Editors' note: In March 2014, students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison approved a $223 million referendum to overhaul the campus recreation facilities, badly in need of improvement. Since then, the recreation program has been busy planning, fundraising, vetting architects and much more. As the project progresses, Alex Peirce, UW-Madison Rec Sports Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications, will be offering an inside look at the process of coordinating such a monumental planning effort.
Once our project received all of the necessary approvals for it to move forward, our attention shifted to working with the architects, engaging students in the design process, and securing gift funding for the new facilities. Approximately 25% of the cost for our entire Master Plan (two indoor facilities and two outdoor playfields) will be funded by gifts and donations. We work closely with the University of Wisconsin Foundation to identify and connect with interested donors, a process that has greatly increased my understanding of how to navigate and prepare for those impactful (and very important) relationships.
Rather than coming directly to us, most donors approach the Foundation with their interest in playing a role in our projects. Last fall, the University kicked off its annual capital campaign, and our project was featured as one of campus’s main initiatives. Our Master Plan is included on the campaign’s website, where gifts may be made in varying amounts. Major donors (think: donors looking to fund a majority of a facility’s costs or to pursue naming rights for one of the activity spaces) work more directly with the Foundation’s development team.
Know your audience
Whether the donor is an individual, a family, or a major corporation, we prepare our team in much the same way. Perhaps one of the best pieces of advice I could offer to anyone new to this process is to do your homework. Find out what the donor cares about and how they are connected to your campus. Are you working with alumni from your campus? What were they involved in as a student? Have they made other major gifts? Does your donor have a passion for Intramural Sports? Do they love fitness? Do they care about community involvement more than student engagement? Do they care more about providing experiences than creating spaces? Answering these types of questions can help you tailor your message and informational materials to subtly appeal to each person or group interested in your project. This also may help you connect the donor to your organization’s mission and purpose.
The ability to articulate your mission – and support it with qualitative and quantitative data – will prepare you for conversations with donors. Most people and organizations interested in giving to your project will want to know how their money will impact campus as a whole, as well as individual participants.
- Be prepared to provide testimonies from people who frequently use your facilities and programs, from people whose lives have been improved because of their decision to stay active, and from people who had a better college experience because of their involvement in recreation.
- Do your homework on your participation statistics. Know what communities you serve, how many people enter your facilities each year, and the breakdown of participation by program area.
- Think bigger: if someone is interested in having his or her name on the outside of your facility, consider how many people will see it. Our flagship location sits next to a major athletics facility and across from a conference center. We are located on a busy campus street, close to on- and off-campus housing, with the main campus bus passing by several times per day. Providing those numbers (and maps) has been very useful for donors to understand the total impact of their investment.
The most important piece of this is to tell your story. Educate your donors about the role recreation plays to the greater college experience (or life experience if your organization isn’t affiliated with a university), to enhancing people’s lives, and to building stronger communities. Hopefully this will encourage them to see your project from a different, fuller perspective.
Recommended informational materials
Our marketing team has developed a variety of materials depending on each donor’s interests, but I recommend creating the following documents as a solid starting point:
- Proposal document (text-based document with some graphics)
- Defines the role your organization plays on campus
- An overview of who you are and what you do
- Challenges you currently face that define the need for new facilities
- Opportunities created by the new facilities
- Timeline of the project and related costs
- Naming opportunities for individual amenities within your facilities
- Impact of your organization (graphics-based document)
- Explains the value of campus recreation to the college experience
- Summary of usage and participation in recreational programs and services
- Naming opportunities (combination of images and text)
- Challenges and opportunities of each amenity within your facilities
- Current square footage vs. anticipated new square footage
- Costs for naming rights broken down by each
Patience is the name of the game
This should go without saying, but if your donor is considering making a large gift to your project, it is important to remember that this is likely a major financial decision for them. Allowing the donor to define the pace (within your timeline for raising gift money) offers space and comfort for them to make such a sizeable contribution. Building relationships and trust with the donor – either directly or through a third party like the Foundation – makes the experience much more meaningful for everyone involved.
Alex Peirce joined UW-Madison Rec Sports in 2013 as the Division’s first professional marketing staff member. Read more about Alex on the UW Blog Page.