When the Buffalo Bulls rebooted their crowdfunding site to buy a JUGS machine for the football team, there was a collective groan around the Bull Run water cooler which could be heard for miles.
Some of us hated the idea of crowdfunding for a $5,000 piece of equipment, and some of were ok with the idea. We all hated the inevitability that people would attack the department for the the effort.
Well after flying under the radar for a month or two, it finally got noticed by the Daily Caller.
When you remove the quotes from the UB Athletics Department announcement and snarky pictures it’s a 209-word article obviously just put there to fill someone's Daily Caller “Daily Quota.”
But it is a manifestation of everything that people feared it might be.
We’ve had some fun back and forth among the editors and the opinions range from “not sure” to “hate it with a burning passion.”
The Growth of Crowdfunding:
First of all, to nip the major point in the bud, no, UB is not crowdfunding because they can’t afford a 5K jugs machine. The department had a major funding cut last year, which led to sports being cut, but the department has a good budget and have gotten donors to build a field house, a football building, and a great athletic training and recuperation facility.
Honestly, if you follow UB Athletics on Twitter you notice some nice amenity being set up once every couple of weeks. Most of this stuff is done off large donations.
So no... The school is not in trouble.
So why are we doing this then?
Suffice it to say the Bulls are doing what a lot of college programs are doing: staying with the times and creating a new platform for small donors to get involved in UB Athletics.
Simply put, getting “Joe UB fan" to become a donor is going to be a lot easier if you give him a very simple and approachable way to start giving you money.
Colleges big and small are taking this tack to grow their donor base. Oregon State, for example, is one institution doing that to fund a room that will feature its baseball hall of fame at Goss Stadium.
I’m pretty sure Beavers can afford to do that work out of their regular budget.
Crowdfunding is becoming so common in the NCAA that service providers are starting to pop up and provide ready made platforms for schools to get into the game. More than 40 universities also the non-profit crowdfunding vehicle USEED.
All this is to say, it’s no longer weird to crowdfund something and you’re going to see more and more of it in the coming years.
What UB is doing right
They are using it to connect to new donors
The communications have been good, the projects undertaken have hit their targets, and seena mix of very small donations of a few dollars and some more which are in the hundreds of dollars.
They are also sending thank you notes in the mail to everyone donating. This is a great way to build relationships. My only problem with Allen Greene is that interactions with the Athletics Department always felt transactional. They wanted something, they asked, and when they got it moved on, never to be beard from again until they wanted something else.
Under Alnutt things seem to feel a bit more oriented towards relationship building.
So kudos to UB on that aspect of this.
The second thing UB is doing right is spreading this around to multiple sports and areas.
It’s nice to see Football, Women's Basketball, and the Sports and Conditioning programs getting in on this. I’d love to see every program find a way to use this to connect to targeted donors: top to bottom athletic success means having the community invested in every sport.
What UB is doing wrong.... very, very wrong.
In my mind anything which is even tangentially related to the health, quality of life, or performance needs of the athletes should not be met via crowdfunding.
UB has 5K to buy a JUGS machine.... so please, just buy a JUGS machine!
I understand that we’re only talking about optics, but optics are important in life.
People who really follow college athletics, and people who work in the field know that what UB is doing is not a sign that something is wrong in the department.
But when a person in Buffalo who is not attached to the university already sees headlines like “UB can’t even afford football equipment, they should pack it up," it turns them off.
Thanks to years of overly critical coverage from now ex-pundits at the Buffalo News the Bulls are starting from behind in the mind of a lot of people in Buffalo.
Winning will fix this, of course, but doing the little PR things right will fix it faster.
You always want to put your best foot forward in every relationship.
Who sat at a table and said, “you know what would be cool, let’s take a routine piece of football performance equipment which cost a few thousand dollars and crowd fund it”?
Really, who does that?
What UB should do going forward
I’ve been told by people close to the department that the effort to grow the donor base through crowdfunding has been successful, they have added new donors to the UB family through these efforts.
For that reason they don’t really care about throw away articles in “The Daily Caller” or snarky comments on other web sites.
At the same time I did reach out to other people who work in college athletics and asked thoughts on UB’s execution.
The consensus was that crowdfunding’s best use, from a PR standpoint, would be either luxury projects or items which enhance the fan experience.
The best single idea I heard was for UB to use crowd sourcing to help bring more fans to whatever bowl game they play in this season. Of course, college football programs teams typically lose money on Bowl Games.
Not only do they have to send their team to the game but the school is obligated to buy a large number of tickets, tickets which typically don’t all sell.
So with the school's third-ever Bowl game approaching, and a pretty good idea of the ticket requirements UB will face, why not crowd source to send students to the game?
Outside of Boise the expenses for the MAC bowls are going to be pretty similar. Figure out what three or four charter buses of students would cost, and throw it up to the community to crowdfund.