White: 'We're here to invest in people'

Danny White returned to Ole Miss last summer to become the Executive Director of the UMAA Foundation. White had served at Ole Miss as an associate in the Foundation in 2005-06 before leaving to become Assistant Athletics Director for Development at Northern Illinois in 2006-07.

Then it was on to Fresno State to become Associate Athletics Director for Development. The Notre Dame alum with graduate degrees from Ohio University is now firmly entrenched in building a greater UMAA Foundation for Ole Miss athletics.

"Danny's done a great job with the organization and bringing in some quality people. The donors I talk to are extremely impressed with what Danny's putting together," said Ole Miss Athletics Director Pete Boone.

Boone also said bringing White back on board made terrific sense and has been a positive move. The fruits of their labor are already being seen.

"We were in a rut. We were calling on the same people. We didn't have a vision of what the Foundation could be," Boone said. "I don't think you can maximize your potential unless you get out of your comfort zone and invest a little bit, whether it's money or people, and go after it. I think we've proven that over the last decade. Who ten years ago would think we would have spent and have the facilities and have the coaches and have the successful programs that we are having right now?"

Few would. But White is a firm believer that the surface has only been scratched. That starts with an efficiency in all areas, especially with customer service.

"What we're trying to do is make it easier on the customer," said White, simply stating one of the goals of the Foundation. "We're trying to make it easier for Ole Miss fans and alumni to support. We're just really trying to streamline things."

White said the Athletics Director has been on board from the beginning.

"Pete has been extremely supportive. He's been great," White said. "He's given us the leash to do some things and invest a little bit in some new technology to better serve the donor base, to get our website up and running and make it easier to renew on-line. That will make it easier for people to get their tickets and to renew their donations."

White, brother of Rebel assistant basketball coach and former UM player Michael White, continues to talk about the "people" involved, both Ole Miss fans and alumni as well as his staff.

"We're here to invest in people. We've built what I think is as good a staff as there is in the country in athletics development. I'm really excited about the staff we have in place, both in major gifts with Keith Carter and Allen Greene and Anne Francis, and on the priority seating side as well. It's been really, really good."

Carter, a former Ole Miss basketball star, and Greene, a star baseball player at Notre Dame, are staffers whose job it is to seek major gift donations to the Foundation.

"Their job is to be out of the office and network themselves within our alumni base and donor base and try to identify, cultivate, and solicit major gift donations," White said. "We identify major donations as $25,000 or more over five years, so $5,000 a year as a minimum and all the way up to whatever."

White talks about other changes within the UMAA Foundation staff.

"On the priority seating side, Sans Russell has been the director of the ticket office for a long time. He is now Senior Associate AD for Ticketing and Priority. We hired Evin Beck from Duke who was in their development office and Eric Gross from Tennessee, won was in the development office there.

"We added three development assistant positions. We hired (former UM basketball player) Patrick Spach on the major gifts side. He works most closely with us in major gifts. On the priority seating side we hired Ronnie Heard and Kaylie Brown. Ronnie played football here and played in the NFL for several years. He's starting his administrative career. I think he's a rising star. He's going to be really, really good. Kaylie Brown finished her MBA at Florida Gulf Coast and was a graduate assistant in their athletics development office. She's building her career in athletics development and is really bright and talented."

Cullen Pollard, Kerry Cruse, Tammy Diggs, and Corese Davis are staffers who have been affiliated with the Foundation for some length of time. White said the entire staff is committed to the task of lifting Ole Miss athletics into the future.

"We're in an area where it's pretty easy to justify the cost of a salary if you can tie in the revenue that salary brings in," he said of the large number of staffers. "We're at a time where we have an opportunity to raise more money than we've ever raised here. Last year was a record breaking year. This year (in May) we're more than a million dollars ahead of where we were last year. Most of that is due to the success of our programs. People are so excited right now.

"It's a perfect time to retain donors and to go out and find new donors. And you can't do that without bodies. We're bringing in the right people, and we're motivating them the right way. We're bringing in ambitious people that have their own drive. We're going to be successful, because they're going to go out and raise five or six times their salary. That's a good investment and that's what is happening."

The Vaught Society, which is a minimum contribution of $25,000 over a five-year period, is one of the important new aspects of the Foundation. Kicked off officially at the Cotton Bowl earlier this year, the Vaught Society is already halfway to its initial goal of 12.5 million dollars.

White again talks about "people" and their importance to the Foundation and its goals.

"We have certain projects and certain initiatives, but in the end, the pot just needs to get bigger," White said. "So whether it's a Vaught Society commitment at a major gift level, or a new project that is a philanthropic annual fund not tied to ticket, or a priority seating donation, or somebody buying a season ticket or a single game ticket, we just need more people.

"People are excited about Ole Miss, and they believe in what we're showing them. We have a long way to go, but we've come so far. Our budget has grown 350 percent in the last 15 years. We're one of the fastest growing athletics departments in the country. If we can continue that pace, and I think we can, we're going to become an upper tier program and a powerhouse. I think that can happen."

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