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Engaging Alumni Athletes

Oct. 26, 2010

Penn State's athletic development office (Nittany Lion Club) transitioned to taking over the operations of the Varsity `S' club for alumni athlete relations in 2007. During the change, the decision was made to hire a full time staff member to coordinate the direction of this program with the intent to re-engage the alumni base. Key priorities established for Varsity `S' included creating a committee with an alumni representative from each sport, enhancing reunion activities on campus and promoting alumni giving participation.

Volunteer Committee:

With over 12,000 active alumni athletes at Penn State, engaging support for volunteers was critical to the overall success of the initiative. With the University wide capital campaign in the silent phase, intercollegiate athletics decided to include a component of their campaign committee devoted to Varsity `S'. The sub-committee includes a chairperson, two honorary chairs, six team captains and representatives from each of the 29 sports. The team captains are divided into a men's and women's captain for each season; fall, winter and spring.

The committee meets in person twice a year on campus and holds monthly conference calls hosted by the Varsity `S' coordinator from August -May. The charge of these volunteers is to assist in the hosting of reunions and promoting the engagement of alumni through sport specific giving.

Team Reunions:

With 29 teams at Penn State, re-engaging athlete alumni on campus became priority from day one of the new Varsity `S' initiative. A budget was established and the Varsity `S' club coordinator was tasked in working directly with the coaching staffs to promote and enhance reunion activities throughout the year. The Varsity `S' Coordinator also established a relationship with the football letterman's club to play a role in promoting this initiative and creating a culture of giving back. At the time, the football letterman's club had over 900 dues paying members. In 2009-10, 16 team reunions were held at University Park that resulted in over 2,000 alumni athletes returning to campus.



Alumni Giving Participation:

The specific goal of the Varsity `S' initiative is to reach 30% alumni giving participation by the campaign's end in 2014. In order to create a new culture of giving back at Penn State, dues to join the Varsity `S' club were abolished and a special Varsity `S' insert of the Nittany Lion Club newsletter was created and sent to all active athlete alumni quarterly to promote the Varsity `S' club.

As a way to entice alumni to give back, sport specific giving was created through the Nittany Lion Club with a unique benefit for Varsity `S' club members. All Varsity `S' members may designate their gift through the Nittany Lion Club to the sport of their choice and receive any and all benefits associated with their level of gift. This includes priority seating and parking privileges for football.

These efforts have proved instrumental to early success of the Varsity `S' initiative. At the completion of fiscal year 2010, alumni giving participation rose from 10.2% to over 14%. With impending changes to the football priority seating program, the goal for fiscal year 2011 is 17%. Gift totals for 2010 topped $2.6M and provided our coaches with sport specific funding to purchase new equipment, an additional road trip or increase their recruiting travel budget. For more information about the Varsity `S', contact Mike Milliron in the Nittany Lion Club at 814-867-2202 or mjm540@psu.edu.


About RJ Gimbl:

 Richard (RJ) Gimbl

  • RJ Gimbl joined the staff in January 2008 and is responsible for Major Gifts.
  • RJ is a graduate of Rutgers University, where he earned a BS in Exercise Science & Psychology and received a Master's in Business Administration from West Virginia University.
  • Prior to accepting his new position, RJ was most recently the Associate Athletics Director for Development at Marshall University and coordinated the annual fund at West Virginia University for 2 and ½ years.
  • RJ and his wife, Sarah, are the proud owners of Chip, a chocolate labrador.