GVN EXCLUSIVE: Jeremy Wang, Exec. Dir. VSF

ON THE HEELS OF IDAHO'S INVITATION to the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl, the Idaho athletic department dusted off a donation option for Vandal fans that had been dormant since 1995; The Athletic Director's Fund For Coaches Excellence. To get clarity on the new donation option, GoVandals.net sat down with JEREMY WANG, Director of Development and Executive Director of the Vandal Scholarship Fund.

Several weeks ago U of I Director of Athletics Dr. Rob Spear announced the establishment of a three-pronged drive to elevate private donors into a pivotal role in an effort to move University of Idaho Athletics forward into the future. In a recent mailing to potential donors, Dr. Spear said "We have three priorities that we have identified to capitalize on the successes we've achieved and to raise the bar for our athletic programs:

• Students - The Vandal Scholarship Fund (VSF) for student-athlete scholarships and support.
• Facilities - The Kibbie Dome Renovation and Expansion.
• Coaches – The Athletic Director's Fund for Coaches Excellence"
The Athletic Director's Fund for Coaches Excellence represents the re-institution of a fund last used in 1995 to help attract and retain coaches for Vandal athletics. Jeremy Wang, Director of Development for U of I Athletics, is assisting spearheading efforts to secure donations and pledges for all three phases. Wang graciously took time to meet with GoVandals.net and explain the campaign, answering questions that have arisen since this campaign was first announced around the time of the Humanitarian Bowl last December.

"I think an article such as this is timely as we are going through many changes in Vandal Athletics," Wang said. "We have a lot of excitement and momentum to build on. We've taken a step back to take a look at our fundraising priorities, and as a result we've received a lot of questions regarding our fundraising priorities and how our fundraising has been going this year.

"In short, our fundraising has been going very well," he continued; "We're just spreading it out over several priorities. Our priorities for the next several years will be the Vandal Scholarship Fund, the Kibbie Dome renovation and expansion, and the AD's Fund for Coaches Excellence. I think the main message we're trying to get out to Vandals is that the VSF is still our #1 priority in fundraising, and we need all Vandals to be involved with the VSF. Our scholarship bill will be over $2.6 million this year, the highest in school history. Whatever we don't raise through the VSF to pay for those costs, Rob Spear has to carve out of other areas and budgets to make sure that cost is paid. If we were able to fully fund the scholarship bill with donations through VSF, we would in turn be able to expand the budgets of every sport and program in athletics because there would be no scholarship deficit to make up. This is why VSF donations are so important. The VSF has an impact on EVERYTHING we do as an athletics department.

"Here's an example: Mr. Vandal Fan has historically given $1000 a year to VSF. We'd like him to keep giving that $1000 on an annual basis and dig deep to help support the Kibbie Dome Project or Coaches Excellence Fund. If he shifts money from VSF to another area it has an impact on all our programs. Gifts to excellence funds and capital projects need to be ‘special gifts' above and beyond what people are already planning on giving to the VSF. Special times call for special gifts! The #1 way we can keep the momentum going is by having people increase their giving to VSF, and get new VSF members to join. In addition to this need, the Kibbie Project and Coaches Excellence Fund provide a great avenue for Vandals to increase their giving in targeted areas they are passionate about."

Wang then fielded questions from GVN:

What is the Vandal Scholarship Fund (VSF) and what are those dollars used for?
"The VSF is our annual fund. It is our #1 fundraising priority. It's the backbone of our private donor support. The monies raised by the VSF cover the costs the athletics department incurs from the University of Idaho to pay student-athlete tuition, books, fees, room/board, etc."

What is the Coaches Excellence Fund (CEF) and what are those dollars used for?
"The AD's Fund for Coaches Excellence is a discretionary excellence fund. Rob Spear has control over these funds, and these dollars will be used to supplement and enhance the salaries and compensation of our coaches. Gifts to this fund are tax deductible just like any other philanthropic gift to the U of I Foundation."

