Diversifying donor bases - A review of the research

During the development of http://www.ultimatesportsinsider.com/, I found that there is a body of scholarly research created by faculty from business schools, sports management programs and schools of education around the country that could be valuable in the day-to-day decision making of athletic administrators. In order to provide additional beneficial information to readers, ultimatesportsinsider.com will now occasionally develop quick summaries of scholarly research to complement the "issue focused" material primarily featured on the blog.

Tony Weaver, Assistant Professor of Leisure and Sport Management at Elon University has agreed to occasionally provide these summaries. Prior to teaching at Elon, Dr. Weaver was an athletic administrator at Iona College, Siena College and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Below is his first entry, examining fund raising and development research. I hope you find this added feature helpful.

Diversifying Donor Bases

Over 50 entries on http://www.ultimatesportsinsider.com/ have discussed the financial insecurity of Division I athletics. Understandably, most athletic departments have responded to the economy by cutting expenses, which appears to be a long overdue solution. However, administrators should also reexamine past strategies for revenue generation. One area that will become important to the financial stability of many Division I programs will be the development of relationships with constituents, most notably the athletic donors.

In order to remain stable during tough economic times, or even perhaps see slight increases in giving, athletic department administrators should spend sufficient time prospecting and cultivating potential donors, rather than relying on the usual contributors and the traditional methods of fundraising (Lee, 2004; McClure, 2008; Tsiotsou, 2006). Research has indicated that despite the importance fund raisers place on prospect research, the prevailing approaches to identification and cultivation has often been disorganized (Brittingham & Pezzullo, 1990). Staurowsky (1996) observed that athletic fund raisers have a tendency to use trial and error methods of identifying potential donors. Further, Lee (2004) points out that fund raisers at times completely miss opportunities to diversify the potential donor base.

In a recent article, development personnel are encouraged to rely on constituent relationship management, or getting to know your donor (McClure, 2008). One segment that historically has flown under the “development radar” has been female donors. Research examining female donors to Division I athletic programs suggest that the female donor population has continually increased and should be given proper attention (Staurowsky, 1996; Tsiotsou, 2006). Also keep in mind that we are now beginning to see a generation of women that grew up participating in sport. This group is now becoming financially independent and able and perhaps willing to make generous gifts back to their institution’s athletic programs (Robinson, 1998).
In closing, McClure (2008) reminds us that fundraising is about relationships and if built properly, can historically withstand recessions. Rather than taking a negative approach to the economy and the potential financial downturn of an athletic fund, athletic administrators should spend significant time on cultivating new donors and revisiting forgotten friends.

Quick Quotes:
In hard economic times…
“Recessions sometimes help institutions make the case for why a donation is needed. “I think in hard economic times, generous people dig deeper,” says Marlene Shaver, chief financial officer of the UC San Diego Foundation. Their recent campaign started shortly before 9/11, but the board decided to carry on and not succumb to the negative environment.” (McClure, 2008, p. 53)

The more things change, the more they stay the same…
“ As intercollegiate athletic departments search for ways to relieve financial pressures brought on by a poor economy, escalating expenses (Fulks, 1994), and the projected costs associated with gender equity (Phillips, 1992), it behooves athletic fund raising professionals to develop a greater understanding of the relationship between athletic donor behavior and gender.” (Staurowsky, 1996, p. 402)

Brittingham, B.E., & Pezzullo, T.R. (1990). The campus green: Fund raising in higher education. (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1). Washington, DC: George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

Lee, C. (2004). The case for diversifying. Beyond the usual suspects. New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, 44. 57-72.

McClure, A. (2008). Advancement goes digital. University Business, 11(7), 51-53.

Robinson, M. (1998). An untapped market. Athletic Management, 10(2), 34-37.

Staurowsky E. (1996). Women and athletic fund raising: Exploring the relationship between gender and giving. Journal of Sport Management, 10. 401–416.

Tsiotsou, R. (2006) Investigating differences between female and male athletic donors: A comparative study. International Journal of Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Marketing, 11(3). 209-223.