We are experiencing the most uncertain of times in collegiate athletics. Seasons have been cancelled, academic semesters are being dramatically altered, and players’ careers have abruptly ended. As the summer unfolds, racial tensions, protests, and social unrest add to the complexity. Across the country, everyone, including college and athletic leadership, is grappling with these converging issues. What does it mean for our college campuses and our athletic programs? Looking toward the 2020-2021 academic year offers only limited clarity. While conversations in recent weeks have been more optimistic about a likely return to college campuses and the playing of fall sports, much remains uncertain. Through it all, philanthropy is critical for player well-being and team success. What is the game plan for athletics fundraising in a time like this? Our best coaches may provide the playbook we all need right now—focus on the fundamentals.

Donor relationships are the foundation of philanthropy.
Reach out regularly to your supporters. They want to hear from you, as a source of normalcy and for hope that they will be in the stands cheering again soon. Regardless of what direct fundraising you are conducting presently, prioritize consistent outreach to loyal donors with updates on plans for fall sports, how remote off-season workouts and transitions back to on-campus training are proceeding, and to simply check on their well-being. Listen sincerely and without judgement to perspectives they share on challenging current events. Phone calls, emails, personal notes, Zoom conversations, and short video messages from coaches all offer the chance to stay connected to the donors who will be with you through this period and for years to come.

Strengthening the student-athlete experience should be at the center of all that you do.
Adjust your case for support to lead with what truly matters most—scholarships and critical programming that allow your young men and women to thrive in both their studies and training during these challenging and socially distanced times. Delays to large facility projects are a real possibility due to the anticipated financial impact of major scheduling alterations or outright cancellations of fall sports. Even if renovations and new construction do proceed, keep the student-athlete experience at the heart of your fundraising program.

Don’t lose sight of your long-term goals.
The path to a championship is a long one, and there will always be hardships in the journey. The campaign you were planning, the vision you had outlined for your department, and the fundraising program you were building—keep all of these close at hand and do not be quick to abruptly change course. While quick action may indeed be needed to address immediate issues, be deliberate in your decisions and don’t hastily stop long-term progress. Experience suggests American philanthropy may rebound quicker than you anticipate, and donor interest in your pre-COVID ambitions may well remain strong.

It is striking how differently various organizations have experienced the last three months. The attitude of their leadership and the decision—whether consciously or unconsciously—to remain confident and bold or to act from a place of fear sets a tone for their entire institution. A common strength of collegiate athletic programs is the diversity among athletes and coaches that may or may not exist across the campus writ large. I urge you to maintain the mental toughness that great athletes possess. Be vigilant and believe that you will win no matter the present challenges and lead your team to believe the same. And remain open to the possibility that positive changes may come from the arduous but rewarding journey that teams and programs travel together—on and off the field. The best coaches taught me life lessons that apply as much to my professional and personal life as they ever did to sports. One of the most essential lessons is the need to always focus on the fundamentals, a proven and time-tested method for long-term, sustained success.

For nearly 40 years, BWF has provided full-service counsel to colleges and universities along with healthcare, arts, and nonprofit organizations around the world. Contact us to discuss how we can assist your organization in focusing on your fundamentals during this critical time.

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