The fundamental basis of fundraising is the relationship with a donor and connecting that donor back to your organization in a meaningful way. Donors choose where to part with their money. As a fundraiser, it is your job to incite their passions for the mission at hand.
Every donor is different. Some donors give simply what they can to support your cause. Some are extremely busy and want to cut to the chase. Others need to know you and your organization are invested in them. Are you trustworthy? Will you follow up? Are you genuine? Are you putting the mission of your organization ahead of your personal goals? Regardless of the donor, the relationship remains key.
Relationships are vital. Children develop a dependency on their parents immediately. Then they develop trust with extended family, teachers, and friends. At a very early age, we learn how vital relationships can be in our life.
Growing up, some of us lose track of this. Maybe we forget about the importance of true relationships so we can "fit in." Perhaps we build relationships with the wrong people and lose our way. Many find faith and the utmost trust in relationships outside of their family. These new friends become family because of their unwavering loyalty to you.
Relationships continue to be crucial in our career paths. A mentor can serve as an extremely positive influence. A rapport with co-workers can make a job feel more than that. Building trust with a team can bring the overall goal to a quicker realization.
College athletics can be the epitome of this. Everything in athletics revolves around the "team" effort. Certainly you have the main examples of coaching staffs and student-athletes. However, every department has to work through a team effort to accomplish its goals. Sports communications, marketing, event management, compliance, development, etc. ... each staff member in these respective areas must be on the same page to see the various departmental goals become a reality. As each unit realizes its own goals, the athletic department becomes stronger.
Championships are the pinnacle for student-athletes and coaches. For other areas? Simply minimizing complaints. It is impossible to please everyone, although if you are building and maintaining relationships, your mission can wade through even the most dangerous waters.
Each stop along this career path has provided amazing insight into both relationships and success. More times than not, you learn how not to do something. Trial and error can be your greatest ally and something you should not fear. Keeping everyone moving forward for the common goal, however, is what keeps the train moving in the right direction.
Wake Forest is a phenomenal school. It was a place where you could be thrown into the fire immediately. Although the ACC is a major D-1 conference, in the early 2000s Wake was a much smaller athletic department than its counterparts. This provided an opportunity to get involved in so many things. It could also completely exhaust you. Because of its size, those who were truly successful there were a part of the bigger picture. They understood the mission and worked to achieve it. Relationships were key early on, simply because it was a small staff. If you did not have the support of the AD, a counterpart in marketing, your grounds crew, etc., you would fail.
The corn fields of DeKalb, IL, were a sight ... and a sight you could see for miles. Tucked away in the shadows of the Big 10, NIU was a place that was just starting to fight for athletic recognition. Advancing the overall message became huge. If you wanted to stop being treated like a mid-major program, you had to go out and show you knew how to perform like the big kids. Coaches stepped up their game, which incentivized student-athletes. It became contagious and trickled down to the staff. Everyone wanted to be a part of something that was growing and you had a great mix of folks who understood the landscape and those who wanted to take it to the next level.
There is no finer city in the SEC than Nashville, TN. Athens is certainly the best college town in America, but Nashville has everything you could want in a city. Vanderbilt was amid significant transition in the early 2000s. Many great administrators fled the athletic department for greener pastures. This created opportunity for others. Similar to Wake in both academic standards and size compared to the rest of its conference, Vanderbilt was another place where you could roll your sleeves up and just do work. Sometimes it was great work. Other times, because you were without those "Yoda-like" athletic administrators, you just did your best and hoped it worked out. If you allowed it to, it could have easily created an environment where you were on your own island focusing strictly on what you wanted to accomplish. That is where relationships became key. You could easily fall into the trap of trying to simply do everything you wanted and then just get the heck out of there. Instead, it became important to build relationships so the mission would remain at the forefront.
Oxford, OH, is the closest thing you will find to a southern campus north of the Mason Dixon. Its architecture, beautiful lush quads and quaint downtown really give it a "throwback" feel. With a fantastic ice hockey program and a "Cradle of Coaches" well known throughout the country, Miami has a unique brand unto itself. There, you had an AD who was trying to change the culture. He wanted to see success at every angle and was dynamic in how he pushed for that success. It was here the relationship between donors and athletics became so clear. In all of the other stops, juggling the needs of donors was a priority but not the top priority. Making sure you ran athletic events smoothly and without major mistakes was job one. Miami was a foray into how donor relationships can have significant impact on an organization.
The return to Athens was admittedly sooner than expected. There was a primal draw back to a place that eventually became "home." It was a place that, while in those formidable college years, taught courage, self-worth and confidence. It also served as an early teacher of work-life balance. Work hard, play hard. So the return meant a great deal. It provided an opportunity to give back to a place that gave so much.
Years went by, relationships were built and great things came from those relationships. Truly learning development and the impact it can have both on the organization and the donor became a fortunate bi-product. You were given the opportunity to be such a small part of some grand things, such as facility improvements and scholarship fundraising. A small part simply because as a development officer, you serve as the conduit between the organization and the donor.
It has been an unbelievable pleasure to serve student-athletes, coaches, fellow administrators and donors the past 18 years. It was the fall of 1996 when I first interviewed for a volunteer student position with UGA Athletics. In these 18 years, the educational opportunities have been immeasurable. The ability to build trust and friendships with people at every stop along the way is something I will treasure more than anything.
November 4 will be the start to a completely new venture in the old career path. While the fundamentals of fundraising remain, the challenge of learning something completely new will be there. We will remain in the Athens area, as I've been fortunate to accept a position with UGA's College of Pharmacy. Athletics will continue to be a part of my life but now the focus turns back to that of a spectator.
So thank you. Thank you to everyone who gave me an opportunity along the way. Thank you to all of those co-workers and friends who worked alongside me for insane hours and little pay. Thank you to each community of which I've been fortunate to be a part. These past 18 years introduced me to so many wonderful people, gave me unique experiences I hope to never forget and most importantly, college athletics allowed me time to meet my wife.
Courtney and I know we are fortunate to remain in Athens, raising our two wonderful daughters in a place we love calling "home." The relationships I've been fortunate to build through my time in college athletics will remain, and I look forward to the new relationships I will build. People have been key in every single step of my life, and I'm a damn lucky guy.
For everything you have provided me, college athletics ... thank you.