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Memphis has a “Vision for Victory”

Football Indoor Facility Rendering

Recently, Memphis Athletics and the Tiger Scholarship Fund kicked off a campaign aimed at enhancing the school’s football program.  The Vision for Victory campaign will look to raise $10 million which will be used towards the construction of a 74,000 square foot indoor practice facility as well as improvements for part of the Murphy Athletic Complex.  Earlier this summer, the school hosted an event where they publicly announced the campaign which included special guest speakers such as former Tigers running back DeAngelo Williams, Memphis Head Football Coach Larry Porter, and legendary coach Lou Holtz.  The 1,200 Memphis donors, football season ticket holders, and former letterwinners in attendance were able to listen to each of the speakers describe the need to increase support for the football program.  The organizers of the event also showed this excellent case for support video which was created by Running Pony Productions.

As of June 2011, the school has raised over $1.2 million and has assembled an executive campaign committee that will aide in securing donors for this project.  The committee includes Isaac Bruce and DeAngelo Williams, both former Tiger football stars, who will serve as honorary national chairs.  To further publicize Vision for Victory, the Tiger Scholarship Fund created a campaign specific website which includes the Vision brochure, naming opportunities, and progress chart.

This campaign is a clear signal that the school is serious about enhancing the football program and is also a part of the University’s overall $250 million capital campaign.  Once construction is complete, Memphis will have some of the premier practice and completion venues in Conference USA and the country.

Drew Ossakow

What saved Cal Baseball?

After almost nine months of waiting, hoping, seeking donations and counting pledges, the University of California finally had good news for its baseball team: the games will go on after the 2011 season.  Back on Tuesday, September 28, the University had officially announced that intercollegiate baseball at Cal would be cut at the end of the year due to budget shortfalls that have caused a growing need for the school to subsidize their intercollegiate athletics program.  Although receiving university funds is not an uncommon practice at the Division I level, Cal’s goal of becoming completely self-sufficient resulted in the need to make dramatic cuts (along with baseball, women’s lacrosse, rugby, men’s and women’s gymnastics were also announced to be eliminated).

Not soon after the announcement was made, several parents and alumni of one of Cal’s oldest and prestigious sports (founded in 1892, the baseball program has won two College World Series Championships) put together a plan to raise the needed funds to save the program.  An announced $10 million would be needed to continue baseball at Cal.

The use of volunteers and non-university personnel to aid in fundraising is nothing new.  Every campaign, fund-drive, special event and advisory board involves those who are unpaid and simply volunteer their time to give back and benefit an organization.  What transpired at Cal, however, shows what an emotionally fueled and fiercely determined group of volunteers can do to support a fundraising initiative.  Since that Tuesday in September, enough funds have been raised to bring back all five sports (rugby, lacrosse, and women’s gymastics were saved in February, men’s gymnastics in May, and baseball, officially, in June).

Leading alumni started several websites to spread the word, made endless calls to ask for support, and put their own money forward to bring back the sports.  For baseball, the donations came from all angles; even rival Stanford University put forward $50,000 to bring back the program.  Baseball alumnus, Stu Gordon, is credited with spearheading much of the volunteer efforts by putting up $550,000 of his own money.

Of course, and as this post was written, the Cal baseball program has made the story of their year long struggle to survive even more astonishing.  The team has managed to make it to the 2011 College World series on the backs of several improbable comebacks and unlikely victories.  The lasting memories and unrivaled experiences that the student-athletes at Cal are getting are going to carry on with them for the rest of their lives, and thanks to many dedicated donors, those opportunities will continue for Cal athletes into the future.

But will this model of independent volunteer groups raising money for specific sports change the model of athletics fundraising?  So think some, perhaps bringing programs closer to the “Booster” organizations of old and away from the unrestricted annual fundraising of today.  Only time will tell what the impact of Cal’s efforts in 2010 and 2011, but the landscape has surely shown signs of change.

Rob Norris

Schools partner with former student-athletes networking site

Baylor University and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock have both recently announced a partnership with Career Athletes, an online networking tool designed to help build a community of former student-athletes to network with and prepare for life after college. This service has been added to the athletics department to help not only current student-athletes, but also provide a service for those who have graduated.

In some cases, Career Athletes can be used to aide in the fundraising efforts for former student-athletes as well. By engaging them with other former student-athletes as well as current ones, there will be an opportunity for these alumni to connect with others. This will strengthen the bond they share with the school, opening opportunities for development and fundraising activities.

Many schools use Career Athletes as Baylor is the 7th school in the Big 12 to sign up for the program and the network features over 65,000 members across the nation.

Taylor Wood

March Madness and Young Alumni

In an interesting combination of fundraising, young alumni relations, and March’s annual basketball tournament, the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia has developed an innovative competition to benefit their program. With an annual fund of approximately $2.5 million, the McIntire School of Commerce is like many athletics department annual funds in that it seeks new ways to engage its young alumni.

Called the Young Alumni McIntire Madness Challenge, the School of Commerce has created a “bracket” where different classes of alumni are competing against each other to “advance” to their next match-up. With graduate and undergraduate teams from each year (starting in 2002), the teams compete based on participation in the McIntire annual fund.  At current standing, the class of 2008 leads the tournament with participation at 18.7%.

Young alumni are a traditionally difficult group to engage, especially for athletics departments. In this type of campaign, Virginia is using a iconic sporting event to generate a competition that encourages participation over giving amount. This effort could easily be carried over to an athletics annual fund, looking to engage their recent alumni. Sports fans are all engaged with the NCAA Tournament, and the concept of an alumni bracket would be easy to understand and implement.

Rob Norris

Special thanks to Christina Wright, Ohio University Sports Administration Graduate Student

Wisconsin improves facilities by setting a new course

Wisconsin BadgersThe University of Wisonsin-Madison dedicated the newly created Thomas Zimmer Cross Country Course on Saturday, October 3. The course is the first dedicated cross country course the UW cross country team has competed on in decades. The course was spearheaded by gifts from Thomas Zimmer, a long-time supporter of Badger athletics and collegiate runner at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, and Chuck LaBahn, a former Badger swimmer and recently retired CEO of Orion Corporation.

Zimmer cut the ribbon at the dedication ceremony prior to the course’s debut at the inaugural Wisconsin adidas Invitational. The course was put in Zimmer’s name to honor his many years of service and support to the Badger Fund. The course runs adjacent to the University Ridge golf course and allows the nationally ranked men’s and women’s cross country teams, 13th and 28th respectively in the most recent U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association National Rankings, a top of the line home course.

This gift is a great example of engaging aid from donors for non-revenue sports. With the two major donors having competed as student-athletes for non-revenue sports, they saw the rare opportunity to show support to sports often over looked by athletic development funds. Cross country courses also present a unique way to improve the competitive environment for a large number of student-athletes while not requiring constructing a brand new facility.

Finding ways to cultivate female donors now and in the future

kent stIncreasing donations from females is a goal for many athletic funds across the country. However, it is difficult for development officers to identify preferred giving strategies for this demographic. Why does this group have vital importance for athletics departments and their annual funds? Various estimates place females controlling between 40 and 60 percent of the national wealth by the end of 2010. Females also make up 58 percent of undergraduates at colleges and universities in the United States, making women a key target today and an even more important group in the future. Fortunately, there are a number of different ways to involve females in a university’s giving efforts.

One way to involve female donors is by linking them with women’s sports at the school. Kent State’s Blue and Gold Athletic Fund recently achieved this with its receipt of a $1.2 million gift from former associate athletic director Judy Devine to help support the university’s Centennial Campaign, which is celebrating its 100 years of existence. The gift will fund the Judy K. Devine Athletic Equity Endowment, which initially will support the athletics department’s female equity initiatives and eventually fund the continued growth of all Golden Flash student-athletes. Kent State University President Lester A. Lefton stated that Devine’s gift “will allow Kent State to be a leader in addressing gender-equity issues as they pertain to Title IX, and is once again a testament to her remarkable vision of the modern needs of our athletics program.” Devine’s gift ranks as the third largest gift in the history of the Blue and Gold Athletic Fund and sets a standard for donations in the new campaign.

Another method used by many development offices is to involve women in major revenue sports such as football and basketball. Rob Norris wrote about football clinics for women used by the University of New Mexico and the University of Kentucky among others in an earlier post on this site. Similar efforts could be conducted for men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, and softball. These events have the potential to excite the female donor base and provide an intimate and exclusive setting to cultivate or create relationships.

