When alumni/advancement operations collide with intercollegiate athletics, solving common problems is a challenge because few schools want to discuss their issues. But here's a solution. 

About a 5 minute read.



One of the questions included in the original VAESE alumni relations benchmarking survey related to the relationship between alumni organizations and their intercollegiate athletics department. I apologize for not including the results of this question in the final report. I didn't want to release the data without doing the necessary research and analysis, and I also didn't want the final results to be delayed any longer. 

So here are the results of the question "How would you rate the relationship between alumni/institutional advancement and intercollegiate athletics?"  

Overall, 43% of alumni organizations rate their relationship with athletics as “poor” (we don’t have a good relationship) or “Good” (We have a few conflicts, and our relationship struggles at times.) 94% of alumni organizations report they have some degree of conflict. Only 6% of alumni organizations report their relationship as being “superb” (We have had no conflict, and we work very well together.)

When breaking it down by segment, non dues-paying organizations are 27% more likely to have a difficult relationship with athletics than are dues-paying organizations. 

Private institutions are 11% more likely than public institutions to be at odds with athletics. The biggest gap is found in organizations with a total annual budget of $50,000 or less; they are 72% more likely to be dissatisfied with their athletic department than those with a budget of $1 million or more.

Organizations with the best relationship are those that are self-funded and autonomous. Only 17% report any issues with their athletic department.  Conversely, of organizations that are semi-autonomous or fully dependent on the institution 41% of alumni organizations have concerns about their relationship with athletics.  

What I see in these numbers is that larger, well-funded alumni organizations have fewer issues with athletics than do smaller institutions. But that’s not to say that larger organization’s don’t’ have issues with athletics, because many did report their working relationship is less than ideal. 

For me, these results beg a few questions such as: what’s at the root of these conflicts between alumni and athletics?  What are the most common issues?  Is there usually a person or personality at the root of these issues or is there a systemic issue?  What are some best practices for working through these conflicts?


Mum’s the Word

I was eager to find out the answers, so I reached out to a handful VAESE respondents who rated their relationship as “poor.” I also reached out to about 25 respondents who rated their relationship as “good.” I asked them to give me a basic overview of their issues, but emphasized they could speak off the record if they preferred. I was simply trying to gather some general information, and identify patterns that would lead to solutions.

But all I heard was crickets. I didn't receive one response.


Not a peep.

Not even a “no thanks” or a “get lost” or “you must be friggin’ crazy!”

Maybe my appeal was poorly worded? Maybe I wasn’t clear enough about my request?

I’ll admit I can be annoying, overbearing and easy to ignore at times, (just ask my wife). But to be snubbed by so many people simultaneously, that’s unusual, even for me.

I needed to find out what was going on, so I made a few follow-up calls and eventually discovered some answers. 

First off, I learned that most alumni professionals are convinced that their conflicts with athletics are intractable. Nothing will change, so why bother. 

Secondly, I learned that most feel their circumstances are unique, and because of “X” institutional policy or “Y” personality, no other institution could learn from their situation. 

And finally, I got a sense that most felt the risk was too high to discuss their issues, even off the record and in general terms, with someone outside their institution.

Finding a Solution 

Given these issues I am faced with, I am left with two options.

  • Completely give up and resign myself to the fact that this topic is just too sensitive to discuss;


  • Give it one more try, and offer a way for you, my fellow alumni and advancement professionals to share your experiences anonymously. The goal is to work together and identify the most common issues, causes, and solutions.  I’ll then share that collective data with everyone here on these very pages. Hopefully, we can learn how to improve relationships with this vital campus partner, identify new solutions to help us better work together, and discover best practices that can be shared with all interested professionals. 

So here’s my plan.  Please click on this link and take this brief questionnaire:                     https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WFYHVLB

There are NO questions that allow you to identify yourself or your institution. You can’t even give us your identifying information unless you sneak it in some way. Just as I did with the VAESE study, I will commit here publicly that I will only collect, analyze and write about this aggregated data I collect. I will not possess any information that could identify you, your institution, or state.    

If no one wants to participate, I’ll take it as a clue to stop asking such probing questions.

But if enough of you are willing to participate, there’s a lot to gain from others who have similarly suffered, found solutions and elevated their programs to the next level.

I hope all alumni organizations will participate in taking this brief questionnaire.  Even if you have little or no issues with your athletics department, it’s often best to learn from those who are successful.

If you're willing to speak to me directly--off the record--click here to send me note. You can also respond via the questionnaire..here's the link again: 



 Download the VAESE Alumni Relations Benchmarking Study

Topics: Alumni Relations & Engagement, alumni benefits, higher education