"Effective fundraising at the collegiate level is a lot like sports; it requires strategy, skill and spirit. "
Chuck Beddingfield had heard all about the ineffective efforts to raise money for the renovation of Johnson Hagood Stadium at The Citadel - efforts characterized by unexpected leadership changes and project-priority shifts. So when he was brought in as associate athletic director in 2002, he wanted to make sure the same mistakes didn't happen again. "How do you overcome 15 years of failures and raise $25 million with no revenue streams other than pledges?" he asks. "You take an honest look at what the problem is and fix it."
Beddingfield became The Citadel's first full-time fundraising specialist, focusing on nothing but securing the funds to renovate the facility. The long-delayed refurbishment - which would ultimately cost $35 million - finally began in August 2005, with $23 million expected to be generated through private fundraising. That kind of bold introspection and commitment to a project is precisely what's required to either jump-start a failed college athletics fundraising campaign or launch a successful new one. Here are eight ways to raise the funds necessary to raise the roof.
1. State your vision. Be able to clearly and concisely explain the project's vision and how it will benefit the college or university. This clarity will provide focus, dramatically increasing the project's credibility and making it easier to garner support on future projects. Be sure to include details about how a new sports venue can create athletic success, which bolsters academic success. Research shows that when a college sports team is winning, applications to attend that institution increase significantly, as do alumni donations. This approach will widen the base of support while deflecting criticism from athletic department detractors.
2. Assign responsibility. Determine who will be the one person assigned to monitor the project on a full-time basis, taking responsibility for its progress. That individual can be an athletic director, an assistant athletic director or a professional fundraiser, but he or she must be completely dedicated to the effort and willing to be held accountable for its outcome - whether positive or negative. A can-do attitude with strong alumni and community connections are desirable characteristics that often lead to success.
3. Understand the politics. Every project has its politics, particularly those involving major capital campaigns. Understand where the support for the project lies, as well as where it doesn't, and be sure to ask the following questions before wading into political waters: Who are the key decision makers at the institution? Do they believe in the project? Are you prepared for objections? Are you aware of what project components are not negotiable?
If you don't know the answers to these questions, take the time to figure them out. Talk with people who can present a clearer view of the interior workings of the university's hierarchy. Being prepared to deal with cynics at all levels will boost fundraising efforts tremendously.
4. Understand the project details. In order to sell the project, whether the construction of a new facility or the renovation of an existing one, a complete understanding of it is required - including how it fits within the school's mission and how it can contribute to local and state economies.
A market and feasibility study will determine the project's economic impact not only on the athletic program, but also on the college or university and the larger community as a whole. It will also answer the following questions:
How does the proposed facility fit into the athletic department's master plan? What facility size will be most profitable, and how much will it cost to build? How can you generate the most revenue from the facility? If the project is a spectator venue, how many seats will provide the largest return on investment? How many concessions stands and team stores will be needed? How can you maximize revenue from naming rights? (Consider selling naming rights for grandstands, sky boxes, plaza areas, benches, club lounge tables, hall ways and surrounding streets.) How many box seats, club lounges and luxury suites can you sell, and how should they be priced?
5. Build a compelling story. Citing case studies of successful fundraising initiatives on other campuses or begging for money will quickly bore potential donors - diminishing donations with each passing breath. Instead, find a way to personalize the project so the audience can relate to it.
This will require tailoring each presentation to a specific group. You can't simply target "all alumni." Granted, at some point in the campaign, you will probably send a direct-mail piece to all alumni, but that audience is a secondary target. Your real aim must be at defined groups of people who will involve themselves in your project with money, time and other gifts.
Who are these people, and why should they care? Find out, because the better you understand them, the more successful you will be. Share with them stories that not only explain why you believe in the project so passionately, but why they should, too.
In order to do that, you will need to prepare a two-minute version of your story (for quick presentation in an elevator or at an unexpected networking opportunity) and a five-minute version (for use during less-informal situations).
Establish a sense of urgency by including such details as: Why this facility is critical to the success of the athletics program. The long-term and short-term benefits the college or university will realize with this facility. How potential donors have an opportunity to be part of history and how they can personally benefit from this project. The consequences to both the athletic program and the institution in the event of a failed fundraising campaign.
People don't give to causes; people give to people with causes. It is your passion for the project that will move people to action. Once audiences see (and share) that vision, they'll do whatever it takes to make that vision a reality. So focus on selling the project - not on raising a specific dollar amount.
