With the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil’s beachfront city of Rio de Janeiro less than a year away, the U.S. Olympic Committee is pushing its fundraising efforts to a full-on sprint. Donors are being invited to participate in athletes’ training via an online gift registry launched by the committee earlier this year. There, supporters of Team USA can "purchase" items like $100 running shoes, a $1,000 indoor rowing machine, or $15 swim goggles, with the contributions going to support athletes.
Donors won’t be purchasing the actual piece of athletic wear or training gear. Instead, the items on the Team USA Registry are intended to represent what it takes for a U.S. athlete to train for the Olympic stage and create a connection between competitors and fans.
"The idea is to build awareness about Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls and their journey to the games," says Jon Denney, chief development officer for the United States Olympic Committee.
Unlike many other national Olympic committees, the U.S. Olympic Committee doesn’t receive money for athletes from the federal government. It relies on individual donors and corporate sponsors to help support the Olympic hopefuls, who often pay expenses out of pocket.
The majority of these athletes make an average of $20,000 a year, Mr. Denney says, far less than what they need for training and competition.
"It really takes the team behind the team to support our athletes," he says.
The committee created its fundraising arm, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation, in 2014. The registry, modeled on the widely used wedding registry, was launched in April to support its annual fund. All of the money raised goes to support the athletes.
While no dollar goal has been set for the fundraising effort, according to Mr. Denney, he and his colleagues aim to have donors to "purchase" 2,750 items — about the number of athletes on U.S. national teams aspiring to compete in the Olympic or Paralympic Games. They’re currently about halfway to that number.
The committee has used creative approaches to online fundraising before. In 2012, in advance of the Olympics in London, for every donor who gave, the committee added a stitch to an American flag that hung in the Olympic Village. The campaign brought in more than $300,000.