Maturi tries new fundraising technique

The ‘Forever Gold’ campaign emphasizes monetary gifts from donors.

Mitch Anderson

With $26 million still to be raised for TCF Bank stadium, an outdoor track so worn down that it is unfit for competition and the ever-pressing need for a new baseball stadium, University athletics director Joel Maturi has a lot on his mind.

But aside from current brick-and-mortar projects, Maturi said he still feels a need to plan for the athletics department’s future.

The “Forever Gold” campaign will usher the University into the modern era of athletic fundraising through the endowment of athletic scholarships. Conceived four years ago, the campaign follows a fundraising technique already used by many universities across the country.

An endowment is a monetary gift to the University from a donor which permanently establishes a scholarship. The athletics department awards scholarships funded by the interest generated from that money, but the actual gift is never touched.

Maturi said the message he hopes to send to Gopher supporters is that planning for long-term success is a top priority for Minnesota athletics.

“The reality is (endowing scholarships) is more of an emphasis today than it ever was before,” Maturi said. “We pay such a significant cost in our scholarship dollars for our student-athletes.”

Currently, $9 million of the athletics department’s $66 million annual budget is spent on scholarships for athletes.

That $9 million can be saved through scholarship endowments, which increase financial flexibility because they pay for themselves with the interest they earn.

After the athletics department invests the donated money, it earns roughly 5 percent in interest every year, said University associate director of development David Crum.

At that rate, a $300,000 endowment earns a $15,000 return, approximately the cost of a year-long scholarship.

“That’s $9 million extra we can use for air travel, equipment, salaries and whatever other expenses we have,” Maturi said.

He added that the University matches any private scholarship donations, further helping the fundraising process.

Under present University rules, it costs $25,000 to start an endowment and $300,000 to fully endow a scholarship. As tuition rates increase, so too does the money required to endow a scholarship.

Maturi said endowments can secure non-revenue generating sports, such as men’s gymnastics and golf, which faced elimination just a few years ago.

The key to fundraising is to be “donor-centered,” Crum said.

“If they want to give to a capital project – like the on-campus stadium – or endowing scholarships, we want to do what the donors want and direct the money where their interests are,” he said.

The athletics department employs three major gift officers whose sole purpose is to raise money for Minnesota athletics, in addition to three other fundraising employees, Crum said.

Gopher men’s track and field coach Phil Lundin said he can sympathize with Maturi’s struggle to balance long-term investment with immediate help for team facilities.

Minnesota’s outdoor track is in desperate need of renovation, and the team has been using the same locker room since 1971, Lundin said.

“If you’re trying to endow scholarships and the money could be going toward improving the present situation, you have to focus on the athlete welfare right now,” Lundin said. “There’s only so much money to work with. How are you going to do all that?”

“You have to strike a balance between trying to endow scholarships and trying to have great facilities,” he said. “You have to do a little bit of everything.”

Maturi said he realizes endowment is a slow process that will endure, even after he leaves his post as athletics director.

“Endowments are for the next generation,” Maturi said. “It doesn’t really help the current coach, because heck, their scholarships are paid for. Quite frankly, it doesn’t help this athletic director that much either, because it’s really the next athletic director that will benefit from it. Bottom line: It’s the right thing to do to secure our long-term future.”