Leveraging the Front Porch of Your Institution

Not everyone likes sports, but a large number of people do! And their interest can be especially intense when the competition occurs at the intercollegiate level. Whether it’s the big-time, big bucks televised games of NCAA Division I or games played among the smaller schools in NCAA Division III or the NAIA, athletics contests can help build loyalty, stoke passion and strengthen the bond between spectator and institution.

How can intercollegiate athletics at your college benefit the overall development program and expand their impact on your institution? Here are four opportunities that are likely to exist at most colleges and universities:

1. Visibility

Athletics are the front porch of the university. It’s not the most important room in the house, but it is the most visible.

— Scott Barnes, University Athletics Director

Barnes’s quote, first spoken in 2009, offers an accurate and memorable metaphor for the relationship between schools and their athletics programs. Implicit in the quote is a challenge to academic leaders to both strengthen intercollegiate athletics and devise strategies to leverage athletics to benefit the rest of their institutions. To push Barnes’ metaphor a step further: If you want people to visit your house, you have to figure out how to attract more visitors to your front porch, and then decide what to do once they’re rocking in your rockers and gliding on your glider.

2. Storytelling

How about telling your guests some stories while they’re enjoying the front porch? Spend some time this weekend watching ESPN, and it will confirm for you that college sports offer an abundance of compelling stories. Almost every collegiate game broadcast will include profiles of players, vignettes of challenges they overcame, and features about their coaches and other mentors.

Why do sports offer so many attention-getting stories? Because sports keep score. The outcome of every competition measures something. Every compelling story can clearly demonstrate how the featured student-athlete went from Outcome A to Outcome B, whether it be on the field, in the classroom, or in their post-collegiate endeavors. In other words, sports-related stories are perfect for demonstrating impact.

3. Demonstrating Impact

Among your compelling stories will undoubtedly be tales of current and former students who discovered your school and enrolled primarily because of their interest in a sport it offered—never knowing they were also about to embark on a personally transformative journey that would transcend athletic competition. Surely you have stories of self-described “jocks” who, once on campus, had their curiosity ignited and their academic success heightened, propelling them to distinguished careers as physicians, lawyers, public servants, entrepreneurs, or literature professors. Each of those journeys happened directly or indirectly because of donors’ investments in your institution and in the talented and dedicated faculty, coaches, and staff who guided those student-athletes.

4. Engagement

Having shared stories, illustrated the impact of others’ philanthropy, and piqued your guests’ interests, it’s time to invite them to leave the porch and come inside. Give them a tour and show off other great features and the impressive rooms of the house. If they display a particular curiosity about one of the “rooms,” let them linger and explore it further. If their interest seems especially keen, arrange for them to return and learn more—but never forgetting or dismissing what brought them to your front porch in the first place.

How are the stakeholders at your institution leveraging donors’ and potential donor’s interest in athletics to uncover additional meaningful engagement opportunities within the college or university? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

Forging a Partnership Between the Athletics and Development Programs

Appropriately leveraging intercollegiate athletics to benefit both the athletics program and the broader college or university requires a mutually respectful and supportive partnership between the institution’s athletics department and its development community. To achieve such a productive partnership, at least four elements must eventually be in place:

1. Commitment to Collaboration: All interested parties must understand the value of and make a commitment to a collaborative partnership model.

2. Education: Athletics department representatives (administrators, coaches and athletics fundraisers) and advancement professionals from other corners of the institution all need to know:

  • Knowledge of each other’s programs and goals
  • Ground rules for outreach to potential donors who are already involved with other programs
  • Understanding of and respect for established policies and procedures for donor engagement
  • Appreciation for the principles of donor motivation
  • Training in best practices for fundraising

3. Processes and Procedures: Ground rules and mutual expectations must be established, communicated and enforced.

4. Communications and Community Building: Regular meetings, communiques and events should be used to connect and occasionally bring together all stakeholders in the athletics/development partnership.


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