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Best Practices: Fund Raising Small College Style

Nov. 10, 2009

Fund Raising: Small College Style

Robert Bonn, Director of Athletics, Carthage College

I am in my 24th year as an athletics director at the Division III level with 24 competitive intercollegiate sports, 675 athletes and 35 full-time staff members who report to me on a daily basis. Fundraising has never been included in my job description but it has always been expected that I and the coaches will raise money to supplement our operating budgets. I'm the "Lone Ranger" without "Tonto." Okay for the younger readers, Phil Jackson without Jordan, Shaq or Kobe. I don't have any full-time assistants who assist with anything, including fundraising. Therein lies the challenge for me and for most of us who have programs that need extra money and have limited or no staff support; fundraising by yourself. Let me ask several questions to start you thinking about your fundraising plans and perhaps provide some options that you can use successfully. More importantly, you will have to determine what will work for you, your staff and college because everyone's situation is different.

Why do you need extra money?

At Carthage we need additional funding to afford our extra trips, i.e., the golf team's spring break trip to Arizona; or to purchase equipment, i.e., a ball machine for the women's volleyball team. All of our 24 teams fit into one of these categories. The teams are responsible for raising this money but I also assist them with overall department fundraising projects.

Do you have a department fundraising plan?

If you choose to raise money, you will need some organized fundraising plan that is thoroughly communicated with your college fund raising officers in order to eliminate conflicts with the college development office, your donors and your coaches.

We complete the following:

1. A booster club fund drive that works in conjunction with the college annual fund drive. We send out an attractive brochure to our alumni inviting them to become athletics booster club members by making a contribution to a team or to the general booster club. The money received goes to each sport's discretionary account that is used at the discretion of the head coach. Solicitation by mail is one of the least effective fundraising techniques, falling significantly behind phone calls and face-to-face contact. Our development office follows the mailing with student phone calls to the athletics alumni.



2. One major special event fundraising project; a golf outing, auction and raffle once per year. We make money at our golf outing through corporate sponsorship not by the number of golfers; however, 144 golfers create a nice atmosphere and make it feel like a special event. We have sponsorship levels ranging from $250-$5,000, and offer a special advertising incentive for any sponsor over $1,000 - advertisements on our indoor arena video display. This has helped us obtain more sponsors this year and elevated many of our lower sponsors to the $1,000 level. An auction is held after the golf outing where we auction off a variety of donated goods. The coaches are motivated to assist with the auction by donating items they obtain and their program receives the total for which the item sells. We conduct a 50/50 raffle that charges $100 per ticket with a maximum of 100 tickets, yielding a $5,000 profit.

3. Players and coaches conduct fundraising projects. The most popular have been marathon games; for example, 50 inning baseball/softball games. The players obtain pledges from parents, friends and relatives for a donation per inning or for number of home runs in the game, etc. This type of fundraising involves the students but more importantly reaches out to a group of donors that we would not be able to contact through our normal fundraising efforts.

Do you have athletics endowments?

I am convinced that athletics endowments are absolutely critical for the long term fiscal health of any athletics department. The challenge is to make them large enough to produce a yearly amount that supplements the operating budgets. I have started an endowment for all of our teams and challenged the coaches to contribute to them as much as possible. With any extra money that I raise for the teams, I now place it in their endowment and not into their discretionary funds.

Do you understand how people connect in your community and the fundraising value that is created through these relationships?

I have spent enough time at one college to develop personal relationships with many alumni and business owners in our community. The amazing phenomenon is how people are connected either through friendships, business or family. These relationships impact your fundraising ability and have a dramatic effect on fundraising success or failure. Let me give several examples. I have a doctor in town who is a good donor to our program for no apparent reason. I learned later, that his brother is a principal at a local school and that on many occasions we have assisted this principal by allowing his basketball team to practice in our facility. I don't know how much that made a difference to the doctor's donation but it didn't hurt. I have a golfing buddy, who has a significant business in town and is a good donor. He knows more people in town than I will ever know. He has introduced me to them and helped to make them my friends and donors. I am also friends with an alumnus who is an athletics donor. I became aware that his college roommate was a local business owner, and through this connection he is now a contributor to Carthage Athletics.

Do you have any fundraising help?

I have a committee of alumni and business friends who assist with our golf outing, auction and raffle. Without them I would be a fundraising failure. On a yearly basis I add new members to the committee, while others drop off due to a variety of reasons. These new members increase connections, prevent burn out, renew enthusiasm and energy and redistribute the work load.

We had an outstanding fundraising year during the world's most challenging economic downturn. Earlier in the year, I read about a development officer who predicted that they would have a bad fund raising year due to the economy. In athletics, we would never accept that philosophy, "admitting failure before the season even started." This attitude does not exist in our competitive makeup. We did four things to eliminate the excuses and negative attitude:

1. We doubled our efforts and utilized an expanded fundraising committee. 2. We counted on our friends, within our well established donor base, to step up when we needed them most. 3. We didn't panic and stayed positive because we realized that even in a good economy every year companies close their doors, file for bankruptcy or do not make a profit. 4. We found upstart companies because new ones emerge every year regardless of the current economy. (I was bombarded this year by the hotel industry, which wanted our business and was willing to donate more to get it.)

Good luck!

If you have any ideas you would like to share or need some clarification on things that we do, please don't hesitate to contact me at rbonn@carthage.edu.