How to Run an Outdoors Club is the ultimate guide for student leaders. Check out the full series here.
We leaders tend to have lofty aspirations for our outdoors clubs–spring break trips to Patagonia, a fleet of vans for weekend getaways, and an endless armada of rentable kayaks. Unfortunately, all of these dreams require one thing that student groups tend to be short on: money.
College Outside’s mission has always been to lower the barrier to entry of the outdoors by reducing the cost of gear. Nevertheless, budgeting and funding can be a complex and often arduous challenge for student leaders. This article will help you make the most of your budget and outline ways for raising money so nothing stands in your way of getting after it.
University Budget Proposals
Many university student activities offices allocate budgets for student organizations. If you are a new club, begin by writing a detailed budget proposal outlining all expected expenses for the school year. It never hurts to aim high when asking for funding from your university. If your club has been around for a while and requires more funding, consider letting your advisors or administrators know how your club has grown over the years, and how you plan to use additional funding. Check out the following examples from real clubs:Drexel Weekend Warriors Budget Skidmore Outing Club Budget Proposal
Maintaining a Budget
With trip fees, member dues, rental fees, food receipts, and so on, keeping track of club expenses can be a nightmare. Meticulous documentation is the key to staying organized and keeping track of all funds. Designate one or two club leaders as Treasurers. Treasurers should have a good relationship with administrators in the student activities funding office. All purchases and reimbursements should be cleared by the Treasurers, who document everything in a comprehensive spreadsheet.
Often, funding from a university just isn’t enough to cover all of the sweet trips your club aspires to, especially if you intend to subsidize trip costs to a college-friendly price. Luckily, there are endless ways to raise a little extra dough for s’more money.
Your club may choose to collect a small membership fee from all club participants each semester or school year. This is an effective method to consistently supplement allocated funds.
Order some apparel, nalgenes, or logos with your club’s logo, then sell them for a small profit to the student body. Matching swag will foster a sense of community and line your organization’s pockets.[Ed. Pssst. Did you know College Outside can help your club get rad custom apparel? Click here for more info!]
With some creativity, you can come up with endless ways to bring in some extra cash flow. Developing an alumni network and keeping in touch with former leaders and members of your organization is a great way to raise funds over many years. Consider fundraisers that both further the mission of your club and engage members of the community.
For example, The Backcountry Squatters at Montana State University, a club dedicated to promoting female engagement in the outdoors, raises money and builds community by selling an annual calendar featuring women getting after it outside–in the nude. “The calendar is intended to promote positive body image, desexualize the female body, and inspire and celebrate the human form,” said Julia Burnham, Squatters’ Outreach Coordinator. “We sell them throughout the month of December–they really do make wonderful Christmas gifts. Last year we paired up with GetYourAssInNature, which was a lot of fun. They sold and promoted the Calendar on their site, which gave it a lot of publicity.”
Movie screenings, guest speakers, and workshops offer endless opportunities to turn a profit on ticket sales. If you don’t want to charge students to attend events, consider opening the event to the public and charging a small entrance fee for non-students. Raffles are another great way to raise money, and local businesses, especially outdoor shops, may be willing to donate prizes for a good cause.
Check to see if your university offers grants to student organizations that positively impact the student body. Proposing a unique event or initiative is a great way to bolster a request for additional funding. If your university doesn’t offer grants, poke around the internet for companies that support student or outdoors-focused groups. Here are some examples:Zipcar Students with Drive Outdoor Foundation Grants The North Face Explore Fund Paddle Nation Project PrAna Explorer Grants Clif Bar Family Foundation Small grants REI Force of Nature Fund
When writing a grant application, make sure to highlight the positive impact your club has on the college community. No one wants to give you money just to go on adventures that don’t serve the common good. Make sure to use language that clearly articulates your organization’s mission to educate students on outdoor leadership, environmental stewardship, build community, or offer meaningful experiences to participants. Outline specific events you’ll execute with grant money. How will these events or programs positively influence the community or achieve a goal?
We sure wish getting outside was free, but the reality is that funding is central to operating a successful club. Get creative, then get outside!
Student and administration leaders reveal wisdom they’ve acquired from years of managing their own clubs
“Get your community involved. People really are amazing, and the forces of several minds can manifest some really remarkable things. The best way to raise funds for any club or student organization is to bring people together in a safe and healthy place that promotes both engagement and learning. Also, don’t be afraid to do something that upsets the system. Take some nudes and put them in a calendar, sponsor a drag show, host an infuriating talk–just because you can.” –Julia Burnham, Outreach Coordinator, MSU Backcountry Squatters
Zoe Gates has served as President and Vice President of Brown Outing Club, redrafting a constitution, aiding in a club structure overhaul, renting out gear and leading trips. As an intern at College Outside, she’s discussed the nitty-gritty of running an outdoors club with hundreds of student leaders and advisors from across the country.