With FFA member dues on the rise from $5 to $7 per member and school districts challenged with budget shortfalls, advisors and alumni are seeking ways to get dues paid without going to students. Although Neal Lucht, president-elect for the state of Oregon’s FFA alumni hasn’t heard any pushback about the dues increase, he and other alumni are aware of growing financial challenges students and FFA chapters face. “Our state budget crisis with reduced legislative support for schools is causing significant challenges for communities.” Lucht said. “Alumni are helping students who find the costs to be a barrier to participation.”
Lucht said the list of local alumni strategies is endless. “Alumni are there as a resource for the local educator,” he said. “The local ag advisor would come to an alumni group and identify that the dues are a barrier for kids, then alumni affiliates do what they can to provide access. From large donation auctions to drive-up barbeque dinners, to duck floats, to community car washes, we stress that alumni affiliates are really there to work with local advisors.”
At the state level, Oregon FFA is providing alumni affiliates support with development and formation and leadership training programs for officers of local chapters. Trainings help them organize programs, build relationships with local ag educators and connect to statewide resources such as college scholarships.
Alumni chapters step up to the plate
“Our alumni are very, very supportive,” said Nicole Reese of Milton FFA Alumni in Wisconsin. “Any time we have a student in need, whether it be dues, attendance at National Convention, travel, we provide resources.”
Milton FFA Alumni have built strong community partnerships. By networking with local business people, they receive significant donations for major fundraising campaigns. In an area hard hit by General Motors job losses, the alumni chapter sees the need to be even more responsive. “We realized that student confidentiality was an issue,” Reese said. “So fundraising focuses on seeking support for all of the student members without providing any information about individual needs. Our board trusts us to maintain privacy, determine need and make good decisions on behalf of the students.”
Milton FFA Alumni already takes responsibility for student dues by running their community’s Fourth of July events. “We run a carnival and spend money to put on the fireworks show,” Reese explained. Proceeds have gone toward dues as well as larger opportunities such as attendance at the Washington Leadership Conference.
The Black Hawk FFA Alumni in Wisconsin recently met to brainstorm ideas for fundraising specific to the dues increase for members. “We are looking seriously at the Program Affiliate membership,” said Lori Berget, advisor and lifetime alumni member, as an alternative for collecting money from individual students and a way to ensure every ag student is an FFA member. Whether they continue to address individual student needs or choose the Program Affiliate strategy, Berget said they are pursuing new fundraising ideas. Part of the fundraising includes creating a relationship between donors and recipients. They are exploring the parameters for an “Adopt an FFA Member” program where students would write letters to their sponsor. Over the course of a school year, students might correspond once a quarter about what they are doing. Students and sponsors could build a mentor-like relationship, fostering a shared sense of accomplishment that will hopefully lead to continued financial support by donors in the future.
Berget explained that barn “quilts” made with 4 feet x 8 feet sheets of plywood and hung on the side of a barn are a popular tourist attraction. Building on that theme, the chapter is making a fabric quilt of old T-shirts to be auctioned, with the proceeds going toward either dues or the Affiliate Program. The ideas for increased funding, connecting with donors, and engaging every student are as diverse as everyone involved.
Both Berget and Reese were adamant that their alumni chapters are more focused on overall fundraising and less about the individual $2 increase.