Q&A with program director Uri Farkas: Oregon State's average gift twice size of Washington State's

THE COUGAR ATHLETIC FUND'S unprecedented, two-week marketing push resulted in 631 new members who collectively donated more than $83,000, or an average of $132 each, CAF director Uri Farkas tells Cougfan.com. "Cougs proved to be very receptive," to the outreach effort, he said, fueling his confidence in reaching 7,000 total members by the end of the year.

WSU's quest for greater participation in the CAF is critical because the fund underwrites the cost of athletic scholarships. And right now, Washington State is believed to be the only school in the Pac-12 whose fans don't cover 100 percent of scholarship costs with donations, thus forcing the difference to be made up out of the department's operating revenues.

Last fiscal year the gap between scholarship costs and donations was $3.5 million, and in the current fiscal year, with Pac-12 schools increasing stipends to athletes to cover the full-cost-attendance, the chasm is expected to grow to $4.5 million. For perspective on what that budgeting hole equates to, consider that WSU needs just $3 million more to complete funding for the long-planned construction of a baseball operations complex. Farkas offered more perspective on it all in a Q & A with Cougfan.com this week:

CFC: Your stated goal with the marketing push was to hit 7,000 CAF members -- roughly 1,000 more than you started with -- by this past Saturday. You ended at 6,642. How would you characterize that?

FARKAS: The Cougar Athletic Fund is extremely pleased with the results of our campaign. Adding 631 new members in a two-week period is an incredible start to our year-end goal of 7,000 members. In the first iteration of this kind of campaign, Cougs proved to be very receptive. Gifts came in from many different locations, including Prague, Czech Republic!

CFC: Your campaign efforts included testimonials from Drew Bledsoe, Keith Jackson, Mike Price and a host of others. Presuming it is, why do you think this type of third-party celebrity support is so effective?

FARKAS: The Cougar Athletic Fund and Washington State Athletics can preach the importance of membership and supporting our student-athletes but to hear the message first hand from our Cougar legends is powerful. We are very grateful to have such prominent Cougs not only state our case for support but lead by example.

CFC: Cougar fans have a notorious history of being tight with donations to athletics. Why is that and what all is needed to change the culture?

FARKAS: We need to recognize where we stand compared to our peers. Right now, there is much room for improvement. This campaign was a great first step. Cougs need to realize our special place in the conference of champions, the Pac-12, and compete for fundraising dollars with the same drive as athletic championships.

CFC: How does the CAF compare, both in dollars given and number of members, with others in the conference?

FARKAS: We've made a nice jump with our recent campaign success, but remain in the lower one-third of the conference. We have made great progress and our recent campaign was a 10 percent jump in membership. In terms of dollars raised each year, we have a ways to go to catch our Pac-12 peers. We are working to not only grow our membership but increase our average gift size. This is an area we need to grow to continue to compete with our aspirational peers and also Pac-12 newcomers, Colorado and Utah.

CFC: In years past, the CAF has made a point of catching up to and surpassing Oregon State's athletic donor club. Where do you stand compared with OSU?

FARKAS: With this recent campaign success, we have very similar membership numbers as Oregon State. We're both between 6,500 and 7,000. The difference is they are bringing in north of $10 million a year and we are just more than $5 million. Their average gift size is double ours.

CFC: Attrition has been an issue for the CAF over the years. Talk about that.

FARKAS: The CAF is now as large as it's ever been. We've been battling attrition and that's been a challenge. We need CAF members to renew and then work to increase their giving. Oregon State has done a great job of working with their Our Beaver Nation members to increase giving. The Cougar Athletic Fund has worked to grow, and now we need to commit a tremendous effort to retain our members, increase giving, and attract new members.

CFC: There seemed to be some confusion among fans as to the timing of donations, and whether a contribution sent in April or May with their football season tickets renewal covered membership for the current school year.

FARKAS: The Cougar Athletic Fund membership cycle aligns with the university’s fiscal year (July 1–June 30). As long as one renews their membership by June 30 of each year, they are considered a member for the following fiscal year. For new members joining the CAF, membership begins the day they sign up and continues to the end of the following fiscal year, giving them a minimum of 365 days of membership.

CFC: How is membership counted? For example, do two spouses on the same check count as one member or two?

FARKAS: With the transition from the TPS system to the Cougar Athletic Fund, some membership were counted twice within one household. We are cleaning up the data and moving to industry standard of one house equals one membership.This aligns us with our peers.

To donate to or learn more about the Cougar Athletic Fund, click here. The minimum to join is $50.


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