By Peter B. Mathiesen
When NSSF® talks about the +ONESM Movement, it emphasizes that growth in the shooting sports is achievable when someone experienced with firearms extends an invitation to someone who isn’t and asks them to join them for a day of learning and shooting fun on the range. But +ONE doesn’t have a mandatory one-on-one component. In fact, it’s the people who think bigger, think about all the things it takes to get people interested in shooting and keep them interested who can have just as much impact.
Enter Michael Higgins and Melinda Branchini. When this husband and wife team considered retiring from their business careers 10 years ago, they knew they wanted to positively impact the shooting sports. One of their goals was to help young people interested in competitive shotgunning reach their full potential as upper-tier shooters.
To achieve that goal, the pair formed the Higgins Branchini Shooting Foundation (a 501c3 organization), which distributes grants to alleviate some of the financial burden of competing for deserving collegiate shooters. During most seasons, this nonprofit donates an average of $1,000 each to as many as 30 students from colleges or universities nationwide. Competitors from over 50 different schools have been supported to date.
“Collegiate clay shooting is all about repetition,” explained Michael Higgins, the foundation’s Board President. “The number of rounds a student fires a year has a direct impact on their ability to compete effectively. We wanted to improve these kids’ chances to be as competitive as possible with grants that help relieve the cost of ammunition, entry fees, and travel expenses.”
Helping Students Reach Challenging Goals—And Building Their Futures
Applying for a grant means more than just filling out a form. Prospective students are required to submit a business plan that includes goals, strategies and a budget for their competition season.
“We really want to get the students to think about their goals and how they can translate that into an actionable end result,” said Higgins. “Competitive college shooting is extraordinarily challenging when it comes to who wins and who doesn’t. That said, we are just one small part of a very large picture that helps the students prepare to be competitive shooters. But in the bigger picture, this is also one piece in their journey to become future business professionals in their communities.”
Some students find the process of completing the grant application daunting. Fortunately, staff members like Executive Director Melinda Branchini mentor these young adults through the application process. This business best practice works as leadership and business-strategy training that students can put to use in their post-collegiate life, thus making the application process more than just something to get through.
“We know these grants make a difference,” said Higgins. “The opportunity to simply translate $1,000 or more to shotshells has an effect on a student’s competitive ability. Some shooters need travel expenses, while others need help with entry fees, and we consider special requests for grant assistance.”
While the foundation spreads its awards to a wide variety of universities and colleges throughout the U.S., the selection committee is looking for the top competitive shooting students in the country who might request support. They also look for “up and comers” who have a solid plan for improvement. That committee is staffed by world-class active and retired competitors who know what it takes to be a champion. Likewise, these advisors understand the needs of the students competing in a sport in which just a handful of missed targets can cause an Olympic hopeful to be denied a slot on the American team.
“Bottom line, the foundation wants these kids to participate at the highest skill level they’re capable of, and it simply often comes down to the more you shoot, the better you get,” Higgins added.
A Fundraising Event That Brings It All Together
Gifts to the foundation frequently come from corporate donors. These include contributions from businesses inside and outside of the shooting sports industry. However, it’s the foundation’s Annual Quail Hunt each November at Greystone Castle in Mingus, Texas, that ties the year’s work together in the organization’s largest fundraising event.
“We love the Greystone Castle event,” said Higgins. “Our committees, sponsors and some grantees all come together for a wonderful weekend that can gross over $30,000. “It’s all about establishing relationships, and we are expecting the 2020 event to go ahead as scheduled this fall.” 2020 will the ninth year the Higgins Branchini Shooting Foundation will host this event.
According to Higgins and Branchini, the rewards have far surpassed their personal expectations. The foundation is proud of its numerous success stories.
Students who have come up through the ranks with the foundation’s support have found themselves competing at national and world levels. Some find themselves competing with the heroes they grew up admiring. Higgins mentioned that one grant winner has gone on to sit on the foundation’s board of directors. This grantee, now an investment banker with Merrill Lynch, manages the foundation’s portfolio, something that underscores that there are greater lessons in competing than the competition itself.
Higgins said one of the greatest gifts has come from the parents of supported students he and the directors connect with at events. “Almost every one of our board members and committee members has experienced an interaction with a parent that follows the same narrative,” Higgins said, explaining, “One grantee’s parents stated, ‘We would never have considered competitive shooting. In fact, we had never even owned a firearm! Our child has learned responsibilities at such a high level of competence, it has surpassed our greatest expectations. They are far more disciplined and responsible than we ever expected. Handling a competitive firearm requires a far higher level of responsibility than, say, playing on a soccer team.’”
The foundation continues its quest to aid the best up and coming collegiate shooters in the country. It finds them in urban, suburban and rural backgrounds.
“It’s a special day when we can help a young shooter become part of a sport that will stay with them their entire life,” Higgins said. “It’s rewarding to know that, through their exposure and dedication to the shooting sports, we are helping to shed a responsible light on firearm ownership.
“One of our foundation’s goals is to see the shotgun sports serve as a sustainable pipeline for new shooters, while preserving clay target shooting for decades to come,” he emphasized. “Our organization deeply believes in this mission and will continue to support its growth.”
The Higgins Branchini Shooting Foundation 2021 grant application season is currently underway. Interested parties should apply by Jan. 10, 2021. Grant award winners will be announced on Feb. 14, 2021. Find more information about the foundation and its work to grow participation in the shooting sports here.
About NSSF and the +ONE Movement
NSSF is the firearm industry trade association and the owner and operator of the annual SHOT Show. NSSF launched the +ONE Movement in 2018 to encourage experienced gun owners, target shooters and hunters to bring a friend along on a hunting or range excursion. Industry members are also encouraged to get involved with the initiative, and NSSF provides a wealth of resources to help its manufacturers, retailers and ranges spread the +ONE message and host events that encourage new-shooter participation. For more information on getting involved, visit NSSF, LetsGoShooting.org and LetsGoHunting.org.