Michelle Senesac and Dr. Michael Abbott
In August 2014, Special Olympics Texas (SOTX) sent out an anonymous electronic survey to its athletes, family members, coaches, donors, volunteers and others to gain insight on what type of information the SOTX community wanted to know more about. It is envisioned that the results of the survey will be used to guide SOTX in the development of a resource library for its community, as well as to help focus research efforts undertaken by the organization.
The survey consisted of six questions touching on a range of topics the community might be interested in. Two versions of the survey were developed. Individuals responding “athlete” to the first question asked, (“How are you involved with Special Olympics?”), were directed to a version of the survey that was athlete-friendly and asked for likes and dislikes. The questions in the athlete’s version of the survey were related to the questions in the non-athlete version of the survey, but with different wording. The athlete’s version contained one question, (“Why are you in Special Olympics?”), that allowed multiple answers. All other questions required a yes or no answer.
Individuals who responded to the first question as anything but “athlete”, were directed to the non-athlete version of the survey. One question, (“Which of the following types of intellectual disabilities would you like to learn more about?”), allowed multiple answers, while questions 3-5 asked for a most interested, somewhat interested, or not interested response for each of the subcategories presented.
Both versions of the survey contained the same final question, which was an open-ended question asking respondents if there was anything else they would like SOTX to consider.
There were 484 respondents to the survey; 50 respondents were athletes and 424 respondents were non-athletes. Among the non-athlete respondents, categories with the highest participation were parents/family members, coaches and volunteers. The survey instrument allowed respondents to skip questions. Consequently it was decided to consider percentages of responses to each question. The range of responses to various questions ranged from 31 to 50 for athletes and 368 to 392 for non-athletes.
Athletes were asked if they would like to learn more about certain types of activities. Eight different choices of sports/activities were given; four were leisure-type activities (yoga, paddleboarding, hunting/fishing, and dance), and four were organized sports (track and field, cycling, powerlifting, and basketball). Athletes had the most interest in dance (74%), track and field (60%) and basketball (56%). Athletes had the least interest in hunting/fishing (26%), paddleboarding (28%) and cycling (30%). Comparing leisure activities to organized sports showed a slightly greater interest in organized sports (45%) than leisure activities (42%).
Athletes were asked why they participated in Special Olympics. They were given choices that related to the type of motivation (i.e. internal, external, social) that was the driving force behind their participation. The greatest reason for participation was the social motivation, “I like making friends” (76%), followed by an internal motivation, “I like playing the sport” (66%), followed by the external motivation, “I like getting ribbons, medals, and winning” (56%).
Athletes were asked if they wanted to learn more about a number of general areas of interest to SOTX. The two areas with the most interest from athletes were health (86%) and recreation/leisure activities (84%). Areas of moderate interest to athletes were sports programs (78%), social programs (77%), learning a skill (72%), and summer camps (71%).
Athletes were asked if they wanted to learn more about areas in which SOTX programs helped them. They were most interested in how SOTX programs helped with their social skills (100%), community involvement (75%), self-confidence (74%) and sports skills (74%).
When asked about interest in learning more about specific SOTX programs, athletes rated athlete leadership highest (70%), followed by Unified sports (63%), Young Athletes (61%), and Healthy Athletes (61%).
The two most popular intellectual disabilities that non-athlete respondents wanted more information about were Autism Spectrum Disorder (57%) and Down Syndrome (39%).
General areas related to individuals with intellectual disabilities that the non-athlete respondents were most interested in were sports programs (65%), family resources (62%) and recreational/leisure activities (60%). They had moderate interest in health benefits (54%), training programs (52%), employment (52%) and inclusion programs (50%).
Non-athlete respondents were asked about the impact of SOTX programs. They were most interested in the impact of SOTX programs on athlete’s self-confidence (66%), social skills (66%), and health (61%). Non-athlete respondents had moderate interest on the impact of SOTX programs on community involvement (57%) and the family unit (54%).
Regarding the effectiveness of specific SOTX programs, non-athlete respondents were most interested in Healthy Athletes (54%), followed by athlete leadership (48%), Unified sports (46%), and Young Athletes (43%).
In looking at specific categories of non-athlete respondents, (i.e. parent, coach, or volunteer), it was concluded that no significant discrepancy existed between the subcategory results and the general non-athlete results. That is, the results of each subcategory had the same 3-4 high interest areas as the results of the non-athlete category, although with slight differences in order.