Why do we need a CEF?
"That's a great question. On the one hand if we could get more money in the VSF by increasing current donations and adding members -- fully funding our scholarship bill each year with a surplus -- you could argue we wouldn't need a CEF. We believe that we need to give our donors a variety of options for giving. While the VSF is the main priority, different donors have different passions, different areas of athletics that resonate with them. We hope that the Coaches Excellence Fund helps us generate dollars above and beyond what VSF raises far into the future and remains an effective philanthropic giving option for our donors."

What is the financial goal of the fund?
"The goal of the fund is to create "bridge funding" over the next four years. At that point we hope to have more money coming in from other revenue streams such as increased enrollment so that we can grow the athletic department budgets. The goal is to raise $1,000,000 over the next 4 years or $250,000 a year."

If the VSF were fully funded and had an excess of funds, could those excess funds be used for CEF or facilities purposes?
"That's a complex question. The short answer is YES. Say we raised $3 million in money for the VSF this year and our scholarship bill was $2.6 million. That would leave $400k in overage that we could spend on other priorities. That decision would be made by the Athletics Director. There is language in the VSF bylaws that allow us to use VSF funding for anything that pertains to "scholarship and support," and coaches salaries or facilities purposes would fall under "support" of the student-athlete. The other option that would be attractive in the case of an overage would be to plow that extra $400k into our scholarship endowment. Then, that money would spin off scholarship dollars in perpetuity and help with future costs of scholarship. An excess of funds would be a great problem to have!"

The CEF is seeking a four-year commitment, with a gift at the $100 or $1000 per year level. Can payments be made in installments, or does each annual payment need to be for the full amount (explain our payment options)? And is the "year" the calendar year or University fiscal year?
"Payments can be made in installments and on whatever schedule fits the donor's desires. Also, people don't have to give at one of those levels. As we mentioned, this is a gift we are asking people to make above and beyond their present VSF commitment. You can commit to $50, $500, $5,000, etc. The "1000 at 1000" just gave us a nice "hook" to help meet our goal for the campaign. The University operates on a fiscal year; so that is our preference in terms of giving schedules. Any gift made to Vandal Athletics, VSF, Kibbie, etc can be paid in installments -- yearly, quarterly, monthly, bi-weekly…whatever the donor would like."

When did the CEF actually "open for business?"
"The AD's Fund for Coaches Excellence actually is a revival of an old fund that saw its last gift donated in 1995. This iteration of the Coaches Excellence Fund has been "open for business" since mid December of 2009, right after we accepted our bowl bid for the HBowl."

When did the first donation, not pledge, actually arrive?
"The first gift in this iteration of the fund came on Dec 10, 2009."

How much money has been raised to date? "We've raised approximately $135,000 in gifts and pledges since re-launching the fund."

The U of I announced that negotiations for Robb Akey's new contract started last December…Will the fund help with new contracts for the football staff right now?
"Yes. Dr. Spear has said the main priority (not the only) for the Coaches Excellence Fund will be augmenting salaries for the football staff."

Can donors direct their donation to a specific coach or a specific sport?
"How funds are dispersed is at the discretion of the Athletics Director. A donor can't specify funds to go to a specific sport or coach. Dr. Spear has been clear that the current the priority for this fund today is to augment salaries for the football staff. The hope is that 10,15, or 25 years down the line (and beyond) we will be able to use gifts from this fund to meet needs in all of our sports and perhaps even endow salaries for specific positions."

It seems like there are already funds set up to benefit specific sports. For example: What is the Quarterback Club and what are those dollars used for?
"The QB Club is a restricted sports specific gift account for football. These dollars are controlled by the football program with a system of checks and balances through Rob Spear. Money from the QB Club can be used for multiple priorities as identified by the football program."

