Successful Fundraising Strategies from Super Fundraising Individuals in the Sport of Dressage

Saturday, August 17, 2013
Posted by Betsy LaBelle



Lisa Van Stratten made a Ribbon Quilt for a Silent Auction at the Nebraska Dressage Association's Year End Awards Banquet  Photo: Lisa Van Stratten
Lisa Van Stratten made a Ribbon Quilt for a Silent Auction at the Nebraska Dressage Association's Year End Awards Banquet Photo: Lisa Van Stratten
The opportunity to fundraise is one great liberty and privilege granted to all citizens in the United States of America, but to do so, one must make a plan and then go for it. Whether fundraising for USDF GMO, young rider for NAJYRC, dressage show, rider, or other; read these great ideas. Two stand-out individuals who have done super work for equestrian organizations through their amazing ideas are Lisa Van Stratten and Marian Walgren. We caught up with Lisa Van Stratten from Fort Calhoun, Nebraska (just north of Omaha, Nebraska) who served on the board of the USDF Group Member Organization, Nebraska Dressage Association (NDA), and Marian Wahlgren, who works as the Development Director for the United States Pony Club, based in the building next to the USEF offices at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Lisa Van Stratten gave us a list of her great fundraising successes for Nebraska Dressage Association:

Raffles at a Weekend Horse Show :

Lisa shared, "I’ve made a small fortune with $1 raffles."

She continued, "First, find a business to donate something that everyone in attendance will want. Second, buy a roll of raffle tickets (you can get 1,000 for less than $10) and third, start advertising. As soon as the event begins, start selling tickets. And you are fundraising."

She advised, "Don't forget to: choose a time to draw a winner prior to the end of the event, tell everyone the drawing time when they purchase a ticket, determine whether the winner must be present at the time of the drawing, and make sure each purchaser writes their name and phone number on the back of the ticket, to locate the winner and send or deliver the prize. And finally, if there is a Facebook page where the event is advertised, this is a great place to get the word out."

Tack Sale (Ask for Items before the season):

"During the late winter months when everyone was thinking about spring cleaning, I started asking for people to donate items for a tack sale at our rated show in June. I let the donators and buyers know where the proceeds were going. I picked up the items at their farms as soon as they were ready. This gave me time to clean, repair, and price all the items ahead of the sale. I also took on consignment items for people who had higher priced items but did not want to donate 100%. They set a price for the item then I sold it for more. The price gain, over the set amount, was donated and the person donating the item made money. I did this for saddles, bridles, and bits."

Specialty Items from High Performance Riders:

Dallas Van Stratten and Jan Ebeling - autographing foam fingers for fundraising  Photo: Lisa Van Stratten
Dallas Van Stratten and Jan Ebeling - autographing foam fingers for fundraising Photo: Lisa Van Stratten
"I found out that one of the riders on the 2012 Olympic Dressage Team was originally from our region. I was able to negotiate for a pair of shoes from their horse. I used these as a live auction item at our show. I also purchased several items from their fundraising website, which they autographed for me to auction.

Then, I searched for weeks to find some of the red foam dressage fingers and when I finally found some I ordered a lot of them to use at our silent auction. Then a few months later my daughter applied and was accepted to ride in a JR/YR clinic with Jan Ebeling. He was more than happy to autograph the foam fingers for me. I attended the USDF Convention this past December in New Orleans where the attendees received a souvenir red foam finger. I was able to have Steffen Peters autograph a few of these during the convention. I used these for raffles, live auctions, and silent auctions. You just never know who you will run into so always be prepared. Autographed items are great fundraisers. So are unique one-of-a-kind items.”

Silent Auctions:

Basket of products for a weekend dressage show raffle  Photo: Lisa Van Stratten
Basket of products for a weekend dressage show raffle Photo: Lisa Van Stratten
“Our annual banquet is in early November, so holiday items for Thanksgiving or Christmas are always big money makers. Every trainer in our area donates a lesson which brings in new clients to try them out. Local shows can donate stall and entry fees. Certificates for local restaurants, salons, oil changes, or blanket and saddle pad cleaning are also good ideas. Services like tack cleaning, horse washing, trailer cleaning, or even baby-sitting are good ideas that younger members can donate. Local barns donate summer camps, horse riding birthday parties and auditor spots in clinics. To organize a simple silent auction, make a list of all donated items and assign a number to each. Make up an auction sheet for each item with the number, description and value at the top and about 25 lines down the sheet for bids. Display each item with its auction sheet and a pen. When bidders arrive at the event, assign them a bidder number. Have the bidders put their number on the sheet of the item they want to buy and how much they want to bid. I always start with a minimum bid on each item and the next bid must be at least $1 higher. Let the bidders know when the auction will be over. After that time, pick up the auction sheets and total them by bidder number. Announce who one each item. Create baskets by grouping smaller donated items that are similar. Think about the timing of the event.”

