Whether your university has a winning team, alumni and fans enjoy the connection that comes from attending sports events. For many, school spirit involves season tickets and contributions that entitle them to prime seating, a parking space close to the venue, or other perks. Despite the changes in tax law that went into effect in 2018, this transactional philanthropy will most likely continue to be an important part of a winning philanthropic game plan. But it is only one part. The real power athletics has is in building relationships, deepening engagement, and helping donors and potential donors discover philanthropy that is truly meaningful. Loyal fans’ transactional giving is the first step.
Initially I got involved with the student athletics fund—you check the box to donate a certain amount in order to get better seats. That commitment…was a great launching point into what will, hopefully, be a great future of giving as well.
Athletics provide an avenue for reaching out not only to alumni but other fans who have affinity for the university. These potential donors may have an attachment because family members attended the institution, or it happens to be the local college or university. For example, even though the president of a booster club for a midwestern university did not receive his degree from that institution, he is a life-long committed fan and engaged donor with the athletics program because he grew up rooting for that university’s football team.
Fans traveling to campus for athletic events provide a tremendous opportunity for development professionals to deepen engagement by providing meaningful first-hand experiences. The potential donor can see and imagine the impact his or her contribution will have through meeting students and student-athletes, speaking with faculty, and touring facilities.
A lot of institutions on ‘football Saturday’ have their schools open. And that’s a great tool when people are coming to campus to go to a football game. And I think rather than trying to compete against it, you need to figure out how to use that gift that athletics is giving us to get our alums excited about coming back to campus.
Contributions most meaningful to donors are based on some life experience. While most people do not have the athletic talent to experience competing at the college or university level, many potential donors identify with the values espoused by athletics, such as teamwork or a strong work ethic, and can draw a parallel between their own experiences and those expressed through sport.
What I like about athletics is the competition. I think athletics is one of those environments in which the classroom may not be a traditional classroom—it may be a field or a basketball court or a wrestling mat—but it teaches young people how to step up and put it on the line. That’s very much like the real world. A lot of life lessons are taught in a competitive environment.
Donors may enjoy the perks of their loyalty giving to athletics programs, but they also may be looking for deeper engagement. As one donor puts it, “I invest in people primarily. My wife and I invest in people and the initiatives that people are involved in.” Athletics fundraising presents an enormous opportunity for cultivating lifelong engagements with donors that can lead to significant meaningful philanthropy. Development professionals can leverage the loyalty many alum and fans have for their institution to demonstrate the power of contributions that reach beyond the transactional.
Let’s talk about the impact you are going to make on the institution and the world—and that’s not about getting better seats. That’s about having a bigger vision of what you can accomplish with your wealth than simply where you sit at a football or basketball game to something more profound and, ultimately, something more personally fulfilling.