Thursday, July 7th, 2011...8:20 am

College C.R.E.A.M. Get The Money.

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After my last blog post, it should come as no surprise that I’m about to share an idea that’s bouncing around in my head. It’s happened before on this blog as I’ve pontificated a gambling website to bet on anything and a twitter-based fantasy sports game (for which we actually built a prototype). One of my first blogs (quickly defunct – nobody cared), Digital Epiphanies, was based on my different business ideas (check out my goofy Einstein graphic header).


Part #1: Revolutionize how colleges and universities raise funds from their alumni base.

I’ll start with my own experience. Despite thousands of pieces of mail (some notes hand written, some fake hand-written) delivered to my parent’s house (guess I haven’t updated my address) in the last ten years I’ve yet to make a substantial donation to my precious alma mater, the University of Michigan. I’ve even the school a pretty penny on the postage and printing costs of all that ineffective collateral.

I love the University of Michigan (Go Blue kids). It played a starring role in four great years of my life. I’m a beaming proud graduate of it’s business school. I’m a huge fan of Michigan athletics. I’d happily support my school through monetary donations …as soon as I figure out what’s in it for me.

Here’s what I’m “buying” from Michigan at this point in my life.

1) Recognition. Allow my peers, especially my classmates, to see that I’m donating to our prestigious university and to be commended for it.
2) Access. Cultivate a better relationship with my school, faculty and other alumni.
3) Gratification. It feels good to contribute to something that I love.
4) Philanthropy. I’ll throw this in there although I’ve read to much Ayn Rand to believe anyone does anything for purely philanthropic reasons.

The problem is that right now I receive none of these things when I make a donation to my school. Perhaps it’s because I’m not donating enough cash. If I added four or five 0’s to my check I’m sure the school would find somebody to kiss my ass.

Do you feel the same way about giving to your college?

There is also a big problem to solve for schools in how they solicit and generate new funds. Look no further than the 2008 presidential election to see how the fundraising landscape is radically changing. Large donors are being overwhelmed by the thousands of small donors who can easily make an online donation and then quickly “share” their cause with their networks on the web.

It took me just a few minutes on Google to learn that the college fundraising landscape is stale. According to the Council For Aid To Education, private donations to American colleges and universities have stayed flat at around $28BN annually over the last five years. The percentage of alumni who give continues to decline, dropping under 10%. Many schools, both big and small, are struggling to increase their endowment or even effectively reach and engage their alumni base.

So it’s only natural that alumni fundraising will go digital in a big way. My guess is that it hasn’t already because of the bureaucracy of academia. Schools are slow to innovate. The alumni relations department probably lacks any kind of significant technology budget. I’m sure that the direct mailers raise more money than emails blats (why else would they do it?). I’d even bet that hand-written note gimmick works to some degree on lesser cynics than myself. But shouldn’t schools be taking a page from the Ron Paul playbook and figure out how to use this Facebook thing more effectively?

I’d love to see a platform in which anytime I donated to the University of Michigan it was tracked online. I’d be able to be grouped or even compete with friends or my former classmates. I’d have more control of when, how and where I made my donations. As I hit specific benchmarks I’d unlock everything from virtual gifts, to networking opportunities with other alumni, meetings with professors, or tickets at the Big House. I’d like more control of how my donation is allocated or at least propose new fundraising campaigns (heated seats in the Big House or free tattoos for our athletes!). Alert me when my school makes me proud and I’ll text a few bucks. It’s almost like a Donorschoose (a website I’ve blogged about before and for which I’m a big fan) for colleges meets social gaming platform (think Zynga).

It would be ideal to partner directly with the colleges. Have them share their alumni database and watch the donations multiply. Make it turnkey for them. But I’m not even sure if that’s necessary. If there is a way to create a better value proposition to alumni they’ll give you their money to give to their universities. There’s good money in being a middleman and processing the transaction (I’m learning that now with LeagueApps).

Part 2: Use this new fundraising platform to expose and decimate the NCAA.

Like Rommel (an interesting general I’ve recently been reading about), I’ll strike deftly and strategically.

I’d like to enable fans to make donations on behalf of individual players. For example, I could pledge money to UM each time Denard Robinson scores a touchdown or if Michigan beats Ohio State. Heck, we all get to become boosters. Shoelaces would be entitled to a percentage of that revenue. To keep the sanctity of college athletic amateurism/corruption, he would only be able to access these funds after completing his enrollment at the University in good standing. If he does not claim his share it would revert back to the school fund. This would democratize college athletics as the players that are most popular would receive the most benefits…. legally. Schools and conferences wouldn’t even have to share their current booty!

I recognize that you might think the second part of this idea is lunacy. Taking on a huge and powerful organization like the NCAA is destined for failure and probably doesn’t make much business sense. But that is why this is an idea. It’s daring. It gets to the core of something that has been gnawing at me for as long as I can remember — the hypocrisy and bullshitty claim of amateurism that stains one of my favorite things in the world – big time college sports. The NCAA model is a farce. It needs to be broken and it kills me that nobody ever puts up a challenge. At the very least, this will get great pr (true, it might also scare off school partners).

Ideas should be big. They should solve one’s own problems; make your own dreams come true. Helping universities raise money is swell. Going after the NCAA is as tantalizing as it gets for me. I can see myself spending all of my time working on that and staying motivated.

Let me know your thoughts. I’ve shared this with a bunch of people so far and most have had a lukewarm reaction. Everybody thinks the NCAA part is foolish. My buddy Wayne, an exception salesman, is the first person to really get into it and we’ve been bouncing ideas back and forth. I’m using this blog post to continue to learn about this world. So share your thoughts and your networks and maybe one day this will be more than an idea.

I’ll leave with this most famous Blue Chips rant about college athletics from Coach Pete Bell. Fine piece of cinema and speaks the truth! One day we’ll get QB1 at Michigan a fully loaded Lexus!