Given the costs involved, teams and leagues often have no choice but to fundraise. ((Kevin Light/CBC Sports))

All across Canada, minor hockey teams are running car washes, lotteries, auctions and dances. Kids are selling chocolate bars, calendars and poinsettias.

Given the costs involved, it is inevitable that teams and leagues will run fundraisers. They all do it in different ways, but they all do it.  For many families, fundraising is what puts their son or daughter on the ice.

But how do you get started? How do you get people involved? Which method is the most successful?

Coaches and organizers have different opinions, but there are some common themes they all agree on.

No. 1: Start early

Gary Stewart, treasurer of the Halifax Hawks Minor Hockey Association, says one of the reasons some fundraisers fail is that they are thrown together too quickly, at the last minute.

"People underestimate. And when it's the end of November, people say, 'Oh, we should have a raffle before Christmas,' and they toss together a few prizes. Then they're disappointed when they only raise a thousand dollars."

Stewart organized a silent auction held in the second week of November that he estimates made between $7,000 and $8,000 for the league. But planning for fundraising started when the season did — in September.

At the first parent's meeting that month, a parent volunteered to organize fundraising, and planning for the auction itself was underway by October.

According to him, one of the keys to the success of the fundraiser was an early start. 

Gina Kleiboer, second vice-president of the Martensville Minor Hockey Association, agrees that starting early is key.

"By the time December rolls around, registration fees have pretty much consumed up everything with ice, insurance and all that stuff." 

"[December] is the time when the fundraising money kicks in to pay for the rest of the season for these kids."

No. 2: Get reliable help

No one can do everything by themselves. Most organizers recommend finding someone reliable to help out.

Stewart says, "The real key to it is somebody who's well-organized and really willing to take it on and work hard at it."

Lyle Battenfelder, the treasurer of the St. Albert Minor Hockey Association in Alberta, concurs.

"Make sure you get somebody that's looking after it that's very organized," he says.

"It would be best if you could find somebody that has some experience with it or can rely on the experience of others that have been through it."

But the point person also needs to delegate, according to Tim Belanger, peewee AA head coach in the Gloucester-Cumberland Girls Hockey League.

"Having one key person to delegate responsibilities," he says is an important point.

"Because when you ask three or four people to do a lot of work, it becomes very difficult, nobody wants to do it. But when you ask 15 parents to do an hour's worth of work or one little thing, it's no big deal."

No. 3: Make your case

In order to get organized volunteers, Ferdi Nelissen, president of the Portage Minor Hockey Association in Portage la Prairie, Man., says you need to show volunteers and parents why the programs are beneficial.

"It doesn't matter what the fundraiser is. People's time is valuable to them. Unless you can show it's got some inherent value to them, they're not going to jump on board."

He does this by explaining that fees would likely double without fundraising. "For some people that might not matter. But I would guarantee that for 60 or 70 per cent of our membership, it really does matter.

"We're making sure [our members] know what it's costing us to run stuff, why do we need to fundraise," says Kleiboer.

She says that until people see numbers, it's not as clear why fundraising is so important.

"Once you point that stuff out to them, then they're a little more perceptive to why we have to do fundraising. You make them understand that this is why we need to do this."

No. 4: Have a thick skin

After getting someone well-organized to help out, it's important that organizers realize parents won't always agree with their methods.

"For example there's 17 kids on a typical team. You'll end up with 15 people who know how to do everything. So the one person who does volunteer is subject to an awful lot of criticism," says Stewart.

He says this requires a good communicator to explain decisions to the parent group, but also someone who has "a bit of a thick skin, too."

Despite all the cost information she provides to her league members, Kleiboer is no stranger to opposition.

"There's always the same people that complain about fundraising no matter what. That's just part of it."

She explains to the parents that they either fundraise or they raise fees, but each year, she must make her case again.

No. 5: Do your homework

"Make sure you are well aware of the rules," says Wendy Webster, league secretary for the Applewood Minor Hockey Association.

Webster says that there are a lot of ways to fundraise, but you have to be careful, because there are also a lot of rules involved with each one.

Lotteries require a lottery license. Events require special occasion permits, and a variety of approvals from municipal government departments.

