By Angela Lingle and Ginny Olson, Rotary Club of Madison South, Wisconsin, USA
More than four decades ago, our club was facing disappointing returns on its staple fundraising events, a turkey shoot and light bulb sale, when inspiration hit. This is a story about how knowing your community, perseverance, and a little bit of luck can turn around just about any fundraising fortune and help a Rotary club raise money for projects while building awareness of Rotary.
Coming off that dismal year in 1972, Dick Rehberg and another Rotarian who had recently moved to Madison from Sheboygan thought back to the Junior Chamber of Commerce Bratwurst Days they used to enjoy. After all, what is more Wisconsin than beer, brats, and football?
Putting their heads together, they called people they knew in city government and the small, 23-member club found a strip of unused city land across from Camp Randall Stadium at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. There they parked cars and sold beer and brats. They soon gave up parking cars and focused solely on food and beverages.
When the City of Madison outlawed the sale of beer on city property, a small group guaranteed a bank loan to purchase the parcel. Eventually the group deeded the land back to the city in exchange for naming the parcel Madison South Rotary Park and allowing the club to sell beer on University of Wisconsin football game days. The proceeds from the event allowed them to pay off the loan in a year.
The event has evolved into its present day scale which has allowed us to give out 45 community grants a year. During the four-month football season, the “Brat Czar” oversees the Brat Stand setup and scheduling of 42 to 60 volunteers each game day. Our event is excellent for engaging members and attracting new members.
We served thousands of football fans last year in all kinds of weather. While pleasant camaraderie usually characterizes Brat Stand service, Service Above Self takes on a new reality in freezing rain or bitter cold game days. The welcoming Rotary attitude toward visiting fans, colorful cookies for kids, and good food motivate many of our visitors to ask about Rotary and our worldwide and community projects. Proceeds help fund our Madison South Rotary Foundation and all tips are donated to PolioPlus.
How has this event benefited our club? We have become known in the Madison area for our beer and brat service. Potential members are attracted to join the club because of this fun and effective fundraiser. We are frequently invited to serve at the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards in Wisconsin Dells. This year the Madison police and fire departments invited us to serve at their Battle of the Badges hockey event.
As we consider scholarships, community grants, and projects to fund with the proceeds of last year’s Brat Stand, planning has already begun for the next. The same spirit of collaboration, creativity, and Service Above Self we had at the outset still drives our members and unites us today. And that’s a good thing for any club to strive for.