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Indiana’s Varsity Club Launches Ambassador Referral Program

This summer IU Athletics launched a new referral program which will reward donors for helping to increase Varsity Club membership.  The goals of the initiative are to expand the number of IU Athletic donors as well as reward those who help out in doing so.  Participants in the Ambassador Referral Program will receive priority points which will count towards preferred seating for football and men’s basketball games.  “Ambassadors” get three non-accumulated priority points for every $100 referred to the Varsity Club’s unrestricted annual fund.  Donors can indicate who referred them on their giving form which must be mailed in to count as part of the new initiative.

The “Ambassador” program comes on the heels of a banner year for the Varsity Club.  IU Athletics received over $7.9 million in annual gifts for 2010-11 which breaks the previous mark set in 2007-08 by 3.2%.  IU also set a single month giving record when they received $2.3 million in June of 2011.  Continuing to find ways to incentivize current donors to refer their friends and coworkers is key to growing an annual fund program.  In the past we have looked at a few examples of creative referral programs (Cincinnati, Vanderbilt, VCU) that have help to increase annual gifts.  With IU’s initiative, the Varsity Club did a great job by incorporating priority points which are highly valued by their donors for football and especially men’s basketball tickets.

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

Golden Gopher Fund Engages Young Alumni Through “Next Generation”


A few weeks ago we posted a study done by Ohio University sports administration graduate students that looked at best practices among young alumni giving initiatives.  As a follow up, we wanted to highlight the Next Generation campaign at the University of Minnesota.  This program is aimed at reengaging Golden Gopher young alumni from ages 30 – 50 years old.  The school is located within a major metropolitan area which has a multitude of entertainment and philanthropic options UM has to contend with.  For this reason, the Golden Gopher Fund set out to speak with the 30 biggest influencers amongst this group to find out how to get them more involved with Minnesota Athletics.

This past winter, the GGF met with these influencers individually to talk about the Next Generation initiative and invited them to a social hour and roundtable discussion event.  At the gathering, members of the athletic department, including coaches, along with the invited guests discussed ways to grow this young alumni group.  Following the meeting the group attended a home basketball game in which they all sat together.  Out of the 30 that were invited, three to four offered to champion the Next Generation effort to ensure its success.

There were a couple of key takeaways from this meeting.  The first being that the group identified three aspects that they thought needed to be incorporated within Next Generation for it to have broad appeal.   It was brought up that young alumni are particularly interested in networking opportunities, family oriented events, and the chance for increased amenities and access.   Also, the GGF staff identified that the best way to move forward with increasing young alumni membership would be through organic growth.  The efforts of those that were invited to attend the first Next Generation event would act as volunteer representatives of the Minnesota Athletic program and would develop a “representative program”.

The Golden Gopher Fund approached their need to have more participation from young alumni in a unique and innovative way.  It takes a lot to organize a program such as this but those efforts will surely pay dividends down the road.  To see more recent graduate program best practices examples please click here which will take you to a copy of the Young Alumni Giving report.

Special thanks to Jason Butikofer, Director of Annual Fund & Premium Seating for the Golden Gopher Fund, for his contribution with this story.

Providence gets creative with NBA draft promotional ask

The Friars Forever Athletic Fund recently announced a promotion to generate some publicity for basketball star Marshon Brooks and his selection in the NBA draft. On June 17, Providence announced that they would be giving away two VIP luxury box tickets to each donor who correctly guessed Brooks’ draft pick number in the form of a financial contribution. For example, if a fan thought that Brooks would be drafted with the 20th pick, they would need to make a $20 contribution to the Friar Athletic Fund.

While on the surface this promotion does not look like a big way to generate revenue, it does serve a purpose. It allows the department to promote the recent success of the basketball program while also allowing fans a glimpse of the luxury box area. This can increase the number of prospects for the annual fund and box seats, as well as build some goodwill with fans in seats that might otherwise go unused.

In many ways this is a different way to ask for support from fans. Rather than giving admittance in to an annual fund structure with benefits, this promotion allows anyone to support the school and have the potential to be rewarded with luxury seats.

The Friars Forever Athletic Fund have yet to announce the winners of this promotion publicly.

Taylor Wood

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

Young Alumni Giving & Support: A study with Ohio University and ADF

Over the course of the past year, Athletics Development Frontier partnered with the Ohio University Center for Sports Administration to research and analyze a frequent problem area in development: young alumni giving. Across the country there are numerous programs being implemented to create and sustain support from recent graduates, each with varying degrees of success.

This report was designed to be a compilation of the best practices of young alumni giving programs from all areas of development, not just athletics. By broadening the scope of the project, the researchers were able to find some success stories that could be implemented in athletics, and vice-versa.

The authors use four main themes to guide their research:

  1. The need to develop a culture of giving
  2. Young alumni will take advantage of benefits at reduced membership rates
  3. Young alumni respond when challenged
  4. Young alumni want more than game watch parties

Each of these themes are supported by research and examples of projects that are on the ground at various Universities from around the country.

You can read their executive summary by clicking here. The full report is available for reading and download by clicking on the image below.

ADF would like to thank the authors of the report, Beau Bauer, Phil Carden, Michael Speight, and Drew Ossakow for their work on the project.

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

University of Arizona Incorporates Volunteers With Online Giving Campaign

A while back, we featured an article on Oregon State University and the incorporation of online giving to drive annual funds and membership for the Beaver Student Athlete Fund.  A few weeks ago, the Wildcat Club at the University of Arizona embarked on a similar journey, releasing an online giving campaign with a goal of having 12,000 Wildcat Club members by 2013.  The Wildcat Club “12,000 by 2013” campaign incorporates many of the principles behind past online giving campaigns with Pursuant Sports, in addition to unique elements trying to ensure the campaign goes down as a success.

With new Athletics Director Greg Byrne, the Wildcat Club was looking for a way to introduce a new age of Arizona Athletics to supporters.   With rapid increases in multimedia usage amongst all demographics, and their athletic director incorporating social media into his daily routine, the Wildcat Club realized an online giving campaign would tremendously aid any effort to re-introduce Arizona Athletics.  Moreover, in selecting Pursant Sports to help construct their campaign, the company that helped launch similar campaigns with Oregon State and North Carolina State, the introduction of a online giving campaign for the Wildcat Club seemed liked a perfect fit.

Now, one of the main benefits to online giving is the ability to touch many supporters with only one click of a mouse.  Furthermore, eye-catching videos that feature the impact philanthropic support has for student-athletes are easy and convenient “asks” for contributions and support.  However, in order for people to give online they need to be directed to watch the video.

Therefore, the Wildcat Club empowered close to 120 volunteers to help re-introduce Arizona Athletics with an online giving campaign as their master solicitation tool. Further incentives for volunteer efforts are prizes for the people and teams who acquire the most new members.  The use of volunteers with the “12,000 by 2013” campaign for Arizona Athletics is a nice addition to previously seen online giving campaigns.  With the success and reach of such campaigns, look for more athletic departments to incorporate similar programs with their own specific tweaks and additions.

Michael Speight

Special thanks to Thomas Theodorakis Regional Director of Annual Giving for the Wildcat Club for his contribution with this story.

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