• By Bob Peterson
  • 13 Dec, 2017

My Cousin and I both went to small colleges with about 1000 students.   My alma mater happened to be in a large metropolitan city and his was in a small community with a population of approximately 5,000.

During a recent golf outing I was talking to my cousin about the pressure that I face to raise money as an Athletic Director at a small college.   I told him about our approaches to booster clubs, special events, and that we were generally always looking for ways to generate revenue.

His response?   “At least you’re in a big city where there are lots of resources to be found, the athletic department at my poor alma mater is falling to pieces and hasn’t made any upgrades in years.”     I promptly told him that everyone has challenges, for me the challenge is that I’m in a city(Oklahoma City) that now has an NBA team with 18,000 fans showing up every night.   I’m also surrounded by two major universities(Oklahoma and Oklahoma State), and I face significant challenges in raising funds.     Raising money isn’t about your location.

There are lots of things that make raising money for college athletics hard.

  1. The Economy Stinks.

  2. My University won’t let Athletics approach the biggest potential donors.

  3. Foundations rarely make gifts to support Athletics.

  4. I don’t have a full-time fund-raising staff person.

  5. There are thousands of more deserving charities.

  6. None of my alums have struck it rich (most of them are teachers).

I asked my cousin, who has done quite well in life, how often his alma mater has reached out to him to give to athletics.   The answer…”hardly ever.”   Therein lies the problem !

I have no doubt that raising money at some schools is more difficult than it is at others…but that’s no excuse for not trying.   Fundraising, like any form of sales, requires a belief in your product, a willingness to ask others to share your belief, a plan, and action.

Belief in Your Product   – It should go without saying that every member of your staff believes in the importance of what they are doing and the mission of the athletic department.   They should be able to share this mission and your needs easily with anyone.  

Willingness to Ask Others to Share Your Belief   – We are all selling.   Every recruit that we approach is a sales opportunity.   Fund-raising is no different.   Every staff member has to be willing to share the story with others.   The story must be consistent.

A Plan   – This doesn’t have to be hard.   At a minimum for a small college the plan includes a strategy for approaching alumni, parents, and local businesses.   The key is to get them in the habit of giving.   Don’t worry if the first gift is only $50.   The idea is that the donor will continue that gift for the next 20 years(did I mention that this is a perpetual process?).

Action   – Sometimes this is the hardest part.   Every other effort is for naught if you don’t take action.   Set up meetings with prospects in your community.   Invite them to a game or special event.   Create a monthly “Athletic Luncheon.” Send letters or create a Phonathon for prospects that aren’t in your community.   You must be committed and set aside time each day and each week to complete this task.   It may take you 3 calls to get one response…but this is time well spent.  

Success in fund-raising isn’t based on luck and location.   Like sports itself, success in this area is based on effort, strategy, commitment, and belief.   At small colleges, every member of your staff has to understand and participate in this endeavor.   The results will speak for themselves.

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