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Minnesota Gophers Football: Practice Facilities Fundraising - Why It's Not Time To Panic (Probably)

or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Silent Phase

This man would like to remind you about the rules of fundraising.
This man would like to remind you about the rules of fundraising.
Gopher Sports Facebook

Remember those shiny new practice facilities for a bunch of the sports (but most importantly for football and basketball)? Seems like forever ago that we heard about those. What exactly is happening with the fundraising for those things anyway?

"It's going really well it's just not really public right now," said Teague. "We're doing a lot of behind-the-scenes fundraising. We'll announce soon as far as the campaign going live. That's kind of the fundraising world and how things work. We're in the silent phase right now. Fundraising takes time. You don't just go out and ask somebody for a million dollars. You have to cultivate them. You have to show them vision and show them the process. It's going very well. I feel very good about it. I wanted it done yesterday and that's the only thing I don't feel good about. It just takes awhile."

SWEET! This is excellent news! Facilitiesmas is right around the corner! All is well! Time to read the STrib!

/opens Sports section



Hold the parade folks, because today Teague was seemingly contradicted (and the current funding picture made more worrisome) by today's column from Sid Hartman:

The $190 million fundraising campaign to improve the Gophers athletics facilities apparently is going to take time.

If that wasn’t the case, they wouldn’t be making the temporary improvements to the gym and locker rooms at the Bierman Building for the Gophers men’s basketball team, or similar temporary improvements to the football coaches’ offices in the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex, or some of the other minor facility upgrades currently underway.

Then you also have the $8 million the Gophers are trying to raise for improvements to Mariucci Arena.

The word on the street is that athletic director Norwood Teague has a good chance to get large sums of money from Land O’Lakes, 3M and possibly Cargill. But no one has come up as a major contributor to provide for the big needs of the facilities, improvements that would enable Gophers to compete in recruiting with schools that have an advantage.

Oh crap. That's not good right? Especially since this reporting is completely consistent with Sid's previous statements. I guess it's all over and we're screwed again.

/kicks can



Wait a second...

Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague and former Gophers and North Stars hockey player Lou Nanne, who is the chairman of the $190 million fundraising drive to upgrade the school’s athletic facilities, have refused to comment on the progress of the drive.

But boosters must be contributing, because the Star Tribune has learned that ground will be broken this December on a $70 million football facility that will include not only a modern indoor practice facility but coaching offices and other amenities for the program.

The new facility is expected to be located in an area behind the Bierman Building, and speculation is that the new outdoor track will be moved to somewhere in St. Paul.

Ok, now I'm just confused. Perhaps there is a consistent opinion in the Gopher interwebs that I can hop on board with?

Is that a little hyperbolic? Sure. Overall I saw a variety of responses (warning: more broad generalizations coming) to both Teague's statement and Sid's follow-up. Some members of the Gopher interwebs shrugged and said "wake me when they actually announce something." Others were positive and optimistic and dismissed Sid as a dottering old fool. Others thought Norwood was full of hot air, read Sid, and took the Kent Brockman approach illustrated above. In any case, no consistent position (though seriously the Kent approach is far too common). I guess that means I've got to think this through on my own.

Thought #1



The fact that we don't know anything for sure about fundraising is not a reason to panic. Why? At this point in the fundraising timeline we shouldn't know anything. Not unless Teague's office is springing leaks, something that I don't expect much of based on the basketball coaching search.

Thought #2


The practice facility announcement happened just under a year ago on July 10th. Part of that announcement was a note that the department would be completing a fundraising feasibility study.

This is the part where I see people get a little freaked out. "A FUNDRAISING STUDY DOESN'T TAKE A YEAR! WE SHOULD HAVE NUMBERS BY NOW!" These people are both right and wrong. A feasibility study doesn't take a year and nothing in the process suggests it did. And no, we shouldn't have numbers by now. Why? Teague already mentioned it above:

We're in the silent phase right now. Fundraising takes time. You don't just go out and ask somebody for a million dollars. You have to cultivate them. You have to show them vision and show them the process.

The silent phase is the part of large fundraising projects that most people don't know about, overlook, or chalk up to spin. In reality, it's an actual thing and a normal phase of a capital campaign:

Capital campaigns often will have a private phase where an organization would secure leadership gifts before making a public announcement about the campaign. By the time the public phase begins, supporters are more likely to offer donations when they see that the campaign is off to a successful start. So when should you launch the public phase?

A recent article in the journal Nonprofit Management and Leadership (Volume 18, Issue 3) indicates that fundraisers should delay the public phase as long as possible, and should avoid making a public announcement until at least 40% of the goal has been reached.

To prove that I didn't pick the one article that bolstered my point you can also go here, here, and here (or do your own Google search) to read about the silent phase in a capital fundraising campaign. Depending on the source you read, this phase should take anywhere from 6-18 months. Given the complexity of doing anything at the U and the normal fundraising hurdles the athletic department typically faces, 12-18 months is probably the more realistic range for the silent phase of this project. And wouldn't you know it, we're only 12 months removed from the announcement of this fundraising effort. Don't forget that the feasibility study took a little time as well, so we're not even a full 12 months into the silent phase.

"BUT IF THINGS WERE GOING WELL THEY'D GIVE US THE NUMBERS!" Again, no, not unless they were done with the silent phase. I really think it's time for thought #3.

Thought #3

Seriously everyone...



There's a reason the silent phase is a common part of the fundraising process. You want to keep your overall fundraising under wraps because if your big donors know exactly where you're at they might be inclined to give less. You announce the numbers once you have a solid foundation in place (i.e. when the silent phase is complete) because your smaller donors (i.e. you and me) are more likely to give money to a winning cause where success seems assured. That's why you don't see Teague or the U asking the general fanbase for donations yet.

Thought #4

And yet...



That whole silent phase explanation makes sense and is completely rational, but ultimately the fact is that we don't know how things are going with the fundraising. Teague could very well be spinning his ass off, the whole process could be in shambles behind the scenes, and I could be very wrong to be calm about this. It's not what I think is happening, but it could certainly be true.

Final Thought



Ultimately getting worried like that just isn't my approach though. When faced with an unknown I like to ask "How should things look if everything was going great?" And in this case, I'd expect the answer to be "The same as they are now. Quiet, with Teague saying vaguely positive things in the press when asked about it." With that in mind I'm willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to Norwood and his team and let things play out.

If January 1, 2015 rolls around and Teague is still saying "we'll be announcing the public phase soon" then I'll be quite a bit more concerned. Until then...