At schools across the country, costs are rising and budgets are shrinking. This poses major issues for extra-curricular clubs and sports, which tend to be prioritized behind educational initiatives in the pecking order. For these groups, fundraising is now as important as ever.
If you’ve ever had a couple kids wearing letter jackets ring your doorbell and try to sell you discount cards for use with local businesses, then you’re familiar with a common approach. It’s a sound fundraising strategy: reach out to people within your community who are more likely to have connections to your school, and offer them something of value in return for their support.
One of the highest-profile companies driving this service was Varsity Gold, which went out of business a few years ago. Charlie Kruse, an entrepreneur who had contracted for them, was a big fan of the fundraising model but suggested that Varsity Gold’s ultimate downfall was an adherence to the traditional physical product and a hesitance to modernize their service for the digital era.
So now, he’s taking that baton and running with it.
Kruse previously founded PrepAthlete but left the company about a year ago to pursue a new project. Last spring, he launched iFundraise4U, a website that enables partners to set up virtual malls where individuals can make purchases and support the cause. Users can purchase anything ranging from clothes, shoes, sports equipment, travel packages, magazine subscriptions, electronics and more, all at a cost comparable to a major retailer and with a sizable portion of the proceeds (20 percent on average) going to the fundraising entity. iFundraise4U also gets a cut of the delta between retail and wholesale cost, serving as their main profit mechanism.
“We are giving them (partners) the tools to set up a micro-universe of consumers that are tethered to that particular team,” says Kruse. “We’re steering shopping habits.”
Kruse himself negotiates deals with participating vendors, focusing on products with significant margins, thematic relevance and direct shipping capability.
To strengthen his offering, Kruse brought aboard Charise Parsons, former COO of Varsity Gold. He’s also teamed up with Mark Braaten, owner of TeamKLIPZ.com, a video-hosting site targeting schools, organizations and charities. By integrating iFundraise4U and TeamKLIPZ, Kruse hopes to create what he calls a one-stop shop for schools – a consolidated platform where various groups can raise money and students can post videos encouraging support (emulating the door-to-door connection between team and consumer but done virtually).
iFundraise4U currently serves a couple hundred clients, but Kruse is extremely confident in his ability to build out that roster once he feels his service is completely ironed out. He says he’s on the verge of making that push.
“I don’t have any problem at all getting business,” he says. “We’re not asking for any money, it’s been designed so they do virtually no work, so it’s just found money for these people.”
With more participants comes more legitimacy, and more vendors interested in featuring their products, thus leading to a greatly expanded selection. Kruse says that in one year, he “absolutely” can see this service being used by thousands of schools across the nation. And that idea excites him for more than just financial reasons.