Drive for $105M
Colorado has nearly met its goal for raising $105 million as part of its Sustainable Excellence Initiative from 2014. Here's where the Buffs stood on the most recent update from Feb. 26:
Goal: $105 million
Goal: $85 million
Goal: $20 million
When hired in August of 2013, Colorado athletic director Rick George had several fundraising incentives in his deal. Here's where he stands on those goals:
Raise $15 million on or before June 30, 2014
Status: Goal met
Raise $25 million on or before June 30, 2015
Status: Goal met
Raise $50 million on or before June 30, 2016
Status: Goal met (to be paid at end of 2016 fiscal year)
Raise $75 million on or before June 30, 2017
Status: Goal met (to be paid in 2017)
Raise $100 million on or before June 30, 2018
Status: Nearing completion
Several years ago, Colorado's athletic department was curious how much it could raise in funds, and associate athletic director Kurt Gulbrand hired a firm to conduct a feasibility study and find out.
"They went out and visited with our donor base and came back and told us we could raise $35 million here at Colorado," Gulbrand said. "Our team took that as a sort of a call to action to say, 'Let's prove them wrong.' "
CU has done just that, with more than $94.2 million raised in its "Drive for $105M" sustainable excellence initiative (SEI). Add in the money raised for the annual operating fund and CU has generated more than $100 million in its fundraising efforts in the 31 months since hiring athletic director Rick George.
For an athletic department that never raised more than $15 million in a single year before George's arrival, it's been an astounding fundraising effort that has resulted in a nearly completed $166 million facilities upgrade.
"I'm pleased and enthusiastic about it, because without that fundraising piece, we never would have been able to get the facilities that we have today and set up the endowment that we have," chancellor Phil DiStefano said.
At the forefront has been George, the ultra-competitive, aggressive, savvy and personable athletic director who had a vision for CU athletics and turned it into reality.
Hired in August 2013, George is barely halfway through his five-year contract, yet has already reached four of the five fundraising goals written into his deal and is on the verge of the fifth. Once he hits the final goal, George will have earned $750,000 in fundraising incentives.
"Rick has earned every penny of his incentives," DiStefano said. "As I look at it, he hit a home run. He hit it out of the park. Nobody expected to do what Rick has done in such a quick time. I think everyone knew that Rick was the right person, but nobody expected him to do what he did in three years."
That has given CU some excitement about what George can do in future years, too, and the Buffs want to ensure he'll be here a while. George's contract runs through Aug. 31, 2018, but DiStefano hopes to complete a contract extension this spring.
"No. 1, he deserves it, and No. 2, I want to make sure that he understands how much we support him and we want him to stay," DiStefano said. "I want him to be our AD for as long as possible."
While George has done a remarkable job, he's the first to point out that he's not alone in these efforts.
In fact, CU's fundraising explosion began when former AD Mike Bohn announced CU's move to the Pac-12 Conference in June 2010. CU would not be where it is today financially had it stayed in the Big 12, Gulbrand said.
"No, not at all," said Gulbrand, who coordinates CU's fundraising efforts.
Gulbrand credits former administrator Jim Senter, now the athletic director at The Citadel, for laying the foundation with the Buff Club. Moving to the Pac-12 built upon that foundation, because the Buffs have a greater alumni base in the Pac-12 footprint than in the Big 12.
"Now, on average, we have more face-to-face visits with our donor base ... than we ever had before because we have an expanded staff, because we've put an intent focus on it, because we've made it a part of our business process," Gulbrand said.
The wheels were already in motion when George was hired, but he took CU to a new level.
In February 2013, CU and Bohn presented plans for a $170 million project, giving no timetable for completion. When hired, George took those plans and developed a completely new design and stunned DiStefano with his timeline.
"He told me he thought he could get it done in 18 months," DiStefano said. "In my role with faculty, with administrators, with athletic directors, I love that optimism, I love that entrepreneurship, and I thought, 'Go for it.' If he didn't make it, I was fine with it, but he made it."
On May 12, 2014, CU broke ground on the project and launched its SEI. As of Feb. 26 — the night CU held a dedication gala to unveil its new facility to donors — CU was less than $11 million away from its $105 million goal.
"I think Kurt and his team have done a really good job," George said. "They've done an amazing job, honestly, and we've had some historic highs in the last couple of years."
Gulbrand said the hope was for at least one gift of $20 million, one or two in the $10 million range and three or four in the $5 million range. CU got none of those. The largest single gift has been $3 million, and yet the Buffs are nearly at their goal.
"What Rick and I and our team have done is go out and visit with a bunch of people, and over 2,000 people have signed gift agreements to benefit this project," said Gulbrand, who has literally traveled the world with George to meet with donors. "It just shows you that we're engaging a broad base of individuals that have all felt like this is an important need and not a want and that it benefits every student-athlete."
Incentive for success
With contract incentives being met, the fundraising also benefits George, but Gulbrand said that's hardly George's goal. In fact, George has donated much of his own income into the project.
"It's never been about Rick," Gulbrand said. "It's always been about what's the best thing for our student-athletes. He's never, ever tried to push a benchmark just to meet a need, to see his worth grow."
While the "Drive for $105 million" is nearly complete, CU's fundraising efforts are not. The Buffs are hoping to capitalize on their momentum and continue raising money for the annual fund, increase licensing and sponsorship, increase ticket sales and do whatever else is needed to make their student-athletes as successful as possible.
"Everybody understands the culture and that for us to be successful we've got to fundraise," George said. "We've got to meet with corporate partners, we have to grow our ticket sales, we have to grow our fan base. Everybody in this department knows that.
"There's still a lot of fundraising to do."
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.