6. Select the right volunteers. Respected coaches, well-known alums and former student-athletes often make powerful spokespeople for fundraising efforts, and major contributors who believe in the project can also be tapped as resources. Recruiting the assistance of popular community leaders and individuals with extensive political connections will dramatically increase the odds of success.
"Selecting the right campaign chair was a key to our success at The Citadel," Beddingfield says. "He is an alumnus, a former athlete, a respected businessman with political connections, and a seven-figure contributor. He made the first donation and set the tone."
7. Get the tools to raise the funds. Most schools use letters and brochures, but there are other options that will emotionally engage donors in the project:
Conceptual drawings of the facility. A sketch of the planned facility acts as an effective selling tool. But keep in mind that the drawing used to sell the project must match the facility that is ultimately built. This is critical to your credibility the next time you request funding. Some architects have a vision of the project they want to build. But a school needs an architect who will take the time to understand the project, the institution's direction, and the athletic department's vision. With this clarity, the architect can produce a realistic conceptual drawing of the proposed facility.
3-D animation of an architectural drawing. Based on the conceptual drawing, your architect can create a computer animation of the proposed facility that shows both the interior and exterior. Donors will feel like they're walking through and around the building, giving them a real taste of what is to come. And because the animation is viewed on a computer, music and film clips of players, coaches, alumni and fans can be added. The final package will likely excite not only potential donors in the presentation room but also others who view the animation on the school's web site.
Letters, brochures and postcards. These are the staples of most campaigns, so don't overlook their significance. Make sure that the message is clear and consistent, that the separate pieces are instantly recognizable as part of the campaign, and that they compel people to action.
A fundraising expert. Some people specialize in raising money for major campaigns, so it might be worth considering the use of their services. Many will work for a percentage of what they raise. Check their references and be convinced that they not only understand the project vision, but also share the same core values of the institution and its administration. Don't give this process short shrift. It is vital to hire the person you want representing the college or university, because that person will be the college or university in the eyes of potential donors. If respect, integrity and enthusiasm are among the core values, hire someone who possesses those values. In short, you should feel comfortable with that person becoming an extension of the fundraising team.
Regardless of which tools you use in your fundraising campaign, remember the importance of frequency. It is much better to contact 1,000 people four times than to contact 4,000 people once. Each contact you make with a person increases your odds of success.
8. Explore all funding options. Consider every funding source. There are many options - from government grants to corporations and foundations to grassroots efforts. Explore them all to see which ones best fit the project's needs:
Government. Start locally and sell the project to community leaders first. The best way to earn their support is to show them how the project will benefit the city and area businesses. The market and feasibility study will include economic-impact numbers that are invaluable when seeking support, because it is the job of city leaders to find new economic catalysts for their communities. Consider this your opportunity to help them do just that.
After gaining the support of local leaders, take the project pitch to state legislators and show them how it will benefit the state. Utilize any supporters who have contacts with state legislators. The federal level will most likely offer the greatest funding options in the form of grants tied to community recreation programs and other local or regional projects. Federal representatives often know what grants are available.
One caveat: Never mention the word "tax" in any proposals or presentations to government officials.
Corporations and foundations. Corporations and foundations with a history of purchasing naming rights can be found by scouring the Internet. When approaching a foundation, understand its mission and tie your project to that mission in simple, clear terms. Focus on how this investment will generate a return on their investment. This also might be the right time to formulate partnerships with businesses and other area organizations via sponsorships and facility-usage agreements. Grassroots support from alumni and fans. The backbone of any college sports team is its fans, so tap into this enthusiastic and far-reaching base. Most universities use tiered levels of giving, so donors have the option to give more to receive more - including access to personal seat licenses, club lounges and luxury suites. You must make it easy for those people to say "yes."
Beddingfield, for one, knows the value of "yes." In five months, The Citadel raised $9 million for the renovation of Johnson Hagood Stadium. "We are now under construction, and it is because we left no stone unturned," he says. The updated facility will seat 21,000 people and include 20 skyboxes, a club level, a pair of terraces overlooking two nearby rivers, and a new scoreboard and press box. The grandstand section is slated for completion by August, with the press box expected to be ready for the 2008 season. "We were successful because we made the connection between our passion for the athletic program and our belief in the school - and then communicated that to our supporters," Beddingfield says.
Whether your fundraising program is stalled or just starting, that's the key: Assign a point person, and then share the passion for the project. In the end, the hard work will, quite literally, pay off.