On April 4, 2018, Penn Athletics announced the launch of the Game Onward Campaign as part of the overarching Power of Penn Campaign.
By the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year, the Penn Champions Club had raised $157.4 million for the Campaign, exceeding its original goal of $150 million. This money is slated to help support the program’s three major priorities: competitive excellence, student-athlete experience, and campus engagement.
Penn Athletics itself has an overall endowment of roughly $80-85 million. It’s clear that it costs a lot of money to run the program — Penn Athletics' expenses were about $41.5 million in the 2017-18 fiscal year. The question, then, is where the program gets its money from.
Penn Athletics receives about 40% of its operating budget from the University. The balance, plus any efforts to grow the endowment, come from fundraising, which is why it launched Game Onward. Penn, like most Ivy schools, cannot rely on tickets or merchandising revenue streams in the way some bigger athletic programs around the country can.
Senior Associate Athletic Director for Development and Alumni Relations Tim Folan is the man behind most of Penn Athletics’ fundraising. Folan’s day-to-day job entails overseeing the Penn Champions Club, which is the development and alumni relations office's official name, but he also spends a good amount of his time traveling to meet with alumni and potential donors.
“I think a lot of people on the outside look at me as a salesman," Folan said. “[To] some degree, it’s sales, but I’m selling something people have a built-in affinity for."
Penn Athletics has to raise money for three major funds: annual, endowment, and capital building projects. The annual fund is the money used to keep the program running. The other funds tend to concentrate on longer-term goals.
“The annual is probably our most important from the sense of … we need it every year. It’s kind of to keep the lights on. It’s what basically is the lifeblood of the program because without that money, we can’t buy uniforms, we can’t buy equipment, we can’t take trips, those type of things,” Folan said. “[The] endowment becomes your longer-term view on sustaining, making the programs, whether sports or some of our more broad-based programs like the leadership academy, more financially sustainable.
“The capital piece is always one up, but we have to raise one hundred percent of every dollar that goes into a new building. The University doesn’t help in that regard, so it’s kind of on us, which is kind of a beautiful thing at Penn because Penn has a very entrepreneurial spirit in the way that it runs the University.”
Each year, Penn Athletics hopes to raise about $6.7-6.8 million to cover the operating expenses of all of its sports. There are other costs not covered by those operating expenses, however: Penn football, for example, needs roughly $3 million a year to function smoothly. This money is mainly used to pay for recruiting, travel, equipment, and nutrition needs.
By the nature of his position, Folan works with the majority of the higher-end donors, those that are going to make the biggest monetary contributions. One of the biggest changes he’s tried to implement in his time at Penn is transparency with regards to finances.
“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to educate people on why we need support [and] where their support is going, because there have been many years built up where people weren’t getting those types of answers,” he said.
One of Folan's core goals is to be partners with the donors, which is why he travels to ensure that most donation meetings take place in person. Very rarely does he make deals over the phone, though he does handle some logistics over the phone as a donor draws close to finalizing their contribution.
Most donors give with a particular interest in mind, hoping to support a particular program.
“We just try to get into a dialogue and try to understand if people want to help, how they want to help, but everybody’s motivated by different factors,” Folan said. “Some people are really philanthropic and really want to give. Some people are super competitive and want to make sure our teams beat Princeton. It really runs the gamut, and I think the skilled fundraisers can really understand what motivates a particular person who they’re sitting across the table from and help them make the impact that they want to make.”
Folan emphasized that a lot of donors played sports at Penn themselves and want to make a contribution to their former team. He estimates that 80-85% of the donors to a particular sport are people who once played it for the Red and Blue. Other donors include parents or alumni who are just fans.
Since some teams are bigger than others, it naturally follows that some will have more donors. For example, the men’s tennis team has a roster that is only a fraction of the size of the men’s lacrosse roster, and as a result, the latter has a larger fundraising ability.
Basketball and football are anomalies in this sense. With a roster of over 100, football far exceeds basketball in the number of alums it produces, the latter having a roster of only 15. However, this does not translate into football raising more money through alums. In fact, Penn basketball raises more money from its on a per-person basis.
“We have plenty of fans that didn’t play the sport or weren’t parents for football. We have people who still come [to games],” Folan said. “[With] basketball, we can sell the Palestra. [There were] 9,000 people coming to games, we’ve been to the Final Four. There’s a lot of history there, so you get a lot more donors that didn’t play the sport, or weren’t parents of people playing the sport in football and basketball, specifically basketball.”
As part of increasing transparency, Folan has tried to make it abundantly clear to donors exactly where their money will go.
“One thing we don’t do in fundraising is we don’t lie to donors, and we raise money very much by initiative,” Folan said.
In fact, the biggest question most donors ask is about how the economics of the program work. Donors want to know why they need to give and how the money they give will support certain initiatives.
That being said, Folan and the rest of his office try to emphasize the human aspect of donating. They want to make it clear that the money has an actual impact on the players themselves, and they do this by making it very clear what donations will go towards.
“Our goal is certainly to raise money, but if you fundraise the right way, the money is kind of secondary, and the impact that the person, the donor, or the philanthropist, is having is really the primary piece, and with that comes the money.”
“I won’t lie to you, there are times when it’s very transactional,” Folan said. “The majority of the gifts that I’m working on are transformational for not only our student athletes, but [in] the impact that the person making the gift, or the people making the gift, are having.”
Donors can also contribute to the Strategic Initiatives Fund, which is for unrestricted giving. This means that the donations aren’t made to a specific varsity program and can be used at the discretion of Athletic Director M. Grace Calhoun to support Penn Athletics in general.
Whichever method donors choose to give, they know their gifts play a role in keeping Penn's athletic programs going.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Penn gives "very little money" to Penn Athletics' total budget, when in fact it funds 40% of the operating budget. The DP regrets the error.