6 Key Insights from the Inaugural donorCentrics Athletics Benchmarking Group | npENGAGE

6 Key Insights from the Inaugural donorCentrics Athletics Benchmarking Group

By on Jun 14, 2019


Last month marked the inaugural meeting of a new benchmarking group created specifically to analyze and discuss trends in athletics giving[1].  The two days spent together was so valuable that it seemed like a perfect opportunity to share some insights and median trends with the higher education community at large.  Do keep in mind that this analysis will share aggregate data trends only.  However, participants in donorCentrics® benchmarking groups get access to data from each participating school. That was particularly useful for this setting because we could overlay information such as win-rate and schedule to discuss the impact those variables had on the fundraising trends overall.

Participants:  Boston College, Dartmouth College, Indiana University, Marquette University, Oklahoma State University, and University of Colorado – Boulder.


  1. True Collaboration: While not explicitly discussed in advance, all participating schools brought one team member from the athletics department and one from central advancement.  This unintended construct meant that in addition to sharing best practices and collaborating with external schools, it also provided an internal opportunity for discussion.  Jeff Lindauer, Vice President, Advancement Services and Managing Director of Capital Campaigns at Indiana University Foundation, said it best: “You can’t be a prophet in your own land,” inferring that these roles can best implement strategies by promoting each other’s ideas within departments moving forward.
  2. Data is the Foundation: While it seems simple, one of the first outcomes learned was the impact of even having access to the data.  For example, a few of the participants struggled with access to ticketing data.  One was recently able to add this information to their Fundraising database and solicit these individuals.  That school saw a 40 % increase in donors and 22% increase in revenue over the previous two years.  Also, using data to impact strategies was a recurrent theme.  For example, one participant with fluctuating donor counts and renewal rates explained that reseating hasn’t historically been tied to the fiscal year.  One year could end up with two reseating schedules and the next miss it completely, having drastic impact on renewal rates overall.  Moving forward that school hopes to use this data to advocate for standardizing timing.
  3. Schedule or Win Rate? Are big rivals coming to town this year?  How are teams performing?  These were important points we discussed against the trends and the results were mixed. Some schools saw that schedule had the biggest impact (i.e. if the out of conference schedule isn’t exciting or there aren’t big home games) while others saw winning made a bigger difference.
  4. Reactivate your Donors with Impact Messaging, not just Tickets: Reactivation trends made almost all of the attendees say that they feel they are leaving major money on the table by primarily speaking to donors about tickets, priority points, etc.  They want to test some messaging that speaks more to impact and philanthropy over “what you get.”  The idea being that there are many people who are passionate about athletics at the university but due to distance may not be at all interested in messaging around season tickets.  Reactivation was one area in particular where rates lagged behind the alumni cohorts (though was higher than Parents) and seems like an area for focused opportunity.
  5. Leverage Giving Days: Targeting athletic-specific projects and alumni athlete advocates can be an effective way to boost giving day results. One participant showed tremendous success acquiring donors to athletics.  Much of this was coordinating with student athletes, coaches and alumni athletes who acted as advocates.  Based on these results, other participants left considering implementing similar strategies for next giving day.
  6. Making the Case for Investment: On average, athletics donors give higher amounts than we have seen among other Higher Education benchmarking groups. This revelation meant that the schools left with hard data to help prove why an investment in athletics is fruitful for the university.  The revenue per donor for an Athletics donor was $1,642, compared to $660 for alumni and $878 for parents.  Statistically speaking, the investment in acquiring a new athletics donor may pay off sooner than other cohorts, given the high levels of investment and retention.  It also meant that more expensive forms of acquisition, such as telemarketing, can be better justified.  One participant remarked that it takes on average 3 hours to acquire a new donor via the phone.  When you start to examine the long-term value of these donors, that feels like a small investment based on future outcomes.


Want to learn more? Blackbaud Target Analytics® is currently recruiting for next year’s athletics benchmarking group. This group will be analyzing FY19 data and the previous five fiscal years.  If you have an interest in joining this cohort or learning more about opportunities for athletics benchmarking, contact [email protected] and put “Athletics Benchmarking” in the subject line.

[1] The benchmarking group analyzed all donors giving to athletics (including season ticket holders and gifts attached to seating).  The analysis includes a $50,000 gift cap, excluding single gifts at or above the cap.


Jenny Cooke Smith is a Principal Solutions Consultant at Blackbaud and manages the strategy for donorCentrics Benchmarking at Blackbaud Target Analytics.  She has spent the last decade analyzing trend analysis and benchmarking results and has focused on creating new groups for cohorts previously unrepresented, particularly in Higher Education.  She also manages the donorCentrics International Benchmarking groups, working with nonprofit organizations in Canada, the UK, Germany and Australia.  She has nearly 20 years of experience in the fundraising industry as both a consultant and development officer. She is a frequent speaker at BBCON, CASE, and other industry conferences. 

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