There were 65 responses to the open-ended question, “What other questions or areas would you like SOTX to consider?”. Issues raised varied: “How do I find out what activities/sports are available in my area?”; “Can we cut down on the paperwork for coaches?”; “How can SOTX help parents without necessary resources see their athlete compete?”; “Where does all the money SOTX collects go?”; etc.
These issues were given to SOTX staff who prepared answers to each question/issue raised. The questions/issues and SOTX answers to them are posted to a link found on the SOTX website.
The purpose of this survey was to develop some insight into topics the SOTX community was interested in obtaining more information on. The results of the survey will be used as a guide as SOTX begins developing its resource library, and in conducting research on its programs and activities.
Many of you participated in an online survey for us in August and September. We asked athletes and others (families, coaches, volunteers and other supporters) to answer a series of questions to help us learn more about the issues our athletes and families are thinking about. The survey provided an opportunity for respondents to make comments or ask questions. And boy, were there questions! We’ve answered the most common questions below. In the future, we will also release the results of the survey. Thank you so much for your feedback!
How do you select the venues for state Games? Sometimes it’s difficult to get hotel housing.
We select it based on the quality and size of the facilities available. We need to have facilities that can handle the number of athletes competing and they must be accessible. For instance, the Texas A&M swimming pool is an Olympic-caliber pool, and we are dedicated to giving our athletes the best facilities possible to compete in.
Whenever we go to a community for a Chapter competition, we work with that community’s Convention and Visitors Bureau to make sure we have cooperation internally and at the community level, so that when we bring these large events, they are excited to host us and our stakeholders in their city.
This year’s Fall Classic in Bryan/College Station was the only time that we have ever had a housing issue. We always avoid scheduling Fall Classic on weekends where Texas A&M has a home football game, so that we can avoid housing issues. This year, the Texas A&M families group decided to hold their Fall Family Orientation for freshmen on a non-home game weekend—but they changed the date to the same weekend as Fall Classic without checking to see if there were other events scheduled for that time frame.
We are working with Texas A&M and the Convention and Visitors Bureau to (quickly) pick a date for the 2015 Fall Classic. Once the date is announced, please make your reservations as soon as possible so that you can obtain the housing you’d prefer. A lot of people wait until the last minute; College Station is a community where you have to be on it if you want to secure the hotels you want.
How do I find out what activities/sports are available in my area? Where can I find out what’s happening in my area?
All of the areas have calendars that are done basically a year in advance. You can go to the website – www.sotx.org – and on the right side you can search for your area by typing in your zip code. Once you find it, the events are listed on the calendar. Each area also has its own Facebook page:
What can our Area Directors do to let parents know what is going on/coming up in our areas?
We are working to increase the number of families in our database, so that we can communicate with them directly via email. Currently, we communicate with the Head of Delegations and we expect them to push out that information to their family members. But we’re learning that it’s not always happening. If you know of a family member who is not receiving emails from us, please encourage them to sign up. Go to your area’s web page to sign up to receive news about your area and the state.
Some sports don’t seem to accommodate athletes who have autism or those who are profoundly disabled. Why can’t you change things so they can be involved, too?
We offer what has been sanctioned by Special Olympics Inc. We have levels of involvement for those severely involved athletes and it starts with the Motor Activities Training Program (MATP), a program for athletes who cannot compete in official Special Olympics sports because they cannot physically perform movements or cannot follow the rules due to cognitive or behavioral limitations. The focus of MATP is on training and participation, rather than competition. For this reason, there are no official rules for competition. Emphasis is placed on achieving personal bests, and it allows for adapted equipment and physical assistance.
We want to help these athletes progress from MATP into individual skills if possible. But MATP is there for an athlete that can’t function in a competitive environment. The individual’s skills are modified to the point where we can incorporate most of the athletes who are more involved physically and emotionally in some of those events; not all of the events are going to be appropriate for every athlete. Behavior and safety are both huge components. The athlete needs to be emotionally capable of appropriately being a part of an event; if they’re not, then we go back to the motor activities training program.
How can we get younger athletes involved? The programs seem geared to the older athletes.
