Archive for Saturday, December 1, 2001

Football victories can spur gifts to universities

December 1, 2001


It's no secret that the University of Colorado's upset football victory over No. 2 Nebraska that launched CU into today's Big 12 championship game will help the team's recruiting.

More subtle is how success on the field leads to fund raising off the field.

Donors filled with the warmth and school spirit of a big win can be in the mood to offer gifts that bolster classroom instruction, faculty hiring, labs and lecture halls.

When CU won the Big 8 title in 1989, December gift-giving jumped to $16.7 million from $10.8 million the year before.

When the Buffs beat Notre Dame in the 1990 Orange Bowl for the national championship, CU won off the field, too. Donations that January skyrocketed to $19.1 million from $12.9 million the previous January.

Granted, CU was in a focused fund-raising campaign then. But the exposure and excitement of gracing the nation's sports stage create a mood of giving, says Michael Byram, president of the CU Foundation since January.

"I saw spirit and excitement among friends and alums on Friday I hadn't seen before," Byram says. "It creates a wonderful opportunity for us to talk about the university. You've got everyone in such a buoyant mood right now. I think you'll see some increase in gifts."

"The reality is, the better your football team, the better the funding for your institution," says CU President Betsy Hoffman, a sports junkie. "But the interesting thing is, it doesn't all go to football. At institutions with winning football teams, donors give as much or more to academics as they do to football."

CU officials are well aware that a soggy economy can cool warm-hearted generosity. A recession and a bear stock market can dampen gift giving.

Yet Byram remains optimistic. "I don't think the economy has changed the climate for wanting to give. Outpouring to the World Trade Center and the Red Cross shows people's generosity. I think what has changed is the timing of gifts. I think people who are considering it may be deferring it as they wait for the economy to turn around. But I don't think it's changed the basic mood."

He notes that CU is completing a record fund-raising year, surpassing $300 million in commitments in 2001, including the largest gift ever to a public university $250 million from Silicon Valley software entrepreneurs Bill and Claudia Coleman for an institute for cognitive disabilities. The Leeds family gave $30 million to the business school that now bears the name of the New York publishing family.

Add the two Nobel Prizes by CU physicists Carl Wieman and Eric Cornell and a $500,000 MacArthur grant to molecular biologist Norman Pace.

"If you look at a victory like Friday's and you match it up with other great things that happened this year, one begets the other and it gives us tremendous visibility," Byram says.

Stunning victories and championship games don't hurt the athletic department, either. CU paid off its Dal Ward Center athletic complex with the money came in after the 1990 national championship.

"The impact winning has on how people feel about the university is hard to measure," Hoffman says. "But if we win Saturday, it will be extraordinary. It will really pay off not just for athletics, but for academic programs."

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