Athletic SIG holds Special Dinner/ Fundraiser in Honor of Beloved Coach

Level of difficulty: Intermediate
Cost to attend: moderate (students on team came free)

Event: The Yale Fencing Association (an alumni group) and Yale’s Athletic Department worked together to hold a dinner, reception, and fund raising campaign honoring a long-standing athletic coach.

Lead time: 3 months
Date of event: October 2010

12+ volunteers – 40 hours (total hours of all volunteers over whole year)
2+ athletic department staff -16 hours
10+ student athletes – 8 hours
Professionally catered, arrangements by athletic department staff

Results: 150 attendees at reception, substantial pledges for fundraising campaign

Background: Coach Henry Harutunian had been the Yale Fencing Team coach since 1970. His record includes more than 500 wins against fewer than 200 losses, a string of NCAA titles, and developing recent Olympians. At the time of this event, Coach Harutunian was the Ivy League’s longest-ever-tenured Coach in any varsity sport. Over the decades, for many of his students he has been their most important life coach and mentor, known simply as “Coach”. Harutunian has been a winning coach who emphasized learning over winning.

Why a success? As a participatory event, Yale Fencing Association (YFA) brought together more than 150 YFA members and their families to honor an outstanding athletic coach. Many of this group had not been back to Yale in years or decades. Attending alumni had an estimated median age of 35-to-45. The event created many connections and reconnections among the attendees.

The dinner itself was self-funded.  Tickets were $65 per adult, with children a bit less.  Current Yale students on the fencing team did not have to pay. The majority of attendees purchased tickets, as well as contributed funds to underwrite the participation of the current undergraduate team members. This generated a small surplus to be added to the fundraising campaign (see below).

As the keystone to a fundraising campaign, the celebration and the events leading up to it created dialogues with almost two dozen YFA members who (i) have established Yale giving histories and/or (ii) are rated (by Yale’s Development Office) as prospects or (iii) are not currently on Yale’s development radar but have the means and inclination to contribute towards Yale fencing.

As a result of this campaign, a core group of five-to-eight YFA members collectively indicated their intention to commit several hundreds of thousands of dollars of gifts towards endowing the Head Coaching position. Almost all of this amount will come from alums who have not previously given at this level to Yale. Their commitment will be linked, as a challenge gift, to participation rates among the rest of the YFA.

Details: The Yale Fencing Association held a dinner and reception on a Saturday in October, 2010. The dinner was held in the evening, after the annual alumni/varsity fencing competition — now in its 39th year.

The event included a printed dinner brochure, congratulatory remarks from Yale’s Athletics Director, a written congratulatory message from Yale’s President (read aloud at the event), a video with testimonials from dozens of Yale Fencing alums (displayed on a giant screen), and gifts for Coach (and attendees).

The event generated subsequent publicity from interviews and articles prepared for the Yale Alumni Magazine and for the Yale Daily News.

Pre-event communications included a telephone campaign, a separate web page established by the Yale Athletic Department, including news about the event, an RSVP process, and a list of attendees. Parallel information was posted to the YFA Facebook page. Numerous direct communications were made, inviting alums to volunteer and/or attend.

Resources needed: More than a dozen members of the YFA, from four different decades, led the planning and preparation. Planning started a year before the event. As the dinner drew closer, the planners held bi-weekly calls during the few months leading up to the event. Participants in these calls included alumni, team members, and staff from the Yale Athletic Department and the Yale Development Office.

Time investment included approximately 40 hours of (combined) alumni time, 16 hours of athletic department time, and 8 hours of Yale fencer time. The Yale Development Office was consulted. Yale Athletics arranged catering through its usual channels. The venue was the Lanman Center at Yale.

Metrics: Attendees consisted of 150 Yalies, including the entire then-current Yale men’s and women’s varsity fencing teams, alumni and family members from seven decades, spanning 12 time zones. Attendees included fencers from 7 of the past 8 Olympics — including the single greatest male and female sabre fencers ever to compete for the United States.