Many booster clubs’ annual budgets are fulfilled through student payments and fundraising. Typically, families are asked to make an up front, out-of-pocket payment and to fundraise throughout the year.
The IRS has set high expectations for booster clubs’ fundraising. They require 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations to distribute funds equally among all participants. Specifically, no student may be denied the opportunity to participate due to their [in]ability to pay student fees or to participate in fundraising. I explain this in more detail in my recent post, Should Students Who Don’t Fundraise Get to Participate?
What can a booster club do?
There. I said it. Leading a booster club is hard! It’s the elephant in the room that all enthusiastic booster officers, coaches, and teachers want to ignore. But it’s true.
Today’s parents face more distractions and demands for their time than parents of any recent generation. These distractions pose significant challenges for those of us who volunteer to lead booster clubs.
My three year tenure as booster club president was both challenging and rewarding. However, the rewards always outweighed the challenges. Based on my experience, here are three of the greatest challenges a booster leader will face.
In my past three posts, we examined the attributes of highly effective booster club presidents, vice presidents, and secretaries. Today, let’s take a look at the financial officers’ roles.
Thriving booster clubs separate financial duties between two officers: the treasurer and the bookkeeper. I have outlined the division of their responsibilities in my post, 5 Proven Ways to Insulate Your Booster Club from Embezzlement.
The treasurer and bookkeeper are vital to a booster club’s success. They are responsible for:
- Operating according to sound accounting practices
- Complying with school board requirements
- Complying with IRS requirements
- Interfacing with the booster club’s banker and financial advisor
- Reporting financial performance to booster club officers, instructors, and school administrators
This week, the former treasurer of a high school volleyball booster club pleaded guilty to sealing nearly $10,000 from the organization. When sentenced, she could face up to six years in prison. But this was not her first offense. In early 2013, she was arrested for embezzling allegedly $170,000 from her former employer. She pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to ten years of probation and ordered to pay more than $156,000 in restitution.
Embezzlement is a crime that is widespread among booster clubs from coast to coast. Behind each incident of embezzlement, you will find several common factors. Here are four:
The Internal Revenue Service exempts booster clubs and other nonprofits from paying taxes as long as they register as 501(c)(3) organizations. Without this exemption, booster clubs could owe 15 ~ 25% of their income in taxes.
However, this exemption has significant implications. The IRS requires booster clubs to distribute funds equally to all students, regardless of their individual participation in fundraising activities. So, is it advantageous for a booster club to register with the IRS as a 501(c)(3)?
What Should Booster Organizations Do?
Booster organizations should take advantage of the tax-exemption offered by the IRS under section 501(c)(3). The booster leader’s top financial priority is to operate in full compliance with the guidelines provided by the IRS. I am neither an attorney nor an accountant. However, I have learned these five essentials while leading a booster organization:
Last week, we saw that the IRS prohibits booster clubs and other nonprofit organizations from operating with individual student accounts. Instead, booster clubs must operate from one general account, and distribute funds to benefit all students equally. Now, let’s take a moment to consider why.
The IRS Generates Revenue for the Federal Government
The IRS’s primary function is to generate revenue for the federal government. Since section 501(c)(3) exempts booster organizations from paying taxes, the IRS leaves a considerable amount of revenue “on the table.” Without the exemption, you could owe 15 ~ 25% of your organization’s income in taxes. When you think in these terms, the IRS’s stringent guidelines begin to seem more reasonable.
But it doesn’t stop there. Let’s illustrate additional tax implications associated with student accounts. Consider that a booster organization sets a fair share of $300 per student. Tyler’s family writes a $300 check to satisfy his fair share at the beginning of the year. Megan, on the other hand, works fundraising events through a partnership with the local university. Throughout the course of the year, Megan earns enough through fundraising to satisfy her fair share.
Perhaps the greatest challenge you’ll face as a booster club leader is achieving annual fundraising goals. You’re always seeking new ways to motivate students and parents to participate in fundraising activities. To hold each family accountable for their “fair share” of the overall fundraising goal, many booster clubs have implemented individual student accounts. The trouble is, this violates IRS guidelines for nonprofit organizations.
Leadership Essential #15: A booster organization must distribute funds equally to all students, regardless of their individual participation in fundraising activities.
This excerpt from my book, The Booster Leader, 35 Leadership Essentials for a Thriving Booster Organization, explains why the IRS does not allow nonprofit organizations to operate with individual student accounts. Additionally, you’ll see the severe punishment the IRS dealt to three booster clubs for operating with individual student accounts.
How are your booster club’s fundraisers performing? Have you generated as much income as you forecasted in your annual budget? If so, congratulations! But if you’re trending away from meeting your goal, it’s not too late to get back on track.
January is the perfect time for a booster club to catch up on fundraising. Many booster clubs’ fiscal years run from June 1st through May 31st. You’ll create next year’s budget in the spring. Before you enter the budgeting season, though, you need to make sure you finish strong to this year’s budget.
If your booster club’s income is trailing your budget expectations, three options immediately come to mind:
Throughout the life of every booster club, there will be times of major expense. During periods of growth within your student program, you may have to expand your facilities or purchase new equipment. To simply maintain operations, you’ll have to replace uniforms and equipment as they reach the end of their useful lives.
These big ticket items usually exceed the funds you have available in your annual budget. With such a daunting task ahead, you may be tempted to pursue a loan. You may even have a parent within the organization who is willing to loan you the money at a competitive interest rate.
The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.Proverbs 22:7 (NIV)
So the question is, “when should a booster club borrow money?” Here’s the short answer: never. I have serious reservations about a booster club borrowing money, and many local school boards do too – they prohibit it altogether. Let’s look at three reasons a booster club should never borrow money.
One of the greatest challenges a booster organization could ever face is theft by a volunteer. Last week, I shared 5 Proven Ways to Insulate Your Booster Club from Embezzlement. In addition to these, prudent booster clubs do not accept cash. If your school system does not already prohibit you from accepting cash, institute this policy on your own.
Institute a “No Cash” Policy
Cash is the least secure method for a booster organization to conduct its financial transactions. Here are four risks that cash presents to an organization: