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Gold Mail Offers a Unique Way to Personalize Donor Communication

Recently, I was forwarded information on a company called Gold Mail which offers an online personalized messaging service. In short, this technology allows you to e-mail your elevator pitch to a prospect via an embed individualized voice and picture presentation. You can see how Gold Mail works by clicking here or for the longer version on how this software can be utilized you can click here.

The cost for Gold Mail is relatively inexpensive. According to the company’s pricing page it is $10 per month for businesses and offers unlimited messages up to 10 minutes in length. It also includes reporting and tracking information to see who viewed your message and which links were clicked. Based on a case study provided by the company a non-profit they showcased saw an increase in donations from e-mail communication by 6%.

The product that Gold Mail offers has potential use within athletics development. Whether it’s for an annual fund drive, marketing spring coaches caravan events, or promoting capital campaigns the personalized voice and picture messaging can make your point easier to convey. This is not something that can be used in all situations, but if done strategically as a follow up to an initial conversation could make an impact on the effectiveness of donor communication.  There is a little bit of a learning curve, but there is a feature where you can make the presentation in Powerpoint and upload it to the Gold Mail server which can make the process easier.

Drew Ossakow

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

Playmaker Summer Camp Event Highlights TAF’s Playbook Campaign

Tulane Athletics and the Tulane Athletics Fund (TAF) offered donors the opportunity to experience what it is like to be a Green Wave student-athlete.  In coordination with many of the departments within athletics, guests were led to different stations within the James W. Wilson Jr. Center where they got to meet with coaches and staff members.  At each station, participants heard about what that specific department does and were offered insights into how they specifically aid student-athletes.  For instance, groups were brought in to see the academic support areas and learned about all the services that are offered and how they impact Green Wave student-athletes.  Guests were also brought to see Tulane’s Director of Equipment Operations in which the kids in the group got to try on various football equipment.  Click here for a highlight video of the event.

The first ever “TAF Playmaker Summer Camp Event” received rave reviews from those that organized the event and those that attended.  It not only offered donors behind the scenes access into the full Green Wave experience, it also afforded the opportunity for current student-athletes to meet those that support them.  The Playmaker Summer Camp event also allowed Tulane Athletics supporters to see how their donations make an impact in a multitude of areas.

This event was a part of the TAF’s The Playbook Campaign, which is geared toward enhancing the football program.  Since Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the Tulane athletic program, a “playbook” was developed by the Tulane University president and athletic director on how to return the Green Waves to full-time Division I status.  This fall will mark that return, as the school will introduce Women’s Sand Volleyball and Women’s Bowling which will bring Tulane’s varsity sport count to 16, the required amount by the NCAA for a Division I institution.  In the playbook, the school makes a case for support to potential donors on the need to upgrade many aspects of the Tulane football program.  The needs outlined contain expanding academic services for the football team and facility upgrades, which includes a new football stadium.

It is apparent how much hard work has gone into The Playbook Campaign as it serves a vital need for Tulane athletics.  TAF has creatively branded this campaign, which even includes unique giving levels that tie in football season tickets, as well as provided innovative donor communication materials.  The Playbook Campaign provides a great example for any development office or athletic department that is looking to transform their football program.

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

Florida Atlantic Receives Large Gift for New Stadium, Utilizes Virtual Venue

Florida Atlantic University received its largest gift to date for its new on-campus stadium.  The school plans to name the stadium’s scoreboard with permanent signage after the donor who made the major contribution.  The new stadium is set to open October 15 when the team hosts Western Kentucky.  The $70million project will be able to hold 30,000 spectators and features 6,000 premium seats.  This past week FAU released a projected economic impact study which estimates that the school will be able to generate $1.8 million on game days.

The stadium is part of a larger on campus project known as Innovation Village.  The overall plan also includes residence halls, shopping, and dining establishments.  Innovation Village is instrumental in the school’s strategy to create a stronger on-campus experience which at the centerpiece of the plan is the new open-air facility.

Another neat aspect of the project is that the FAU athletic department has utilized the interactive stadium software, Virtual Venue, provided by IOMEDIA.  This “Virtual Venue” allows fans the ability to navigate the stadium and get price and donation information for any seat in the facility.  Additionally the website enables fans to get a sense of what it would be like to sit in the seats they are looking at with a “seat view” feature.  People who visit this site are also able to chat with an online ticket representative and can see further benefits for choosing different seating areas.

FAU is one of a growing number of schools to use IOMEDIA’s Virtual Venue.  The list includes Penn State, UCLA, and the University of Washington.  We have previously looked at how Ballena Technologies has helped athletic departments with their ticketing and reseating initiatives.  Both of these companies’ services enhance the seat selection process for development offices, donors, and fans.  As 3D virtual venue technology continues to evolve at the college level it will be interesting to see what new features will be incorporated that will add further value.

Drew Ossakow

Arizona State Reinvents Brand with “It’s Time”

Through the “It’s Time” campaign, the Arizona State Sun Devils announced both an athletic and campus wide rebranding effort.  The school made the announcement at an April 12 press conference, after releasing a series of teaser videos online to build excitement.  Over the past 12 months the school, in collaboration with Nike, developed a strategy for the rebranding of the Sun Devils.  They utilized feedback gathered from focus groups and student-athletes, coaches, students, faculty, alumni and fans which resulted in three main recommendations.  These included having a secondary color scheme for uniforms, a specific ASU Athletics font, and a new trademark logo. 

Both ASU and its licensees are hoping to benefit from the newly released athletic apparel.  Currently the school brings in approximately $1 million in merchandise sales per year.  It is predicted that within the next 3 years that number will double.   However increased apparel revenue is not the only reason ASU decided to rebrand itself.  According to Associate Athletic Director Steve Hank, “its more about creating an image and a brand that reflects the image we want to project.”  Fans will be reenergized by the launching of a new era of Sun Devil Athletics when the latest uniforms are launched in the fall of 2011 along with the “All-Black” color scheme which is something similar to what the ASU football team wore back in the 1950s.

The Sun Devil Club has been very involved in the whole rebranding process.  The ASU athletic department’s fundraising arm took this opportunity to update its website and to include the new logo and color scheme.  A neat new feature on the site is the inclusion of a rebranding donor solicitation video which at the conclusion automatically takes viewers to a membership sign up page. Additionally an anonymous donor has stepped up and will pay for all of the new uniforms for each of the school’s 21 athletic teams.  This was an important part of ASU’s rebranding communication as the school made it clear that it used very little if any tax payer money for the It’s Time initiative

Furthermore, the Sun Devil Club treated its members to an exclusive unveiling of the new uniforms a few days before the public announcement.  Donors could pay $25 to attend the event and were asked to help preserve the secrecy of the rebranding before the April 12 press conference by not bringing their cell phones and other recording devices. 

The rebranding initiative comes at an interesting time as ASU received approval this past fall to use a local business fee to support renovations to Sun Devil Stadium.  A makeover of the historic facility, which opened in 1958, along with It’s Time would certainly usher in a new era of Sun Devil Athletics.  Furthermore, the Pac 10 (soon to be Pac 12) recently went through a major rebranding effort as did in-conference rival Washington State which was also organized by Nike.  The It’s Time campaign is a wonderful example of how to best utilize social media to generate buzz and create excitement surrounding an announcement of this kind for an athletic department.  Additionally, development offices are always looking for new ways to give their members behind the scenes access.  The Sun Devil Club did an excellent job of taking advantage of this opportunity to provide that for their donors. 

Drew Ossakow

SMU gets two major gifts for basketball arena renovations

A rendering of the Moody Coliseum renovation.

This past week, SMU announced the second of two major gifts designated to the Moody Coliseum Renovation. The first, a $20 million gift from the Moody Family Foundation, was the leadership donation needed to start the renovation campaign. Then, just 8 days later, the school announced a $10 million gift from David & Carolyn Miller toward the same renovation project.

The athletics department has raised $30 million of the planned $40 million price tag for the coliseum, with a construction start date yet to be scheduled. With construction projects being shelved all across the nation due to budget cuts and stagnant credit markets, having 3/4 of the project goal raised will ensure the completion of the project and provide significant momentum for raising the remaining $10 million.

In fact, this kind of support is remarkable. Not many schools and athletics departments have had the pleasure of announcing 8-figure gifts a little over a week apart. No doubt SMU had many visits with the benefactors prior to the releases, but by coupling the announcements in such short order, the school has shown its other donors that they are committed to making the project a reality.

Taylor Wood

Minnestoa hosts “Bottom of the 9th” Event

In early February, the University of Minnesota athletic department and the Golden Gopher Fund hosted a fundraiser in an effort to re-energize support to bring a new on-campus home for the UM Baseball team.  “Bottom of the 9th” focused on reinvigorating donor interest in the Siebert Field Legacy Campaign as the project to replace the old on-campus baseball field nears its completion.  The evening attracted many potential donors along with current and former Gopher Baseball players, who came for a night that featured keynote speeches from Hall of Famers and former UM players Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield.  The athletic department was also able to utilize media personalities Michele Tafoya and Ryan Lefebvre, both of whom have previously been associated with the Gophers, to co-emcee the evening.

In total approximately 450 people attended “Bottom of the 9th” which was hosted in the DQ Club at TCF Bank Stadium.  Tickets for the dinner and program were $250 and a table for ten could be purchased with a $2,000 donation to the campaign.  Furthermore, a VIP package option was offered at $3,000 and included a table for ten and a private pre-event reception with the keynote speakers.  Additional funds were raised for the campaign through a live and silent auction.

The urgency for a new baseball stadium project intensified recently as the Metrodome, which was scheduled to host all home games during the 2011 Gopher Baseball season, became unusable due to the roof collapsing in December.  Minnesota Head Coach John Anderson was able to secure a few alternative venues for this year but the fact of the matter remains that the Baseball program needs a permanent home close to campus.  To date, $4 million of the total $7.5 million goal has been raised.  Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi is optimistic about reaching the fundraising goal for the Siebert Field Legacy Campaign, but is also realistic on how much work needs to be done in the future.  Maturi stated, “We’ve never been so close to bringing a new baseball stadium to the University of Minnesota. We’re not behind in the bottom of the 9th, but we’re not ahead either.”

This event serves as a great example of how an athletic department can put momentum back into a capital project that is getting close to completion.  Additionally, the timing of the event provided a nice way to engage current donors and identify new prospects as excitement builds towards the new baseball season.

Drew Ossakow

UConn deals with donor backlash, national spotlight

(Editor’s Note – It appears that Burton and UConn have mended their relationship. Read more about the relationship here.)

In perhaps the most mainstream story about the athletics development industry in recent memory, the University of Connecticut athletics department has been under fire recently after the publication of a letter from an angry and upset Robert Burton, a benefactor of the UConn football program. The letter, which can be read in its entirety here, raised numerous opinions from many people, from Bob Knight to the Governor of Connecticut. Most everyone had an something to say about Burton’s actions.

However, perhaps the public relations response from the University is the provides the greatest area to learn from such a situation. With such a national media spotlight focused on the school (just try googling “donor asks for money back” to get an idea of the amount of material out there), it certainly would have been easy to get in to a public war of words with the angry Burton. Yet a close look at University responses detail their commitment to take the high road.

  • The initial release from the athletics department disputed Burton’s claims that he was not involved in the search, saying he was kept abreast of the situation.
  • UConn Athletics Director Jeff Hathaway responded by saying, “”I’m never going to provide any commentary on any donor or correspondence that someone may send. What I will say to you is that I continue to be appreciative to Mr. Burton for his generosity in supporting our football program. It’s made our football student-athletes and coaches better and we’re appreciative for that.”
  • Chairman of the Board Larry McHugh told reporters about his conversation with Burton and emphasized the belief that all alumni are created equal. He said, ” I get a lot of stuff that comes in and I think the worst thing you can do is ignore it and don’t respond. When I get copies of letters or correspondence I try to respond by e-mail, letter or phone call. In this case, I made the phone call.”
  • McHugh also stated that he hopes to continue a relationship with Burton, commenting “We’re going to try to move forward,” he said. “I’m definitely going to have further conversations to reinforce the support the Burtons have given the university in the past. Hopefully, over one issue, everything isn’t destroyed.”
  • The University foundation issued a statement saying that all donors’ concerns are important to the school.

The fallout from this story has been intense, with the school, alumni and fans all being asked for their opinion (the fans link provides a little social commentary from those who associate with the school). Some college athletics reporters have even used the letter to highlight the “tricky” relationships with donors, while others have used it to take a closer look at the AD and school itself.

However, for the most part, the school has responded in a politically correct way, withholding potentially incendiary comments and instead expressing gratitude for Burton for what he has done in the past. Taking this approach has painted Burton in a poor light, leaving most associated with the school and college athletics in general approval of the UConn and their decisions.

At the end of the day, this is just an isolated incident that caught wind on the ESPN news ticker. But something can be said about the current situation of college athletics and higher education as a whole. People who have the financial wherewithal to help the school of their choice will have an increasing amount of clout at institutions as public funding continues to falter. Yet most people who are benevolent enough to donate millions of dollars to a school understand their role in the transaction and are not looking for much in return, except to see their money being put to good use helping students.

Taylor Wood

Nebraska gets creative with Husker Air Force Program

Recently, the University of Nebraska’s athletic department used the excitement surrounding the early national signing period to help publicize a new donor program. This program allows participants to have a direct impact on which current high schoolers become future Husker student-athletes.  This new initiative called The Husker Air Force Program is aimed at assisting the football coaching staff’s national recruiting efforts.  Through a partnership established with Jet Linx Aviation and UltraAir, the Nebraska Athletic Department will give Bo Pelini and his assistant coaches the ability to visit with multiple future student-athletes within a short period of time.  In a letter to Husker donors, coach Pelini and Nebraska Associate Athletic Director Paul Meyers explained the new program and told them that this is their opportunity to help them “recruit the next national championship team!”.

There are multiple options in which a donor can contribute to the Husker Air Force Program:

  1. Purchase hours with Jet Linx or UltraAir
  2. Donate purchased hours
  3. Donate personal airplane hours
  4. Donate cash to the Husker Air Force through the University of Nebraska Foundation

Donors are told to visit these Husker Air Force Program specific websites through Jet Linx and UltraAir in order to contribute.

The Nebraska Athletics department offers tiered benefits at three contribution levels $1,000-$4,999, $5,000-$9,999, and $10,000 and above.  Some of these benefits include a jacket with wings, an annual program specific gift, and private event with coaches.

This program allows donors to directly impact the efficiency in which the football program recruits.  Fundraising initiatives such as this also would be a great complement to national signing day events athletic development offices have begun to utilize.

Drew Ossakow