Gala Event:

“Schedule a ticketed gala event where attendees pay a fee up front to attend. Schedule freestyle riders to perform and serve wine and dessert. Have silent and live auctions in conjunction with the event. Also allow attendees the ability to donate directly to an individual rider by setting up an area with a box with each name on what the rider is fundraising for. Before each freestyle, have an MC describe the level of each rider, what they are fundraising for, and the training necessary to enable the horse and rider to compete at that level. This is a great way to introduce non-equestrian people to dressage. Have a theme for your fundraiser with a catch phrase. Follow through with this theme on all correspondence.”

Create a Challenge:

“Ask barns to donate money that will be matched by your barn or GMO within a predetermined period of time for a special need. This was done in our region for the NAJYR competition.”

Overall Sponsors or Donors:

“Most all GMO’s use a three or four level approach signifying them as Gold, Silver, Bronze and sometimes adding in a corporate level. To go with a more “dressage” theme, I changed the levels to Corporate, Grand Prix, Intermediare, and Prix St. Georges. The Corporate level has everything. Full page ads in the newsletter, show programs and membership handbook, free vendor space at the shows, a class sponsored at the rated show, name and business information announced at shows, promotional items inserted into welcome packets at our rated show, 2 tickets to our annual banquet, business logo and information listed on the NDA website, banquet program, and a feature article once a month on our Facebook page. I also had a banner made for each sponsor with the corporate level being the largest size. I priced out each item and came up with a total amount that each package would cost. Each level under corporate offers less options but also costs less. To get more interest in the corporate level, if a sponsor inquired, I allowed payments throughout the year. I had to set up a billing mechanism which was fairly simple but worth it to get a corporate sponsor on board. I will re-evaluate these levels and costs each year and update with changes and new ideas.” 


“Most large companies offer matching donations for charities or non-profit organizations. For example, an employee wants to donate $100 to a non-profit; the company will match it with another $100. Check with your company to see if they offer charity matching donations and what their application process or requirements are.”

Thank You’s:

“Thank you’s! Send a hand written thank you in the mail within 30 days of the event.  Ask the recipient to send a thank you as well. Include photos if possible. I recently had four shirts donated for the NAJYRC Team Championship.  I took along the tack shop’s banner to the event and took pictures of the riders in their shirts in front of the venue. The shop owner is going to love this photo.”  

United States Pony Club teaches fundraising to youth through bi-weekly conference calls: 
2013 Pony Club Teams - seven youth participated in the Lendon Dressage Youth Festival and raised funds for the event  Photo: Betsy LaBelle
2013 Pony Club Teams - seven youth participated in the Lendon Dressage Youth Festival and raised funds for the event Photo: Betsy LaBelle
Each year the United States Pony Club puts together teams for the Lendon Dressage Youth Festival in Saugerties, NY. Once selected, the office and volunteers organize bi-weekly conference calls. The conference calls help to encourage the youth and parents to get out there and fundraise. It's like a fundraising support group.  
Marian Wahlgren, the Development Director for the United States Pony Club based at the Kentucky Horse Park works hard to make sure all who give are thanked by all participants and the United States Pony Club. All the proceeds go to the kids for entries, shirts, saddle pads, tack room set-up and any extras needed for team spirit. Though it is extra work for Marian, she does a fantastic job for these youth. She said, “Well I think the biggest way we teach them to fundraise is to first help them connected with their family and friends and explained the value of this educational experience. And then, of course, to the equestrian shops where they ask for donated products, which are used to supplement the team in various ways – saddle pads, product etc. The TEAM works together to raise money for their overall experience.”
Not only do these kids raise enough money, but often they are surprised at the amount of products and supplies they are given. They enjoy the experience, and learn the value of thank you notes. The Pony Club has put together quite a great system that helps kids of all horse sports learn how to fundraise to become future fundraising machines for their futures.  
Other Fundraising Ideas: 

Dunk Tank at an outdoor fundraising party: 

Theme a party with a beach motif with a super casual dress code for getting wet. Participants will gladly pay $5 or more to dunk their coach in the tank.
There would be nothing like bringing a community together to share in some good fun. What liberation it would be to dunk your coach after years of devoted discipline. 
Lisa Van Stratten shared:  “We desperately needed to overhaul our Fundraising program for the Nebraska Dressage Association (NDA). I will serve as Fundraising Chair from 2012 to 2014. I have also volunteered as a fundraising member on the Friends of the Omaha Zoo Guild at the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo for five years and on the Post Prom Fundraising Committee at the school where my children attend. I worked in the corporate world for 20 years as a project manager and application development manager but retired as my daughter now owns her third horse and continues to compete. She was a member of the USDF Region 4 NAJYRC Team for the past two years. We both volunteer many hours with NDA and I served a three year Board Member term from 2009 to 2012." 
To conclude, she said, "Be sure to communicate your fundraising events everywhere. There are Facebook pages, newsletters, sponsor businesses and barns, email lists, and online forums.  
Look for fundraising classes or seminars to attend. Join other GMO’s to become involved and learn what they are doing for fundraising. Networking with other people, who are also involved in fundraising, to hear about their events and successes, makes a huge difference and acts as a motivator.  
Make your next fundraiser successful by starting early, prepare professional letters, contact all potential donors and sponsors, ask for donations, follow up, and always thank your donors and sponsors!”