Contributing to the Madness — March Madness

The Winkler Group, like so many companies across the country, goes a bit crazy in March.  As the newest member of the team, I wanted to make a bold statement this year.  I wanted to solidify my spot as Rookie of the Year and see my name engraved on the firm’s NCAA Bracket Challenge trophy.

My sense of euphoria was quickly trampled by the blood bath and upsets that marked this year’s March Madness.  In my disappointment, I began looking for a bright side, the lessons to be learned. I started thinking:  when a school is wildly successful in athletics—especially when it’s not expected—does giving rise?

It’s estimated that 40 million brackets are filled out each year. This year, only 20% of these brackets predicted that Villanova would win it all, and just .00003% correctly picked all Final Four teams. Who would have thought that Loyola University of Chicago would pull upset after upset? Who would have thought top ranked University of Virginia would lose to the number 16 team, UMBC? As Dick Vitale would say, “Can you believe it?”

Having been a collegiate athlete, I am aware of the blood, sweat, and tears these athletes endure. Their investment to be a part of something bigger than just themselves, to don the jersey and represent their institution brings a sense of purpose and pride. For the month of March, classes take a backseat, and every student, faculty and alumnus become part of their alma mater’s team.  And when their teams do well, enrollment and donations increase.

Since Loyola’s incredible tournament run, over 10,000 Sister Jean bobbleheads have been sold in honor of their 98-year-old superstar 6th (wo)Man. Merchandise is usually the first to see an increase in revenue, but the next bump is admission and then giving. Traffic on Loyola’s website has increased by 400%, which will likely translate to an increase in applications for admission and an increase in giving.

Florida Gulf Coast, George Mason, Butler, and Lehigh have also experienced the same spotlight. When FGCU advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2013, applications jumped 27.5%. In 2006, when George Mason made it to the Final Four as a number 11 seed, out-of-state applications rose by 54%. In 2010 and 2011, after back-to-back Final Four appearances, applications for admission to Butler rose by 41%. Butler’s annual giving increased and the university received more than $500 million worth of publicity.

In 2012, Lehigh upset Duke University in the tournament. That year, Lehigh saw a spike in giving, and according to Joe Gnall, Lehigh Director of Development for Athletics, “we even got gifts from Kentucky and UNC alumni as thank-yous for beating Duke.”

Sports are a great way for universities to engage their young donors—often an enigma for development offices all over. The One Percent Foundation has been able to encourage tomorrow’s philanthropists by hosting the “Grant Madness” basketball pool. People enter their brackets and declare a winner, just like any other pool; however, the money won goes to a charity of the winner’s choice. This giving pool is a great way to engage millennials because it provides a way for their smaller contribution to make a larger impact. In the end, these financial contributions become habitual and perpetuate a culture of philanthropy that continues from generation to generation.

In April, Loyola will break ground on an $18.5 million facility for its basketball and volleyball teams. This coliseum, the Alfie Norville Practice Facility, is named for the late wife of former Rambler player Al Norville. Loyola’s Cinderella season has come to an end, but the journey begins to capitalize on the success of its basketball team.  Even if your team didn’t make a wild run this March, there’s still much to learn from the madness.  The opportunity is a sure slam dunk!

Author: Sarah Evans, Senior Consultant


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