Our Young Athletes Program is a sports play program designed to introduce children ages 2-7 to the world of physical activity. Children with and without intellectual disabilities participate together, prior to and regardless of Special Olympics eligibility at age 8. The program utilizes physical activities to develop fundamental motor tracking and eye-hand coordination play. Children build these skills by participating in specific activities on a regular basis. The program concentrates on applying the skills learned through these activities in preparation for Special Olympics or traditional sports competitions. We have more than 9,000 athletes throughout the state in the program. The Young Athletes Program is available in all areas of the state. If you’re interested in establishing a Young Athletes Program, contact your area office.
How can we get older athletes involved? The programs seem geared to the younger athletes.
Many of our sports, such as Bowling and Bocce, are accessible for our older athletes. Several sports can be modified for older athletes. For example, we have older athletes who are doing modified Tennis, where the court is shrunk down to a very small size and the tennis balls are modified to move slowly. Older athletes may not want to do the 50-meter dash, but Bocce would be an absolute blast for them to do.
My athlete has graduated from school. How do I find a team?
Contact your area office, which will have a list of adult independent teams that athletes can join. If the athlete is going into a group home or sheltered workshop, the Area Director can contact the workshop or group home and work on trying to get them involved. Of course, it’s a huge help when families request that the group homes or dayhabs make Special Olympics participation available for their athletes!
We live far away from major metropolitan areas. How can we get more involved?
Even small communities are getting themselves involved with Special Olympics. If you’re in a small community and only have a few athletes, then we work with you on getting involved with Unified Sports® programs, which bring together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities to compete as a team. For instance, you could have athletes practice on a five-on-five Unified basketball team, where you have three athletes and two partners and then you have a local competition if there’s another team near you. Then the team could move on to Area-level competition. That is what we strive for.
I went through coach’s training but no one ever contacted me to set me up with a team. What should I do?
Just go back to the Area office and ask them again. You can also call Molly Kuchar at 512-491-2940 and she can work with your Area Director to get you set up with a team.
Coaches have to do too much paperwork. Why?
Every single form has a purpose. Every single piece of paper we have is either an entry process, a medical for our athletes to ensure that they are in good physical condition to participate, or it’s for volunteering, which is critical for us to make sure that the folks involved with us are who we need to have involved. We’ve been pushing all of that online to make it easier for our coaches.
Why are we only bowling two games at area and state competitions?
We’re bowling three at State Games and we’re bowling two at area. Bowling is by far the most expensive sport to run at the area level. We needed to cut the number of games so that we could continue to offer bowling as a sport.
My team is raising money that appears to be going to things other than Special Olympics activities. What should I do?
Please contact your Area Director if you have concerns about how team funds are being spent.
How can we get parents more involved? Our family would like to volunteer. How can we get involved?
One of the best ways for family members to be involved as a volunteer is through the SOTX Family Support Network. We’re trying to create some social activities where families can meet each other and build supportive relationships with each other.
The local area offices always need volunteers to assist with administrative responsibilities as well as the organization of the sports and competitions. Volunteers can also go online to www.sotx.org and click on ‘Get Involved’. There are many different ways to volunteer and in many different capacities: Head of Delegation, Coach, Assistant Coach, Chaperone, Committee Member, Families Committee, Official, Trainer, Unified Sports® Partner, and more. We would love to have all families involved and active with SOTX.
How can you help parents, who don’t have the resources, see their athlete compete?
Every team has the opportunity to fundraise and that money raised goes into a team account that the team can spend how it chooses. If the team wants to pay to take a family, who hasn’t had a chance to see their athlete compete at the state level, then that is completely up to them.
Why can’t there be more events where athletes can socialize?
Our job is to put on sports competitions. These competitions provide athletes with an opportunity to socialize with each other. If you watch any state or area competition, they’re all out visiting, making friends and talking.
How can you get more coaches? Some of our coaches are getting older.
Recruiting new coaches is a priority for us. We are reaching out to the different organizations, universities, schools and recreational facilities to recruit people who have sports knowledge to try to get them involved. Your ideas and contacts are welcome.
Where does all the money go?
We are proud that 83 cents on every donated dollar went into programming and 17 cents went into administrative and fundraising expenses in 2013. We have a budget that is carefully derived a year in advance and is approved by each department, by the president, the Finance Committee and by the Board to ensure that our expenses are not extravagant.
When doing a cost to raise a dollar analysis, the industry benchmark on special event fundraising is that it costs 50 cents to raise a dollar. When SOTX did its cost to raise a dollar analysis on 2013, we raised $1 for every 14.85 cents that we spent. That is a phenomenal ratio!
