Contributing To The Cause

Most Ole Miss fans are thinking of holiday gifts at the Christmas season. A financial gift to Ole Miss athletics prior to the end of the calendar year could be one way to present a gift that, as the old saying goes, keeps on giving.

Two new avenues for Rebel fans to help their school's athletics programs are the 5-Star Fund and the Vaught Society.

Begun at the beginning of this football season, the 5-Star fund has raised more than $100,000 so far. Kicked off at the Cotton Bowl, the Vaught Society has raised $9.5 million of an initial $12.5 million goal.

"They are the two new programs above and beyond any priority gift, anything that affects a ticket or a parking space," said Danny White, Executive Director of the UMAA Foundation. "Traditionally we focused on priority-based giving, and that will always be our bread and butter. But we're trying to get more philanthropic giving."

The 5-Star Fund is any gift below $5,000. The Vaught Society is a minimum gift of $25,000 that may be paid as $5,000 per year for five years.

"It's more true philanthropy, but there are a lot of people out there who love Ole Miss. And people are stepping up. It's a good time for philanthropic giving as the calendar year is closing," White said. "A lot of people are figuring out their tax situation. Our staff is focused on that now that football season is over. We change hats as a staff during different parts of the year, and this is the time of year everybody has their fundraising hat on."

The north end zone, seen behind head coach Houston Nutt, is a concern for fans

Obviously fans may also decide to give to the priority seating for football, men's basketball or baseball. Those options are always available as well.

Despite some well-documented hurdles the past few months, the UMAA Foundation continues to see substantial growth.

"Ultimately people who participate and give to the Foundation do it because they love Ole Miss and they believe in what their donation is doing to help our programs," White said.

"If we want to have consistent success, we have to position our programs at a higher level financially. This is a great opportunity to continue that."

White said he understands fans, supporters, and alumni want to be able to help their university athletically, and the opportunities are there.

"I know people are emotional about it as they should be, because we all get caught up in the emotions of sports. That's what's great about sports. But what we talk a lot about is focusing on the next five to ten years and where we can take this department.

"It's not so much about one season. It's not so much about one game. We were saying that after the Cotton Bowl year, and we're saying that again after this (football) year. As a fan base and as a donor base, we need to consistently support it. If we do that over a certain amount of years, we will see a better product. By and large, the vast majority of our donors are extremely generous. And they do give consistently."

Some of the plans on the front burner, so to speak, are:

Expansion of the Palmer-Salloum Tennis Center, which has been planned for several years.

A renovated, expanded team meeting room for football, which will help meet the current team's needs and also recruiting.

Finishing up payments on the baseball stadium and the basketball practice facility.

"When we hit that 12.5 million dollar goal for the Vaught Society, we will have bigger and more exciting projects to be talking about," White said. "When we put the Vaught Society together, we thought that might be three or four years. The positive side is it's going a lot quicker than we thought. As a result, we're having those planning conversations. What's next?"

White envisions a renovated or new home for Kennedy, Rebels

Ole Miss sold out of football season tickets in 2009. With home schedules that include Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Arkansas, and BYU in 2011, and Texas, Florida, Auburn, and Mississippi State in 2012, that should happen again for both of those upcoming seasons.

White knows two potential projects fans are most interested in are the north end zone at the football stadium, and the home of Ole Miss basketball - either a renovated Tad Smith Coliseum or a new arena.

"People like to talk about the north end zone. What do we need to do there? What does that entail? What's a timeline that makes sense? Certainly we want to be selling out our stadium on a regular basis.

"The other project people talk about is Tad Smith Coliseum. We know that's not a longterm home for our basketball program. It's something we need to address. The scope and details of that project are something that's being talked about as we're trying to figure out what makes sense.

"We're taking this (athletics) program to a higher level, and we have huge plans for this program over the next five to ten years. As an Ole Miss family, we can't allow a single season that was a little less than expected to stop us. We need to focus on the future, be positive, and continue to build."

And fans can certainly pitch in now in a big way, according to White.

"They can call our office at 662-915-7159. They can go to olemisssports.com, and the information is on there. Certainly if there are people considering the Vaught Society, we would love to meet with them and explain anything and answer any questions they may have.

"And if there is a tax benefit for them to renew their football priority donation early, they can do that now. We have several donors that do that."


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