Is the UI Foundation in favor of shunting donations to the VSF? Is there an order or priority for the CEF, VSF, and QB Club?
"I wouldn't say the Foundation is in favor of shunting donations to the VSF; however we want to be very clear, from athletics' point of view, that the VSF is the #1 priority in athletics fundraising for the reasons we've already reviewed. All funds in athletics (and most colleges for that matter) can be broken down into four categories: Scholarships, Faculty (coaches), Facilities (currently the Kibbie Dome), and Programs (sports). The VSF tries to cover scholarships and is always our #1 need. Coaches Excellence addresses our coaches whom we view the same way colleges view their faculty. We need to recruit, retain and reward quality coaches the same way colleges must do with quality professors and researchers. "Facilities" is the Kibbie Dome renovation and expansion. Sport-specific gifts are for individual sport programs, i.e. Quarterback Club for football. I want to stress that all of these areas are needs, but like everyone we have to prioritize those needs. Our current priorities – in order -- are VSF, Kibbie/facilities, and Coaches Excellence. Those are the three areas where we actively promote and solicit donations with the focus on VSF. Sport-specific gifts are usually more passive funds that people have the opportunity to give to (all of our sports have their own gift account) if they have a special passion for a specific sport. It's rare when you see a university athletics department campaign actively for one specific sport's general gift account. Typically you try to leverage your more visible and successful sports to raise funds for your priorities which in turn help all of our athletics programs."

We haven't seen any effort or aggression to raise funds for the CEF at any VSF events. Will there be a greater focus on the CEF, or is the fundraising for the CEF left to the U of I athletics website?
"That's not entirely correct. There have been efforts made on the local level by some of our chapters and boosters throughout the state at luncheons and during this past LOI tour of the state. There are a couple reasons we haven't been too aggressive promoting the Coaches Excellence Fund. The main reason is we want to be strategic in how we allocate our resources -- things like direct mail campaigns, email campaigns, phone call campaigns by Vandal Connect. We are hoping that word of mouth -- Vandals challenging other Vandals to get involved -- will carry the message to the majority of people we want to reach. "Donor fatigue" from excessive communication is something fundraisers around the world have to be wary of. We have some things planned for the rest of this fiscal year, but we need to balance our costs and timeliness with our messaging. The other reason is that we don't want to cannibalize our fundraising efforts in other areas. The VSF remains our #1 priority, and it probably always will be. We have to be careful about how we message the Coaches Excellence Fund so that the word gets out, but we need people to recognize VSF as the main priority and and hopefully they don't shift dollars. For example: We still will only count gifts to VSF for "seatback requirements" for football season tickets (the minimum annual donation needed to be able to purchase season ticket in a priority seating area). A Coaches Excellence gift won't cover that requirement. That's an example of how we need these gifts to be above and beyond a donor's existing VSF support. We need to structure our gifts to secure VSF donations first and foremost."

Can any Idaho coach solicit funds for the CEF at any U of I event?
"Sure. We know that some of our coaches are very active in the community. Idaho coaches can ask anyone to support any of our fundraising initiatives from the VSF to the Kibbie Dome to Coaches Excellence. The only stipulation is that people need to remember that Coaches Excellence is not sport specific. Rob Spear has oversight of that fund. For example, if Coach Showler got a donation from someone to the Coaches Excellence Fund, it wouldn't necessarily go to augment the salaries of the soccer staff. However we do realize that "fundraising" isn't in our coaches' job descriptions; so we do encourage people with questions to contact someone on the Vandal Athletics Development team to ensure the proper receipting and transmittal of their gift, in addition to ensuring correct information."

Is there a specific CEF fundraising manager?
"As the Director of Development, I oversee all the annual giving aspects of Vandal Athletics, but I would encourage donors to contact the development officer in their region or the one they are most comfortable with. We have a great team of development officers! Some of our donors have great relationships built over time with me, Nat Reynolds, Shelly Robson, Tim Mooney, or even Rob Spear. Whenever a donor has questions about a gift, we encourage them to be in contact with someone with Vandal Athletics. We always want to make sure donors feel their questions are being answered honestly and by someone with whom they have a trust relationship. Here are email addresses for the three regional development officers:"

Jeremy Wang – jwang@uidaho.edu
Nat Reynolds– nat@uidaho.edu
Shelly Robson – shellyr@uidaho.edu
How do we make a donation to the CEF? Is there a website to make the pledge, or does it have to be by phone?
"You can make a one-time gift to the AD's Fund for Coaches Excellence by visiting the "giving" portion of the University of Idaho website under athletics at: https://www.sites.uidaho.edu/gifts/

To make a multiyear pledge you can contact the Vandal Athletics Development officer in your region via phone or by email (above). The main Vandal Athletics Development Office in the Kibbie Dome can be reached at 208.885.0259 or vsf@uidaho.edu ."

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