Athletics fundraise from alumni
By Daniel Bornstein, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, July 20, 2012
Annual alumni contributions to Dartmouth athletics have more than doubled over the past three years, reflecting the heightened priority of athletic programs on the administration’s agenda and a robust push to encourage alumni donations, according to Deputy Athletic Director Bob Ceplikas ’78.
“Several years ago, we were far behind our Ivy League peers in annual donations, and we were also the only Ivy school with no athletic fundraising staff,” Ceplikas said. “Athletics was then identified as an institutional priority for additional fundraising and resources, with new positions created in both development and athletics.”
One of former College President Jim Yong Kim’s signature achievements at Dartmouth was giving Athletic Director Harry Sheehy a direct line to the Office of the President — a departure from years past, when the athletic director had to report to a lower office in the administration. Athletic administrators interviewed by The Dartmouth said that both Kim and Sheehy were essential to generating excitement about athletics.
“Sheehy has tremendous energy behind him, and he knows that Dartmouth can and should be successful in the Ivy League,” Brian Mann ’02, assistant athletic director for external relations, said. “But he knows not to achieve that success by sacrificing anything that makes Dartmouth special.”
The Big Green athletic budget draws 34 percent of its funds from alumni contributions, 22 percent from annual gifts and 12 percent from endowments created by other donations, according to Ceplikas. The fundraising structure for each varsity team is based on “friends” groups of alumni who played each sport during their time at Dartmouth and parents of current athletes.
“The most important thing we’re trying to do [with alumni contributions] is to help our athletes be competitive in the Ivy League,” Mann said.
In reaching out to alumni, coaches emphasize the entire student-athlete experience, including their internships and academic endeavors, Mann said.
Dartmouth athletic programs are reliant on alumni contributions because Big Green sports teams do not generate revenue beyond their own expenses.
“At some schools, revenue-producing programs help maintain the whole athletic program,” former St. John’s University athletic director Jack Kaiser said.
“[In the Ivy League], every coach is considered a fundraiser,” he said.
In the nation’s most competitive athletic programs, schools devote their resources to fewer teams and place pressure on their football and basketball coaches to consistently produce the winning records necessary to maximize revenue from television contracts, Sheehy said.
The Ivy League, by contrast, is committed to “broad-based participation,” which explains why the College has 34 varsity sports, far more than most major conference athletic programs, Sheehy said.
Supporting such a large number of teams would not be possible without alumni contributions, according to Sheehy.
“It’s important that Dartmouth fields as many varsity teams as it does,” president of the Friends of Dartmouth Rowing group Andre Hunter ’83 said. “Just think what the total cost would be if the College funded all of it.”
The centrality of alumni giving in Dartmouth athletics is tied to the Ivy League’s focus on integrating athletics into the schools’ educational mission. Until the 1970s, Dartmouth’s football program played a national schedule and generated considerable revenue from sources outside the College, Mann said. But Ivy League athletic administrators grew concerned that the growing business-like mentality in college sports would compromise the League’s long-standing academic values.
“The Ivy League saw where the direction the college football was going and made a conscious decision to put a heavy emphasis on the student-athlete,” Mann said.
A team’s success on the national stage is a particularly strong catalyst in generating support among its friends group. When the men’s lightweight crew team was ranked second in the nation in 2011, Friends of Dartmouth Rowing helped raise money for the team to participate in the Henley Royal Regatta, one of the most prestigious rowing competitions in the world, Hunter said.
“That motivates other students and says, ‘If you make it to the NCAA championships, you’ll also be sent to major international events,’” Hunter said.
But it is the teams that are consistently outperformed in the Ivy League that require the most concerted effort for alumni fundraising, Ceplikas said. When the Dartmouth football program posted its sixth consecutive losing record in 2009, the Athletic Department launched an aggressive campaign to ramp up donations, resulting in tripled contributions during the 2009-2010 fiscal year.
As a result, the football program has been able to expand the breadth of its recruiting and attract top high school football players, Mann said. The team’s second place, 4-3 Ivy League record in 2011 is a testament to the Athletic Department’s alumni outreach after the 2009 season, according to Ceplikas.