Is It Time for Other Funding Sources?

Looking for dollars for that new tech initiative? Hold a bike sale.

Students at Orange County Community College (SUNY Orange, part of the State University of New York system) are taking matters into their own hands: They’re holding a bike sale. Specifically, the school is raffling off a custom-built motorcycle from Orange County Choppers. The objective: to raise money for a campuswide wireless network. Tickets sell for $5 each, and the drawing is tentatively scheduled for April (www.sunyorangeraffle.org/tickets.html).

The raffle seeks to address the school’s IT funding challenge: meeting students’ technology expectations in an era of tight budgets. In fact, Suny Orange conducted a campus survey in 2004 and found wireless connectivity to be the students’ top technology priority. A campuswide wireless deployment, however, is a big-ticket item. The school estimated the cost to be at least $200,000.

“We don’t have deep pockets or an infinite amount of resources to do all we need to do,” explains James Dutcher, associate vice president of Technology at SUNY Orange, and part-time raffle coordinator.

SUNY community colleges obtain financial backing through a combination of state government funding, local government funding, and student tuition. Each source, according to state law, is to provide a third of a school’s budget. But the state “has not been meeting its state-mandated funding requirements,” according to the New York State Public Interest Research Group (www.nypirg.org). Against this backdrop, schools juggle different funding sources to meet their IT needs. Dutcher describes four categories: government funding; tuition; grants; and a broad, catch-all category known as “other.”

Developing ‘Other’ Sources

The latter category has taken on more significance as public school IT budgets decline, notes Julie Smith, director of Higher Education for tech reseller CDW-G (www.cdwg.com). “We’re seeing more creative funding,” she says.

That brings us back to the chopper raffle at SUNY Orange—the school’s contribution to creative funding. Dutcher explains that the raffle idea came out of a brainstorming session with the SUNY Orange computer club. The club had always wanted to hold a raffle, and Orange County Choppers surfaced as a logical partner. Dutcher made contact, found the cycle builders receptive, and work began on the chopper.

While fun, the raffle project required a lot of work, not to mention an upfront investment, says Dutcher. Indeed, the school had to come up with funding just to acquire the prize. SUNY Orange discovered that Orange County Choppers d'esn’t give away its rides to non-profit organizations; a free chopper precedent would, presumably, overwhelm the bikemakers with interested parties. As it turned out, SUNY Orange’s chopper was priced at $45,000. But Wellington Steele & Associates, a Rochester, NY-based IT consulting firm (www.wellingtonsteele.com), provided the money to purchase the bike, with the understanding that the company would be reimbursed, Dutcher notes.

The bike wasn’t the only expense, however. There were also marketing, ticket printing, and IT cost considerations. The IT component included a Web site and an eCommerce solution; SUNY Orange uses PayPal (www.paypal.com) to facilitate online translations. With the technology in place, the school is able to promote the raffle and sell tickets online. A back-end database was also developed to track ticket sales.

“From a marketing perspective, it’s an interesting case study,” Dutcher says of the raffle. “The Internet is the primary vehicle for sales and marketing.”

Labor is free for the most part. Computer club students manage the Web site, eCommerce engine, and back-end database. SUNY Orange’s accounting and marketing club are also participating in the raffle project.

The chopper’s price tag and various ancillary expenses have put the raffle’s break-even point at around $55,000. So, clearly, the students have a lot of $5 tickets to sell before a wireless network appears. But the SUNY Orange raffle has attracted ticket buyers from as far away as Hawaii and Europe, and the raffle prize has been wheeled into shopping centers to increase visibility. Ticket sales are conducted person-to-person, as well as on the Web, and SUNY Orange clubs are competing to sell tickets.

What to Consider

Colleges seeking to emulate the SUNY Orange raffle have a couple of factors to consider. The first is cost: A school must be prepared to provide a prize, promote the raffle, and assemble any necessary IT infrastructure.

Would-be fundraisers may also encounter bureaucratic hurdles. In New York State, for example, raffles that anticipate $5,000 or more in net proceeds have to register with the state racing and wagering board. The state rejected SUNY Orange’s application at first because of a rule prohibiting state-affiliated institutions from running raffles. The solution was to have the college’s educational foundation—a non-profit group that operates independently of state or local government bodies—file the necessary paperwork. The foundation will hold the funds generated from the raffle and disperse them to the school at the raffle’s conclusion.

The road to a raffle is not easy. But the task empowers students, giving them control over one source of funding, which, says Dutcher “puts them directly in the driver’s seat.”

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