Many leagues have rules regarding what businesses you can approach for sponsorships.

Consulting the Hockey Canada website or your provincial hockey site will help familiarize you with the regulations, but sometimes you just have to consult others who have more experience.

"Talk to people," says Webster.

No. 6: Target the appropriate audience

If you are selling something, know the demands of your customers. If you are auctioning items, know the demands of your buyers. If you are providing a service, have a clientele.

Reg MacDonald, president of the Gloucester Minor Hockey League, says, "Whatever you're doing, make it something that people are interested in."

It may sound simple, but it can make the difference between fundraising success and failure.

As an example, MacDonald points to three girls teams in the area that put on a successful comedy night for the parents. 

"It was something viable for the parents. With minor hockey and kids' sports, the parents are the ones doing the fundraising. That was something that the adults would do. It was a fun night."

Targeting the parents instead of the players enabled the teams to sell all the available tickets. And since the parents were gathered together, the teams organized a silent auction to run at the show.

The items that were auctioned off were also very well-suited for the audience. There was golf equipment and restaurant gift certificates, among the 60 or 70 items.

"We had some really good items," says Tim Belanger, head coach of the Gloucester-Cumberland Girls peewee AA team who put on the night, which earned $12,000. 

No. 7: Keep it fresh

Belanger says that in addition to being well-suited to the audience, "the biggest thing is that [the comedy night] was original. You didn't have to sell chocolates and this and that. People like stuff that's new."

Being original doesn't mean you can't continue old fundraising methods that work. If something works, stick with it, but don't be afraid to try new methods if they could benefit the league.

Betty Pantazis, fundraiser for the Vancouver Thunderbirds Minor Hockey Association says it's important to mix creativity and novelty with proven methods.

The league has sold cookies, pies and frozen meats to fundraise for years. "It's just one of those things [the league has] been doing for years, and they're comfortable with that," she says.

Because the fundraiser was well-established, the league had regular customers, making the fundraiser relatively successful.

But Pantazis wanted to expand the fundraising activities of the league in order to cover rising costs. "If you want to make more money for your association, you need to do more," she says.

As a result, the league is organizing a dance and silent auction this season to make more money.

No. 8: Adapt

"You have to adapt your fundraiser based on the community you live in," says Nelissen.

In December, the Portage minor hockey league runs a popular drive-home program called "Operation Red Nose," similar to a taxi service run by volunteers.

Most businesses in the area have Christmas functions during the holiday season, which provides a clientele for the program.

It works well in the community of 15,000, but a smaller community might not be ideal.

"We're big enough that Operation Red Nose was the perfect fit for us," he says. 

No. 9: Keep it simple

Belanger recommends putting on one or two big events rather than ten small ones. "[Parents] don't want to do too much fundraising. A lot of the fundraisers involve going to friends and family, asking to buy something, to donate money … it just becomes too annoying," he says. 

"People don't want to do it anymore."

To avoid this, his team is doing only two large fundraisers this year. "We've minimized our fundraising, but the fundraisers we do, we try to make them a little bit bigger."

One fundraiser is the comedy night. Organizers considered adding a meal to serve during the show, but decided not to complicate things too much for the parents. 

"It would have been way too much work. So we tried to keep [with] something simple."

No. 10: Be realistic

People won't always come volunteer to help out. Many organizers agree that if you can't cover your costs through volunteering, you might have to make fundraising fees mandatory.

Manvers Minor Hockey Association found that the volunteer format wasn't working because people simply weren't coming forward. They introduced a fundraising fee at registration, so the money is paid upfront.

"They have the opportunity to earn it back as a lottery. So they basically pay for books and tickets and they get to keep the funds raised," says Lyle Turner, fundraiser for the league.

"If it's optional, nobody takes any [tickets]. It falls back to executive members to sell."

Nelissen makes parents provide the league with a $100 cheque that is cashed if parents don't fulfill their fund raising duties of about 8-12 hours over the season.

"For some people, [having their cheque cashed] doesn't seem to bother them. For a lot of people … that bothers them," he says.

"You hope that you don't have to cash anybody's cheque, and in the grand scheme of things, overall, we don't cash a lot of cheques."