They Just Cancelled Your College Season- Now What?
Updated: Jul 29
Over the past several weeks, our hearts have been breaking for our friends in college, high school and club athletics, seeing playing seasons postponed (at best) and cancelled (at worst).
Kids who play sports need to play sports more than most people know...and people who have a passion for coaching are now faced with an unprecedented void in their lives as well.
For those who have never played or coached at a competitive level, you may or may not understand just how traumatic this period has been...but from student-athletes and coaches to parents and supporters, this has been nothing short of awful.
In addition to the obvious disappointment and sense of loss at what this time of the year is supposed to be, many coaches and administrators are now faced with the challenge of meaningfully filling this void with constructive, impactful activity that:
Keeps them (and their team) focused on something positive and productive;
Positively impacts their program (both in the short and long term):
Reflects an ability to pivot, survive and even thrive during a period of uncertainty and turmoil
For most coaches and administrators, this challenge reflects your new reality...and for many, you don’t know where or how to start...
As Wordsworth said, ‘To begin, begin.’
That said, as we all know, there is a difference between velocity and direction. Velocity refers to the speed at which you travel, but going fast is no help if you are headed in the wrong direction.
Here’s what I would suggest to coaches (and perhaps administrators) that are dealing with this ‘new normal’ - knowing full well that those closed door administrator meetings are not being held to increase your budget, add programs or in any way make things easier for you to operate.
I would begin with focusing on your program’s POSITIONING within your department, as if specifically relates to these four categories:
Academics/Graduation Rates/Community Service
These criteria (in order) are likely to be the four most important considerations that administrators take into account when assessing programs that are kept, and those that are cut.
Your athletic department administration will handle the Title IX compliance, and you will handle the competitiveness, academic success and community service piece...which leaves the fundraising/alumni relations responsibilities up to you and your staff.
Here are a few thoughts that should help you get things rolling in a positive direction:
Get over the fact that you probably haven’t done a great job of keeping your alumni informed and engaged. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have had a positive and inclusive relationship with your alumni in the past...what matters is what you to today, and how you demonstrate a willingness to improve in this key area. Remember, every streak begins with the first one, so make today‘s alumni outreach your first-in-a-row...and then plan for the next one.
Be transparent. Let the alumni know what is going on. Your budget was probably cut. Describe what that budget was, what it now is, and how your program will be affected. That said, if this is your first time reconnecting with the alumni, don’t ask them for help yet...just paint the picture.
Friends and Family Fundraising: If ever there was a time to engage the family and friends of your student-athletes, this is it. Those closest to these student-athletes know just how much their sport means to them, and they will do whatever they can to ensure that they can go on participating at this level. That said, do not just send a link or rely on an app to raise money...that may be quick, but it’s not necessarily effective. Remember that those who will usually write the largest checks (and yes, they will be checks, not online or credit card payments) will want to receive a letter that is hand-signed by the student-athlete that they will be helping. They will also want a personal message that goes beyond that signature, as well as a way to know that the gift was received and put to good use. We have designed and led countless Friends and Family campaigns, and can help you with the fine details that add up to transformative gifts for you program.
Develop a systematic plan for Alumni Engagement: your current outreach is probably episodic‘ there is a problem, and you are asking the alumni to help fix it. Some alumni may complain that you only reach out to them when you need money, and if that is true, then they have every right to complain. That said, if we develop a systematic plan that keeps alumni informed and engaged on a monthly, quarterly or even semiannually, then we can feel a lot better about asking them for money once a year.
Whatever the case, do not waste this time by sitting around and hoping that your program is not the next one to go. Position your program as an organized, resilient, sustainable one, not just a competitive one. If you are seen as a leader (and a program) that will find a way to succeed in spite of budget cuts, then that can only help you with this essential part of program management and positioning.
So if they just postponed or cancelled your season...it’s time get going. Make today the first day of redefining yourself (and your program) as one that effectively engages your alumni, friends and family.
The next time that you are up for a comprehensive program review with your program supervisor(s), you will go into it as a much more complete program that is taking active steps at improving alumni engagement and giving, and that’s always going to matter...especially these days.
Reach out to me at Ted@Fundraise4U.netif you’d like to chat about it. It’s a free conversation, and I’d be happy to help.
Best wishes, and stay safe.