Portland High School Football Boosters Are Using a Seattle Software the School District Banned

Karmen Von Arx raises money for Grant High School’s football team, the Generals. Since 2018, that job’s gotten a lot easier.

That’s because Von Arx, 50, president of a boosters club called Friends of Grant Football, has outsourced fundraising campaigns to a Seattle tech company called Snap! Raise.

For the team’s last campaign, a February 2021 bid to raise money for equipment and travel costs, Von Arx asked the team’s 44 players to each send the company 20 email addresses of possible donors. Then the company’s software took over and created an online fundraising portal for the football team.

In about four weeks, the football players raised $16,000. “We used to make eight to nine thousand,” Von Arx says, “but we would have to do multiple fundraisers.”

It’s a far cry from selling candy bars or running a hot dog stand at the games. These days, high school students can automate their fundraising and let computer software annoy their relatives on their behalf.

Colin O’Rourke, a senior on the Grant football team, says that using Snap! Raise is easy. “They keep it pretty simple and don’t try and complicate things.”

Snap! Raise is quick, not demanding, and consistently successful. Just one problem: It’s also banned by Portland Public Schools.

The district told the Grant football team it couldn’t use Snap! Raise in January 2021, even as the COVID-19 pandemic had already limited the ways sports programs could raise money.

Jill Ross, Lincoln High School’s business manager, says the district banned Snap! Raise because the IT department determined the software took too large a cut of the money raised: $1 out of every $5.

In many ways, the conflict over Snap! Raise is a pee-wee version of fights over tech startups like Uber and Ridwell that arrived from out of town with the aim to shake up established business methods. As Uber did with taxi cabs and Ridwell is doing with hauling recyclables, Snap! Raise promises to ease the unwieldy task of fundraising for high school athletics by handing the work to an app. As with its predecessors, it has run into suspicious regulators.

Another parallel: The rules are toothless. At Grant High, Snap! Raise is still in use despite the ban.

Grant isn’t the only school where programs ignore the prohibition—at least three other PPS high schools continue to use the service.

Because Snap! Raise is prohibited, checks from the company cannot be accepted into Grant’s student body accounts. The football program gets around this by depositing checks with the nonprofit boosters club and then transferring the money from there into the school’s official account.

Von Arx says there haven’t been any consequences for the continued use of Snap! Raise. “The school wants the kids to be able to get their funds too,” she says.

Snap! Raise was founded in 2014 in Seattle by former high school football coaches who wanted to streamline the fundraising process. Its CEO is Cole Morgan, a former quarterback at Washington State University.

“[Morgan] felt like there just needed to be a better way to do fundraising than doing product sales and those type of things,” says Bryan Dundas, a company spokesman.

The company has since expanded and operates in most major U.S. cities. It has raised $115 million in two funding rounds.

Snap! Raise’s ease of use is what makes the service so appealing. “There’s no product to sell. It’s easy for the kids. It takes them, I don’t know, 20 minutes to get all of their emails together,” Von Arx says.

Participants have a relatively small part to play in the fundraising. All each student has to do is collect and submit 20 emails to Snap! Raise, whose software then takes over.

That software sends out emails to the submitted addresses, directly asking for money. The emails don’t stop until the recipient donates or the fundraising period ends.

During the fundraising period, Snap! Raise representatives go out to teams and make promotion videos featuring students to supplement the donation page.

That digital hawking comes at a price: Snap! Raise takes 20% of funds raised.

“If you just looked at the percentages, then we’re expensive,” Dundas says. “But when you look at the revenue, what is being generated and how much is the district actually making in relation to what they’re spending?”

Lincoln’s Ross says the district banned Snap! Raise because of the steep price: “Snap! Raise charges a very large percentage of the money raised. There is no reason for schools to give away money raised by parents to an outside organization.”

Von Arx thinks the ban has to do with student privacy concerns. “From the outside, it can look like we just have a ton of kids sending out their digital information,” she says, “and so I think there was miscommunication on all angles on how it worked.”

The PPS ban isn’t the only one of its kind. Dundas says districts across the country put similar policies in place: “School districts have written these policies where you can use Snap! Raise for whatever reason, or they think that they provide the same type of platform to generate funds.”

The district says that it offers a comparable alternative to Snap! Raise: a program called SchoolPay. That program charges no fees to donors and recipients. In 2020, the district signed a $735,000 contract for SchoolPay’s services.

Von Arx says SchoolPay was offered to the Generals as an alternative, but they chose to continue using Snap! Raise because they felt it better protected student privacy. “The kid would have to take their SchoolPay link and personally email it to every single person they know, which would give every single person they know all of their digital information.”

So she’ll keep using the banned software. And not just for the football team, either.

At one point, five Grant sports teams were running Snap! Raise campaigns through the football nonprofit. “We ended up having football take the funds and then we would help out the other sports,” says Von Arx.