A look inside the numbers

by Rod Williamson

May 7, 2012

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April issue | April feature on development

This month's topic is fundraising. Don't stop reading! If you care about Vanderbilt athletics this is important.

We know, we know. It seems we always have our hand out and you would much prefer to read about the magical moments on the field of play. Our point, one we've mentioned before, is that without strong financial support we will have fewer magical moments. That's not a scare tactic, it's a fact.

We know some scoff at the idea that mighty Vanderbilt, whose very name evokes wealth, would need an outside nickel to thrive. The pot-of-gold theory has existed for decades, allowing that the school's enormous endowment could pay for absolutely anything and everything if only the university brass so chose. That theory is urban legend.

Endowment monies are earmarked for a specific purpose by the donor at the time of gift and therefore are not discretionary funds to dole out to pet causes. If you or your grandmother created an endowment for, say, a faculty chair in the College of Arts and Sciences, would you be happy to find out the income was being used for another purpose? Of course not.

Then there are those who reason, "why should I contribute to the scholarship fund when they are going to offer those scholarships whether I give or not?"

It's true that our coaches don't check the NCC account balance before they offer some high school hot-shot a scholarship. Your gift doesn't affect that. But as the feature article points out, we have a $7 million gap between our scholarship need ($12 million per year) and the scholarship income we receive. That big shortfall must come from other pockets, which diminishes our ability to make investments in programs that you enjoy.

You are our choir and therefore you have demonstrated your Commodore commitment. About all you can do more is to consider increasing your contribution--if you are in position to do so--or, even more helpful, help find others to start participating. They are out there.

There are die-hards who hop on chat lines or rave about our ups and downs at the coffee shop, yet don't chip in a dime to help us advance. We're not talking about giving beyond one's means; some giving $50 or $100 have dug deep while at the same time there are members of the famous 1% very content to simply pass the plate to the next guy on the bleachers, seemingly oblivious to the impact they could make.

We've been a member of this wonderful department for nearly three decades and we've become accustomed to watching many of our programs compete using a form of guerrilla warfare as we strive to slay Gators and Tigers with half their budget. Together we could help end that! We're making headway in so many other ways.

We're a proud bunch, us Commodores, and it should hurt our pride to see how far we lag behind our competition in charitable giving. Yes, our athletic endowment ranks second in the SEC but we could double our annual giving and still be last. Think about that.

And lest you think we simply can't match the alumni population of state schools, check out how we stack up with peer schools. It's one thing to trail state schools with huge alumni and fan bases and quite another to see peers also put us in the distance.

We have thousands of friends and alumni across the globe that care about the Commodores. In our sports-crazy society, some fanatics even equate how the university as a whole is doing with the score of Saturday's ballgame. Athletics provides a platform for a common bond, community, esprit de corps. Here's hoping that more members of Commodore Nation will begin to understand our challenges and do what they can to help. That will be appreciated.

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