Winthrop Intelligence is pleased to host another Insider Interview, letting key leaders in college sports go deeper by passing off the mic, for one-on-one expert interviews.
Fundraising and development are the focus of our conversation with expert Insiders Matt Borman—Associate Athletic Director and Executive Director at West Virginia University—and Jeremiah Donati—Associate Athletics Director for Development at Texas Christian University. Both are members of NAADD—the National Association of Athletic Development Directors, the industry organization that provides educational and networking opportunities for those in college athletics development and fund raising.
Matt and Jeremiah have both overseen major fundraising campaigns, are well respected leaders in field, and are considered to be two of the most successful development officers working in college athletics.
We wanted to hear a little bit about the skills necessary to be an effective fundraiser, how technology is changing the development landscape, and learn about some innovative strategies for connecting with donors.
Listen to the interview:
Right off the bat, the one thing I just wanted to ask you about, Jeremiah, is what do you see as some of the most vital traits for a development officer when you’re hiring? What are you looking for?
The biggest thing for me is that I want someone who has initiative, someone who is a self-starter. I think you can get all the degrees in the world and those things are certainly helpful. But you really need someone who’s going to come in every morning and take it upon themselves to really put themselves out there and make an effort to connect with people.
That’s something that can’t necessarily be taught. It’s something that comes from within. I also like him or her to be very professional. I think that’s something that you either have it or you don’t. It’s very difficult, especially at this level—at this stage in careers—to teach someone how to be a professional. So, it’s certainly something that I look for right at the get-go. Is this person going to carry themselves well, are they going to be professional?
We always like to say that the jersey really never comes off. Whether it’s a game-day or whether you see someone around town. You need to be a professional out in the community. Are they going to be self-starters?
What do you find or what do you look for, Matt, when you go through your hiring process?
That initiative is just so important and I think one of the vital things when we’re talking applicants to entry-level positions that we’re hiring for. I talk to the individuals on our staff also that are serving in supervisory roles. We’ve got so much going on, day to day, each one of us in our daily tasks, that we can’t be babysitting staff members nonstop. So, it’s very important that they’re not always asking for things to do, but able to see what our ultimate goal is on a day-to-day basis and making sure that they’re contributing to that, even when they feel like they might have some downtime. I really do think that what you said about having initiative is very important.
Two of the other most important characteristics that we look for are transparency and consistency. If you’re always telling the truth and always transparent with your donors, you’re going to be able to build that relationship that you need to secure the major gift commitments and get people involved with their annual fund.
The one line that we like to use with our staff is: “if you’re always telling the truth and you’re always being consistent, you never have to worry about what you said.” And I know we have conversations every day with multiple donors. Sometimes, it can get a little intimidating trying to remember everything that you’re saying to every donor. But, when you’re talking to donors, if you’re consistent and transparent, you really don’t have to remember the exact words that you said to anybody. You’re going to be able to fall back on the guidelines that you set for yourself from the get-go and making sure that you’re sticking by those.
Those are some of the things that we’re looking for when we’re hiring people and the traits that we try to encourage our development offers to continue to maintain and grow.
I love what you just said about transparency; that’s so huge. That builds trust. That’s the hardest thing to get back once it’s lost. With a donor, a big donor, a small donor, a donor base—like you said, the easiest thing to remember is the truth.
From the outset, if your development officers, your front-line people are transparent about what’s going on, no one likes to feel like they’re being sold snake oil or sold a bag of goods. They want to feel like this is the real thing and this is not just a transaction that is what it is.
There’s no question that a lot of times, we like to go to NAADD and see what the trends are going throughout the country. Social media, the different things different schools are doing. But when you get back down to the basics, it’s all about building relationships. And the departments, in my mind, that are going to be the most successful are those that build relationships the best. Trust is probably the most important aspect of building those relationships.
But moving the conversation on to some of the national trends that need to be talked about. Social media is one of those aspects that every department is trying to make sure that they’re on board and taking advantage of its full capacities.
