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Hour-swim fundraiser gives SSLF a boost

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In this edition of Ask the Lead ALTS Instructor, we hear from Bill Meier, who used his position as head Masters coach to facilitate a fundraising drive for the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation.

How did you inspire your swimmers to raise money for SSLF through the one-hour swim?

My team, the Simon’s Rock PaceMakers, has been doing the USMS 1-Hour ePostal National Championship in January for many years. It is one of our yearly training milestones and an event that a large percentage of the team looks forward to. As a team, the event has grown from a few masochists meeting at a predetermined date to trade swimming and timing duties to the whole team gathering on a Saturday morning, taking turns with a stop watch (or cell phone!) and swimming, and then everyone retiring to the nearest watering hole to rehydrate. If misery loves company, the hour swim takes that company and turns it into a party!

I believe that any event that involves the PaceMakers should evolve. With the expansion of the hour swim into a true team event, I wanted to use the momentum and put it toward a good cause. The hour swim is traditionally about personal goals – how far you went last year/how much farther can you go this year. The similarity to a swimathon is unmistakable, except there is no charity benefiting from our efforts. This year, we reconsidered this missing element and decided to add one in.

The Swimming Saves Lives Foundation is the charitable arm of U.S. Masters Swimming. This year, it gave close to $90,000 in grants to our fellow Masters clubs and swim-lesson providers so that they can provide swim lessons to adults in their communities. Each year, requests for grants increase and the number served is only limited by the amount of money in the foundation coffers. The more money available, the more lives will potentially be saved!

As plans developed for our team event on Jan. 28, I sent an e-mail to my swimmers explaining that I would like to turn the hour swim into a fundraiser for the most appropriate charity I could think of – the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation. I created a simple pledge sheet that gave donors the option to contribute a fixed amount or an amount based on laps completed. At the top of the sheet, I included a brief explanation of SSLF, the goals of the grants, and our tax ID number. The last sentence asked to have all pledges in by the end of February. At the next practice, I encouraged people to read the e-mail and consider this idea.

As literally the first Masters club to take part in the April is Adult Learn to Swim Month campaign, as past recipients of SSLF grants, and as a group of people who have gotten used to a coach who likes to experiment, the swimmers on my team are generally willing to give anything a try at least once! The 400 IM – sure! Volunteer lessons for the community – alright! A swim-bike-swim-bike-swim – uhm…OK! I like to give to my team. I don’t like to take, and I especially don’t like to ask for money. My approach to this new fundraising experiment was to throw it out there and see what happens. What happened gives me hope for the future!

By the following week, people were bringing me checks. Before practices, swimmers showed me full pledge sheets. On deck, swimmers compared notes on what to say to friends concerning this project. Most of all – everyone was EXCITED. My swimmers were saying things like, “If I can do another 500, I’ll make this much more money.” The fundraising actually became a motivator to do more laps.

Each week, I would remind people that the hour swim was approaching, and that we were doing this as a fundraiser. I put a folder on my door with extra copies of the pledge sheet. Besides that, I did nothing else, feeling that the importance of the SSLF mission would be all the motivation needed.

The actual hour swim was more festive than ever before. The best quote of the day was, “I feel like I’m swimming for all the people who made pledges.” We had introduced an element of giving back to an event that was previously focused on the individual, and from my experience with the PaceMakers, this can be quite powerful. The rehydration party post-swim was one of the more memorable events I’ve had with this group of athletes.

By the end of February, after weekly reminders, the team brought in over $5,000 with little extra work on my part. Any extra work, though, was completely offset by the effect this project had on my team. Once again, we had experienced the power that “giving back” can have on a group of like-minded individuals. I would strongly recommend helping your team experience this also.

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