Experiences, not wins, increase

Yale’s triumph over its oldest rival in Cambridge may have given sports fans reasons to be thankful this month, but good cheer may not be the only benefit that the Harvard-Yale victory will bring to the University.

Fundraising for university athletics departments often correlates with success on the field — Princeton recently received a $10.5 million gift after its victory over the Bulldogs in the Yale-Princeton game — though performance is by no means the only factor affecting an alumnus’ decision to donate. Administrators and those in charge of development at Yale, Notre Dame and Oklahoma State University all agree that a love of their school is the greatest impetus for those considering a donation.

Patrick Ruwe, president of the Yale Football Association, said among the factors that contribute to an alumnus’ decision to give are his perception of the university now and the success and quality of the programs it fields.

“The more successful the program is now, the easier it will be for us to fundraise in the future,” Ruwe said.

Ruwe said that he believes the victory will encourage those alumni and friends already inclined to give and may incite those not already inclined to donate.

But most importantly, Ruwe said, the determining factor is how positive an experience the alumnus had on campus.

Senior associate athletics director Timothy Ford, who plays an active role in development for the athletics department, said Yale fans and alumni were excited about the football team’s recent success — the Elis captured a portion of the Ivy League crown for the first time since 1999 — but there had already been pre-existing enthusiasm for Yale athletics from alumni and donors.

Much of the fundraising for the athletics department is done through associations that support each team, and Ruwe said the number of alumni engaged in fundraising efforts for the football association is as important as the amount they give. Charles Johnson ’54 recently donated $5 million to the Yale Bowl restoration project, a gift that was subsequently matched by his classmates, Ruwe said.

Ruwe said that he and his colleagues rely on players who have had good experiences, especially captains and other team leaders, to rally support for the program. The association raises money through annual letter-writing campaigns and events celebrating anniversaries, reunions and championships, and it holds reunions of old teammates on the golf course.

Field hockey coach Pam Stuper said she similarly strives to keep alumni involved in raising money for her team. Stuper sends out newsletters, organizes events and encourages the children of alumni to come on the field during halftime — with kiddie-sized sticks.

Stuper said fundraising is a slow process and that she has had to learn to be patient since women can be more reserved about giving.

“Men give a little easier than women,” she said. “Women think more about where the money comes from and where it goes.”

The dynamic of athletics fundraising takes on a different form at larger Division I schools.

Notre Dame’s senior associate athletic director John Heisler said the university only started fundraising for its athletics department in recent years. Historically, donations to the department have been very small, since revenues created by the famous football program provide the vast majority of funds for athletics, he said. Ticket sales — Notre Dame’s football stadium holds 80,000 fans — and licensing fees from a national television deal with NBC fund full scholarships for 26 of the Irish’s athletic programs, he said.

Heisler said Notre Dame launched a facilities master plan for athletics six years ago when the current athletics director took office. The university hopes to raise over $80 million for its facilities and has had good responses so far, but there is no finite schedule for the current initiative.

“There is no question [why alumni donate],” Heisler said. “Success of sports is the whole idea. If we want to compete at the highest level, our facilities need to be able to attract highly skilled athletes.”

At Oklahoma State University, a $165 million donation from oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens has inspired confidence that the program can become nationally competitive, Vice President of Athletic Development Craig Clemons said. Clemons said the university will use the gift in a variety of ways to make the Cowboy — and Cowgirl — experience as positive as possible.

Clemons said he thought there were several factors affecting Pickens’ decision to contribute: The donor graduated from OSU, he is intensely competitive, he is a former athlete and he has a good relationship with the athletic directors.

“And he has a deep love for OSU,” Clemons said.

Regardless of the school or the size of the program, the name of the game seems to be to keep alumni involved and engaged, said Anthony “Duke” Diaz, director of operations for tennis and track and field at Yale.

“You can’t feel the need to give unless you feel connected,” he said.

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