What are some of the ways that you guys have connected with donors through social media?
Two years ago, if you were on social media, you were considered kind of cutting-edge. Now, if you’re not, frankly, you’re well-behind the times. So, we, here at TCU and in development, have taken a lot of time developing Facebook and Twitter to establish more touch points with our donors.
And strictly from a development aspect, for the Frog Club, we still don’t have as wide of a base, as wide of a reach, as athletics. So, we’re communicating. But we’re not to the point where it’s hitting all our fans. What we’ll do is get some help from athletics and/or football to help re-post and re-tweet to spread the message.
Some people check their Facebook account more than they do their email. Also, when you put something out in social media, it can snowball very quickly and become a very popular post. It can get to a lot of people in a very short amount of time and you can create a buzz. We found it very useful; we’re still evolving in that regard and trying to find best practices. We’ve done a number of social media campaigns to give away free tickets, free experiences. So, we found it to be a great tool for us. But we’re still learning and still trying to find ways to be more effective.
How about you in West Virginia?
It’s something that if you don’t get on board with and adapt to, you’re going to get left behind. And it seems like it was just yesterday that if you had a Twitter account or you had a Facebook, that it was cutting-edge. And now, if you don’t, you’re back in the dark ages. It’s something that we’ve definitely tried to take advantage of.
We try to get information out through those two mediums as often as possible. And some of the ways that we try to make sure that people are following our Twitter account and liking us on Facebook and getting involved there, is blasting out exclusive information through those two avenues. Making sure that people know it’s not just the retweets and general information is important.
Sometimes, you get bogged down and people aren’t necessarily paying attention to what the information is that you’re sending out there. We send some exclusive stuff out so people do feel the need to make sure they’re paying attention to the information we’re sending out.
The one challenge I’ve really seen is how do you take those followers to the next level and make sure they’re donors? Many of the individuals that are following you and keeping up with you on Facebook and Twitter and social media, they may not necessarily be donors.
I don’t know if you guys have had any successful ways of moving them to that next level. I’m sure it’s a secret formula if you have. But I think that’s the next challenge in development is trying to move donors into taking that next step.
Absolutely. One of the things, when we decided to really go all in on the social media outreach two years ago, was being able to show or be able to track was how many of these posts and how many of these communications are resulting in gifts to TCU athletics. You can spend a lot of time, to your point, tweeting, re-posting, producing graphics, running contests and that’s great, but at the end of the day, it’s your job and it’s my job to produce funds for our athletic department.
If we’re not doing that, this could be seen as a giant waste of time that may be better suited for a marketing department or a sport. One of the things we set out to do is on our page, online to tcufrogclub.com, you can make a gift online.
One of the areas that we added was, “How did you hear about the TCU Frog Club”? If you’re a new member, it becomes a required field and you have to fill in this information. We started to track this and noticed that a number of people were mentioning social media. That they actually heard about us through social media and this is why they’re now giving a gift.
That was huge for us because we were shooting in the dark. We didn’t know if this was going to be a lot of work we were taking on, or if this was going to be something that would be effective. When we found out that people were hearing about us on social media platforms and giving gifts, we took it to a next level and said, “Okay, let’s really go out of our way” and not only did we reply to every tweet, but we followed some interesting people. We are proactive with engaging them and seeing if we can up these numbers.
It’s worked. It’s not a thing that generates $1 million for us a year, but it’s growing and I like the direction it’s headed.
Have you guys found any type of correlation between tweeting and posting and getting those relationships that result in memberships or gifts?
We haven’t gone that deep, to be honest with you. I think what you just mentioned, that’s something we could definitely implement and try to see how many of our online gifts are coming from individuals that are being introduced to us through Twitter or Facebook or other social media outlets. But we really haven’t done that yet. I will definitely take that advice and figure out the best way we can take that next step of some of our followers and people that are being introduced to us through this social media.