That’s How The Pigskin Bounces: Football Season Fundraising

Many of the organizations we work with are colleges and universities, and many of these play intercollegiate football at some level.  Several of our current clients are prominent NCAA FBS schools. In fact, 5 of the AP top 10 are current or former clients of Alexander Haas.

So what, you ask.  I thought this was a fundraising blog?

So, each Monday morning I’m reminded about how the fickle bounces of a football can impact the work of development officers.  So much so that I often choose who I will root for in a given game by rather one of the teams is a client (or the arch enemy of a client). If you follow college football at all, the following question should illustrate what I mean. Would you rather be a development officer making major gift calls for the University of Texas right now or for Clemson University?

I have seen first-hand how the ‘mood’ of donors is impacted by the on field performance of their team.  And I’ve seen how quickly it ebbs and flows.

A couple of years ago we had a client whose football team was ranked in the top 5 and appeared headed for a chance to play in the national championship game.  Development officers reported that they had never had such an easy time getting appointments with donors. Everyone wanted to see them, talk about the team, get some “inside scoop”, and revel in the success and prominence of their team.

Then, in early November, the team lost to an opponent that they should have beaten easily.  They fell sharply in the polls. The dream of a national championship was shattered and even winning the conference title was in doubt. Development officers began to report that nobody would return their phone calls.  The disappointment was so deep that donors did not want to be reminded of it by a visit from the school staff.

Is it right that so much school pride is tied up in how 85 kids play on Saturday?

Maybe not, but it is understandable given the high profile of college football and the attention paid to the most successful teams.  Not to mention the in-office wars of words that take place among graduates from rival schools.

This is one of those variables that can have a tremendous impact on the performance of a development team, but which is also completely out of their control. Their football team outperforms everyone’s expectations and the development team can ride a wave of enthusiasm that can make raising money easier.  The football team fails to meet expectations, and a new obstacle stands in front of the development team.

All organizations must face the reality of their organizational brand when it comes to fundraising.  And all organizations are subject to ebbs and flows of donor enthusiasm.  But few outside of the college world have to deal with the Saturday to Saturday roller coaster of donor attitude that accompanies the college football season.

All you can do is ride the wave when the team is winning and take advantage of the enthusiasm.  And, when the team disappoints, put on your school colors and keep on working to build relationships.

After all, it may be the 85 on the football team that we root for on Saturday, but it is the thousands of others that we go to bat for on Monday morning.