Staff time, salaries and compensation packages are not included in a cost to raise a dollar analysis but SOTX decided to throw those costs into an additional analysis to see where we were. After including all of those elements, our cost to raise a dollar increased from 14.85 cents to 20 cents. We raise money very efficiently.
· It costs us as an organization (statewide with everything included, all expenses, all salaries, all everything) around $150 per athlete, per year. When referring to ‘per athlete’, that doesn’t count someone who is participating in two different sports as two people; it counts them as one person no matter how many sports he/she participates in.
· A large percentage of our annual expenses pays for the salary, benefits and insurance for the 74-plus employees we have around the state.
· We also pay rent and other expenses on our headquarters in Austin and on 19 area offices.
For more information and an even further breakdown of where the money goes, our audits and 990’s are available on our website and on Guide Star, Charity Navigator and any of the other nonprofit information service sites.
Why do you keep asking coaches/volunteers/families for money?
As mentioned earlier, it costs us as an organization (statewide with everything included, all expenses, all salaries, all everything) around $150 per athlete, per year.We provide year-round programming and there are costs associated with providing sports opportunities to more than 51,300 people. All of our money comes from donations. We receive less than $20,000 per year from the federal government in a grant for our Healthy Athletes program. Other than that, every single dollar is donated. It’s important to note that one-half of the expenses of running the Texas program is given to us in-kind every year and those in-kind goods and services are not counted in the $150 figure previously mentioned. We need everyone to pitch in as much as they can to the extent that they can, and if someone feels like that they have been maxed out, then that’s completely understandable and we are very appreciative of what they have provided. We do the best we can with fundraising, but we ask everybody to have skin in the game. If we don’t ask, then we’re not doing our job.
How can the community get more involved in Special Olympics activities?
Come on out whether or not you have an athlete competing. Bring your friends and relatives to see what happens at Special Olympics competitions. A lot of folks are surprised to see how great our athletes really are and they are very impressed, so they go out there and spread the word about Special Olympics, as well. These folks are potential coaches and volunteers.
What can be done to improve communication among Area offices, coaches and parents?
We try to communicate with coaches, parents and volunteers in a number of ways, including on our website, through emails and on our various Facebook pages. That said, communication is a two-way street. Let your Area office know if you have any questions or concerns. Chances are, others may have the same questions and we would love to make sure that you receive the information you need. If you know of a better way for SOTX to get information to you, please let us know by sending an email to the Communications team. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can delegations earn money to support themselves?
· Face-to-face solicitation is THE most effective way of fundraising (Example: ‘Hi, Bob, I’m a volunteer from Special Olympics Texas and I was wondering if you could help us out and make a contribution.’). People can go to local stores, local companies, but delegations should remember that SOTX has a ‘Do Not Call’ list of corporations that already give money to us and those companies should not be approached again.
· Send a personalized note to somebody. (Example: ‘Hey, I have this project, we need to get our athletes to Summer Games, it’s going to cost this much money. Is there a way that you could make a contribution?’)
· Put on a special event; however, it should be noted that special events are very time-consuming, detail-oriented and usually very costly. So, if a delegation does not have significant experience in fundraising or event planning, we would discourage them from using special events to raise funds.
Raffles are discouraged and should not be operated without approval from the Vice President of Resource and Development because under Texas state law, a non-profit organization is limited to only two raffles per year. If we’re only allowed as an organization to have two raffles, we’d much rather have a large raffle where we are making hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of having several smaller ones in violation of state law.
Why is SOTX building a new headquarters?
There are a few reasons: 1) Our current office space is inadequate for the number of staff and storage space we need; 2) A new headquarters will actually enable us to put more money into programming, because currently, some of the money we raise is spent on overhead costs such as rent on our Austin headquarters and rent on storage space outside of the office; 3) by owning our own land and building equity in our own property, we’ll be a financially healthier organization.
Wouldn’t that money be better spent elsewhere?
That has to be determined by the person asking the question. Is it better to pay $17,000 per month on leasing office space in Austin, or is it better to pay for competitions and training? It is important to understand that donors who make contributions to programming do not usually also make donations for “bricks and mortar.” The reverse holds true as well. Studies have shown that capital campaigns do not negatively affect regular, annual contributions. On the contrary, the same studies have shown that regular annual income increases during capital campaigns because of the extra attention and exposure brought to the organization by capital campaign marketing activities.