Having recently graduated from college and joined a company that works in fundraising, I’ve reflected on how my university, especially the athletic department, approaches giving days.
Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how the athletic department misses out on employing a major support group.
The traditional mindset behind a giving day is centered around dollars raised — not to say that having a dollar goal isn’t an effective way of gamifying an event. But I believe that having solely that mindset immediately deters a large constituent of supporters: namely student-athletes.
To give you a little background on myself: I played football as an offensive lineman and threw for indoor and outdoor track all four years of my college career. Essentially, I was never off-season during school.
In addition to being a student-athlete, I participated in several fundraisers with my teammates and peers including the Down Syndrome Buddy Walk and the Special Olympics.
In other words, I was highly invested in my athletics department and had a history of volunteering for philanthropic causes.
Yet I was never once approached to participate in my alma mater’s annual summer athletics giving day.
Did I get solicitations to donate money? Yes, I received emails and I even had a donation form under my chair at graduation (which was less than effective). However, I was never presented with an opportunity to donate my time or tap into the network of people I knew would support the athletics department through a personal appeal.
I see this as a missed opportunity, not only because of the value I believe I could have provided, but also because of how much more I would be connected to a department I already have an affinity with.
My recommendation to any athletics department reading this is to take advantage of the resources you have right in front of you to empower your marketing efforts. A good place to start is social media.
While social is a great way to spread the word, any post will only reach as far as its Facebook and Twitter shares take it, and who knows how many followers are active enough to spread it. The solution to bridging this gap is simple: employ student-athletes to be ambassadors for the department on a giving day.
We live in a generation where social media is driven by young, student-aged individuals, and harnessing that power for the good of a giving day could mean leaps and bounds for the program. If you give student-athletes the ability to spread the word and champion causes that they believe in, the outreach for the event will extend far and beyond what it could without organic word-of-mouth.
You can even employ alumni from your athletics program. For example, while I was a student-athlete, we had a long-tenured, beloved equipment manager. Unfortunately, he developed terminal cancer last year and has since passed. If the university had approached me or other former student-athletes to support a fundraising campaign that established an endowment or scholarship in his honor, without a doubt there would have been an incredible support group vouching for it.
The key factor for mobilizing students and alumni is giving them something worth their while, because not only are they busy, but they are also reluctant to participate in anything in which they’re not 100% invested.
I believe this task, as an athletic department, is slightly easier.
Athletes are more likely to want to participate in something that is advertised by a mentor like their coach. I also think they have a propensity to involve their community because they are intrinsically close-knit with their teammates.
My hope is that universities’ athletic departments will begin to learn how to reach student-athletes and be able to mobilize a greater force for their giving day in all aspects, not just monetarily.