviewed before the grant is approved.
- You must submit all the proper paperwork, have it approved by the appropriate officers and submit it to your company HR office to initiate the payment to the organization.
- There are often limits on the size of the gift per year and/or how many years you can claim for them.
These programs vary widely from company to company. If you’d like to see if your company offers a matching gifts program, you can search a number of foundation databases online (though most charge monthly fees for access which I find ironic and they are often not exhaustive). The best plan is to contact your company’s HR department to see if they have a matching gifts program and what the restrictions are.
While the restrictions some companies put in place for the programs may be arduous, many are generous and this could represent an untapped resource of funding for your league which can help improve the level of soccer education. If your league is large enough, it may be helpful to appoint the task to a volunteer to help coordinate the information gleaned by coaches and other volunteers and to gain some economies of scale on the record keeping required.
We’re just getting started down this road. We recruited a volunteer to help track the coaches who are successful in obtaining grants and to help new coaches investigate the possibilities with their employers. I’ll post later in the year on our experiences once we have some time to explore the programs available to our volunteers. If you’ve already gone through this, let me know how it went.