Sports and Alumni Donations Thesis Paper 5 pages

Sports and Alumni Donations

Increasing Student Applicants and Alumni Donations Through Facilitation of Successful Sports Programs

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Alumni donations are a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to funding college life. When exploring this concept, there is a natural question which arises within the minds of college administrators: how are alumni donations increased? There are several methodologies that can be implemented to achieve this goal; however, it has been linked by previous research that successful athletic programs in colleges can help boost student applicants as well as alumni funding. Schools with successful college athletic programs can then reap the benefits of having more alumni to acquire donations, as well as an increase in donations of already established alumni.

There is much evidence to help show the idea that successful sports teams can increase both student applicants and alumni donations. Research has shown correlations between the success of college athletics and increased rates of students trying to get into various academic programs offered by colleges and universities. In fact, one study conducted in 1996 found significant relations between increased applicants and successful athletics. According to the study, Division I colleges who had won football or basketball championships saw huge increases in incoming student applications the year following the wins, (Frank 2004). This study focuses specifically on schools that had serious and competitive football programs that generated exciting and successful football seasons. The research found a large measurable impact on the number of potential students applying to the schools; “Applicants to the University of Miami increased by 33% for the three years following the school’s national title in 1987; and when Georgia Tech shared the national title in 1990, its applications rose by 21% over the following three years,” (Frank 2004:18-19). However, there are a few studies which show little or no correlation between winning teams and increased rates of applicants trying to get into schools (Frank 2004). These studies prove less influential within the given context than other studies which do show a strong correlation between student applicant numbers and successful sports teams.

The findings of such studies have shown that more funding helps increase the chance of winning students, which then increases the number of applicants trying to get into the school. In the modern context, “many prospective students are sport fans, some of whom may decide where to apply in part on the basis of their assessments of which institutions are most likely to play host to exciting athletic contests,” (Frank 2004:15). More successful sports teams mean much more school spirit within current and alumni student body populations. Students want to be associated with big names within the college world (Frank 2004). This is a common pattern seen in colleges and universities all over the country. In one study, “college students were found to be more likely to use the pronoun ‘we’ and to wear clothing that identified with their schools after a successful athletic weekend than during times when they had drawn or lost,” (Larimore 2007:1). These increases in school spirit can positive help the university in several key ways. One is that the current student body is much more satisfied with their college experience. However, as seen in previous research, it can also boost potential students wanting to apply to the school based on their associated image of student life and athletic success. Third, alumni continue on with that same spirit, which can literally pay off in higher alumni donations. The same feeling of school spirit that is a product of successful athletics goes for alumni. When alumni are more attached to their schools, they tend to donate more often in more frequently.

Additionally, having successful athletic programs can generate national recognition. Winning athletic programs can serve potentially as their own marketing campaigns for the school (Frank 2004). In many cases, this recognition is a free or cheap bi-product of the college’s initial investment in its sports teams. According to research, “The names of institutions with successful big-time athletic programs appear frequently in the media, making them generally more familiar to prospective students,” (Frank 2004:15). The more a team wins the more T.V. coverage that school gets. Sports can then serve as a form of national advertising (Frank 2004). Rather than compiling and funding a separate advertising campaign, schools can bank on their reputation and recognition for having successful sports teams as a way to gain more students and alumni respect. Winning teams are in the news, both on a local and national level (Frank 2004). This then serves as an unprecedented spotlight for national advertising. In 1984, Boston College saw a 12% increase in applications after winning the Orange Bowl (Frank 2004). This win was not any average win. It was an extremely close and exciting game that ending with a miracle passes from Doug Flutie that finished off the game. This excitement and the subsequent media coverage of the game afterwards created a firestorm that provided Boston college with free national advertising. This advertising serves not only to generate more students, but also as a way to increase alumni donations. When a school’s name is present in daily or weekly national media, the alumni are constantly reminded of their school and the success it is attaining in the field of athletics. This reminder serves as a powerful marketing tool for schools across the nation who already struggle in reaching out to alumni for charitable donations.

A strong athletic program, in many cases, needs deep pockets on the behalf of the university. Providing the funding needed for successful athletic programs is a daunting task. According to research, recent athletic budgets for big name schools have increased dramatically within recent years. The University of Michigan reported in its 2003-2004 season for spending $50 million dollars on its athletics (Frank 2004). This is a huge increase when comparing spending on athletics in past generations. Yet, many schools see this influx in spending as an investment strategy based on the research showing increasing student applications as well as increased alumni donations.

Where does all that money come from? Much of this funding comes from student fees and payments, which can range from $50 to $1,000 a year (Frank 2004). Thus, the students bear most of the burden to provide the necessary funding for successful athletic programs. However, there are opportunities to use increased alumni donations as a valuable resource for other academic activities. When a school wins a title, alumni donations tend to go up. Those increased funds can then be re-directed to both improving the athletic departments as a future investment strategy, as well as funneled into other areas of the university’s academic departments. This then enriches student life at the university in general. Increasing available budgets for athletics through alumni donations can provide much needed funding for strong athletic programs without burdening the students. Research shows that “many alumni donations are embarked specifically for college athletic programs, there is no doubt that many alumni feel strongly about these programs,” (Frank 2004:12). Constant media presence and national recognition can also influence alumni to donate more and more often. Alumni donations also tend to increase when the university’s name is better known or present within recent media facets (Medema 2008). In fact, “One study analyzed the recipients’ role in creating social pressure on prospective donors in connection with athletic fund raising,” (Harrison et al. 1995:1). Heavy spending on athletic programs can pay off in the form of increased alumni donations. Successful athletic programs also tend to lure in more alumni donations annually. Much research has shown that “Athletic success has an immediate impact on alumni generosity,” (Proto 2003:73). This seems to be a finding that has appeared in a number of studies conducted over the years on the impact of sports within alumni donations. Within the context of one study, “for any college in the sample, alumni contributions per student increased by 7.3% when the football team won a bowl game but declined 13.6% if the NCAA placed the men’s basketball team on probation,” (Porto 2003:73). Overall, successful sports teams have positive impacts on alumni donations (Larimore 2007:1).

With these findings, college administrations can then formulate strategic plans for the future development of successful athletic programs as an investment in campus future. Spending initially up front on athletics can increase both potential student applications as well as alumni giving. It is important then to re-invest part of these donations into continuing the success of athletic departments.


Frank, Robert H. (2004). Challenging the myth. Knight Foundation. Retrieved 23 Oct 2009 at

Medema, Samantha. (1008). Alumni donations increase. The Retriever Weekly. Retrieved 24 Oct 2009 at

Larimore, David. (2007). Non-economic societal impacts of intercollegiate athletics. The Sports Journal. Retrieved 24 Oct 2009 at

Porto, Brian L. (2003). A New Season: Using Title IX to Reform College Sports. Greenwood Publishing Group.

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