Former Players Support Syracuse Football

su logoAt Syracuse University, a strong relationship between the Syracuse Football Club (SFC, football alumni booster club) and the Athletics Department is leading to large donations and an energized fan base. This year, the SFC is helping Syracuse football in all-new ways, and it started with their first home football game this year.

In the season opener against Minnesota, the SFC contributed to the Orange with several initiatives. For the game, the SFC pledged $1 to Syracuse Football for every ticket sold. With an announced attendance over 48,000, the gift was quite substantial. In addition, the SFC sold Orange t-shirts ($3 or $5 for two) before the game in an effort to fill the Carrier Dome with Orange pride.

The SFC also runs a 50/50 raffle for each game, also with a portion of proceeds benefiting Orange football. In all, the football alumni group supports the program through monetary support and building pride among current students and other fans of Syracuse Athletics.

In this instance, there is a clear example of how a non-university fundraising group can work in conjunction with an athletics department to support student-athletes. In an era where athletics departments and external booster clubs are occasionally at odds, the SFC and Syracuse University seem to have an outstanding relationship. Check out the SFC website for their mission, other initiatives, and special programs that they run on the behalf of Syracuse Athletics.

Alumni Pitching-in on Fundraising Events

williamsAt the University of Illinois, two famous alumni athletes are making the trip back to Champaign to help with fundraising efforts at their alma-mater. Deron Williams and Steve Stricker will each give back to the university in the form of their appearances at major fundraising events this fall.

Williams will host the Illini Hoop Legends for Charity Dinner and Auction as well as a golf tournament the next day. Both events will feature well-known Illini basketball alumni with the focus of the event being on the 1989 team that advanced to the Final Four. With so many basketball legends in attendance, Illinois is certainly aiming to draw high-capacity donors to the events. Proceeds from the events will be split between the basketball program at Illinois and Williams’ local charities.

Stricker, in similar fashion, is working with his alma-mater to host the annual Stricker Illini Golf Classic. Like Williams, Stricker’s event will include a gala reception and auction in conjunction with the event in order to maximize the fundraising efforts. The tournament, which is so popular that it will certainly sell out, will have two waves of tee times, again offering many donors the opportunity to participate. All proceeds from Sticker’s event will benefit the Illini golf program.

Both of these events follow a successful formula: bring high-profile alumni back to campus, provide donors with first class experiences, combine the event with a dinner/auction, and make the event an annual staple in fundraising efforts.

Engaging Former Student-Athletes in Giving Back

Ryan Diem play on the field and actions off it led him to being named 2008 Outstanding Young Alumnus at NIU.

Ryan Diem play on the field and actions off it led him to being named 2008 Outstanding Young Alumnus at NIU.

Typically a sore spot for most development offices, former student-athlete giving has historically been poor at most schools. This occurs for many reasons. Perhaps the student-athlete did not have the exprience they felt they deserved, perhaps their coach is no longer at the school, or perhaps they haven’t been as successful as they hoped. Yet for most, it comes down to their experience at the university and how they view their time spent on campus.

Recently some headway has been made in former student-athlete gifts. Julius Peppers made a six-figure donation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill earlier this year, earmarking his donation to the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

During this past weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting Ohio State’s campus and listening to various athletics department staff members speak to the my MSA class and answer questions. Pat Chun, Deputy Senior Associate Athletics Director of External Relations, offered some advice on the subject of student-athlete giving:

Baseball uses First Pitch Events to Interact with Donors

Mark Mulder attended MSU's first pitch event.

Mark Mulder attended MSU's first pitch event.

While March typically signifies the heating up of basketball action across the country, it also marks the beginning of the NCAA baseball season. With the familiar ping of aluminum bats being heard across the country, several programs are seeking to take advantage of rising popularity of the sport.

There are several departments from around the country that are creating “First Pitch” events and dinner for fans, staff and donors. These events typically include a highlight of former players, which in the case of Michigan State included legends such as Steve Garvey and Mark Mulder, a dinner and awards ceremony. The dinner is where the funds are primarily raised, with money being charged per plate in addition to silent auctions of baseball gear and trip opportunities.

These events serve as a direct way to connect with former baseball alumni and raise funds for the program. Typically held in early February to enable professional players a chance to come back to campus, the money raised here almost always will be restricted to the baseball program. However, this is a vital way raise awareness and build a solid connection with alumni and fans.

Other examples of baseball first pitch events were held at Virginia Tech, Utah, and Temple just to name a few.