Not only was Derek Stein’s senior undergraduate research project exceptionally creative, it was also extraordinarily lucrative. Stein’s examination of persuasive communication in fundraising led to the organization of an event that netted more than $85,000 for the construction of a new athletic facility at his high school alma mater, Licking Valley in Newark, Ohio.
A communication studies major and football player at Wooster, Stein has always had an interest in fundraising and how communication plays a role in it. Coincidently, his high school had been trying to raise money for a new building for several years, and it occurred to Stein that he could meld the two together for his Independent Study, first by conducting research and then by developing a way to provide funding.
“I was trying to come up with a topic for my I.S., but I wasn’t sure what to do,” he said. “I started to think about the needs of my high school’s athletic program, and realized that I might be able to develop an I.S. topic and benefit my community as well.”
The more Stein contemplated the idea, the more intrigued he became. “I played football and basketball in high school, and even then there was a need for a new facility,” he said. “It was time to give the community something it could be proud of, and I thought I could help.”
Stein’s proposal initially met some resistance from school administrators and board members, but the concerns were soon resolved, and just about everyone rallied behind the effort. “The boosters really liked the concept,” said Stein. “They were very supportive.”
After getting approval for the project, Stein went to work, applying his personal persuasive skills to the marketplace. He began soliciting prizes for a five-hour raffle that would include a 55-inch flat-screen television, an ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle), and a grand prize of a new Jeep Wrangler, which was purchased at manufacturer’s cost from a local dealer. Stein also arranged for a raffle of guns from Woodbury Outfitters, which appealed to the many hunters in that part of the state.
The April 30th event took place across the street from the high school on the grounds of a local businessman. To help increase interest and attendance, Stein set up tables for games of Texas Hold ‘em and invited country-western singer Sammy Kershaw to perform.
Admission was set for $20 and raffle tickets sold for $100 each. Despite an unfavorable weather forecast, word spread quickly, and the event drew more than 1,500 people. At the end of the day, nearly a quarter of the estimated $350,000 cost of the facility had been raised. More significantly, it brought the total in hand to $300,000, which was the target for moving forward with the planning, financing, and construction of the project.
The lessons proved to be just as valuable. “I learned quite a bit from the experience,” said Stein. “From a communication standpoint, I realized the value of being organized, having credibility, and being able to relate to people so they understand what you are trying to accomplish. I also learned that you can do anything you set your mind to. If you have the support, you can make almost anything happen.”
Stein also learned about the importance of communication in leadership. He headed up a committee of six, which included his father and mother, and successfully directed the group throughout the planning process. “You have to take charge,” he said. “We had a lot of people helping, so I had to keep everyone motivated and on task.”
Margaret Wick, visiting assistant professor of communication at Wooster and Stein’s advisor, raved about the quality and uniqueness of his work. “Derek’s project was fabulous, fascinating, and anything but ordinary,” she said. “He picked a topic that had meaning to scholars and a great deal of meaning to the people of his community. His experience represents everything that an exceptional senior project should be.”
When asked if the boosters might name the facility after him, Stein laughed and said, “I’ve heard that, but I’m not looking for that to happen. This was a community-wide effort with a lot of people working hard to make the event successful.”
Stein’s remarkable achievement has moved the project to within $50,000 its target, and he is confident that the goal will be reached soon. Right now, though, he’s happy to have completed the fundraiser, not to mention I.S. “Most students have the thrill of celebrating on I.S. Monday,” said Stein. “I had to wait an extra month before I could finally relax.”
Stein isn’t sure what he will do after graduation, but following his successful I.S. project he’s certain to be a hot commodity in the fundraising/development field. Beyond that, he is looking forward to the day when the facility is completed and the ribbon is cut. No doubt he will be the one holding the scissors.
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