Interview with Chris Carneal, President of Booster Enterprises
Raising money for schools is a job that most people try to avoid, but Chris Carneal has grown Boosterthon into a successful business helping public and private elementary schools fund their plans. As the President and Founder of Booster Enterprises, Chris is the originator of The Fun Run--a high energy event that includes fitness, character building, and active learning.
I first met Chris in 2007 when his team led a Fun Run at Mount Pisgah Christian School. Having been part of many different fundraising events over the years, I expected the traditional process of pledge forms, prodding kids to ask for support, and then a day of chaos that had no real educational value. Instead, we were blown away by a tightly choreographed week of experiences led by the enthusiastic Booster team. Everything was done with great attention to detail and high quality deliverables.
What impressed me the most was the consistent level of talent and commitment exhibited by the entire organization. The quality of the Booster team was recognized by Chick-fil-a, who hired them to coordinate many of the logistics for their annual Leadercast event. Chris has continued to build a dynamic organization that is adapting to new opportunities and focused on leveraging the best talent.
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Chris over breakfast to learn about how he has grown Booster into a 200+ employee company that serves schools in 15 states. As usually, he started by pulling out his own notebook and recommending a book for me to read: Richard Florida's, The Great Reset. I love that about Chris--he's a lifelong learner and contagiously shares this passion with everyone he meets.
Chris, what's your best habit? What is something that you regularly do that has most contributed to your success?
Relational tenacity. I value relationships in our organization and make those people my top priority. They are my goal--building up my team and making them successful. My priority is to mature the team, develop them. The question I ask myself everyday is: Who am I impacting and communicating with today?
To what decision do you attribute a great deal of your success?
Marrying a wife who can tolerate and support an entreprenuer. That's the truth. Without her commitment none of this works. Also, casting vision to the right people in the right stage of organizational growth. Talent selection is the key.
What have you learned about schools after 10 years of Fun Runs?
First, our schools are filled with tremendous leaders--most of them. Selfless people. I've been around educators my whole life. My mom worked in education for 35 years mostly as a college professor. Most of the school leaders I've been around truly believe this is the best use of their talent and time. They are authentic and passionate.
I've also learned that to partner with a school, you're partnering with a mission as much as people. We now understand schools better and can make the relationship even more valuable.
Schools need to think a lot more about the "e-myth" concept--in the school on the school--focusing much more on talent selection and placement. Overall schools haven't yet embraced some leadership principles common in the business world. Career promotion in the education system, both public and private, is often not based on best practices.
The bottom line is that schools represent our future--where we will be in 30 years. The culture and DNA of the school is as important as the academic plan. I walk into a school now and can accurately assess the environment that the leader has created: The level of excellence, the priorities, the direction, the values, the culture, talent pool, where resources flow, etc.
What's holding schools back from being more effective?
Need more of all three, and sharing of these among school leaders. Having all 3 paves the way for school growth. Schools must find better ways to work together in order to serve children more effectively.
From a marketing standpoint, what is the one do-over or mulligan you wish you could take?
I would have learned quicker that marketing is personal. The masses are typically the target, but the story needs to be personalized with emotional connections. We now feature the humanized stories for greater authenticity. Less polish, more real. At first I tried to cover over that we were a small company trying to grow by talking about big picture stuff. Now I talk about me, or specific members of my team, and our struggles, accomplishments, and stories. It's very important to be enthusiastic, be unique, and be yourself. Don't presuppose objections, because you really don't know what your teachers, parents, or students are thinking. One issue doesn't apply to all.
What is your most valuable lesson regarding recruiting great talent?
Leaders are attracted to vision and opportunity. Soft stuff matters more than hard stuff, especially to younger adults. You need a compelling story that illustrates and draws people to your mission and vision. Even if the mission requires sacrifice, its more exciting to most people. Know those key points and stay on message. We've customized our proposal to prospective employees to match the talent we're specifically seeking.
If you haven't had the privilege of working with the Boosterthon team, I highly recommend their program. The Fun Run is a great way to raise money for a school. The company shares in the risk of how well the students and faculty will engage in the process of seeking support, and invests heavily in terms of people, materials, and systems to ensure success. I've heard rumors that they are producing a D.I.Y. version of the Fun Run event for those who are more confident in their own abilities or are outside the geographic areas served directly by the Booster teams. If you do nothing else with them, see if you can spend a day--even if you have to pay them-- with Chris and his team to learn how a dynamic organization builds great talent and operates with relentless purpose.