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Moos adds country club memberships for key athletics fundraisers

Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos has added three country club memberships to the department’s toolbag as it seeks to boost fundraising from new and existing donors.

The department made membership arrangements with the Country Club of Lincoln, Firethorn, which also is in Lincoln, and Champions Run in the Omaha area.

The memberships are only for Moos, chief development officer Marc Boehm, and his key senior fundraising officers. No coaches received these privileges.

“The new approach to country clubs is not an employee perk,” said John Jentz, the department’s chief financial officer. “It is an avenue to get business done by those in the development office and the athletic director.”

Athletic Director Bill Moos and the Athletic Department now have Country Club agreements in both Lincoln and Omaha now for key fundraisers.
Athletic Director Bill Moos and the Athletic Department now have Country Club agreements in both Lincoln and Omaha now for key fundraisers. (Getty Images)

The memberships are noteworthy because the athletic department had largely stopped using club venues three years ago following a directive from then-Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst. That decision, along with reducing the number of courtesy cars for athletic department personnel, was made in an “effort to reduce perceived employment perks,” said Jentz.

Despite that policy, the athletic department for the past two years maintained membership at Arbor Links, about 45 minutes from Lincoln near Nebraska City. But that arrangement was lightly used and has ended, said Boehm, the department’s executive associate athletic director for external operations.

While country club memberships for key athletic department fundraising personnel are not standard practice at NCAA Division I schools, they are not uncommon either, especially among schools in the Power 5 conferences. Nebraska, like other schools, sees the need for country club memberships as a way to meet with donors and potential donors in a private setting away from the campus and downtown Lincoln, both Jentz and Boehm emphasized.

In addition, the clubs will be used for golf outings and other social events --both to raise funds and to recognize donors for their financial support to the athletic department.

In fact, Boehm said the athletic department recently hosted a golf outing at Firethorn that was attended by about 100 “Ruby Level” members who donate at least $1 million and are lifetime givers. Head football coach Scott Frost and several other coaches attended the event.

Nebraska recently revamped its fundraising program with the launch of the Huskers Athletic Fund, which has generated positive results in just one month. It represents a greater grassroots effort to attract donors in the $100 to $500 range as well as a more concerted push for larger contributions as the department lays the financial groundwork for potential Memorial Stadium renovations and other athletics projects in coming years.

Said Jentz: “We are extremely fortunate to have a passionate fan base that leads to industry leading partnerships, and who fill our football, basketball, and volleyball venues. But because we are at the top of the market and at capacity now, philanthropic giving will be a key component for our future.”

Firethorn Golf Club in Lincoln is one of three Country Clubs the Husker Athletic Department has agreements with to assist in fundraising.
Firethorn Golf Club in Lincoln is one of three Country Clubs the Husker Athletic Department has agreements with to assist in fundraising.

The cost of clubbing 

What’s the cost to belong to Firethorn, Champions Run, and the Country Club of Lincoln?

The Lincoln country club is the priciest, starting with a golf membership initiation fee of $20,000 and monthly dues of at least $710, the club said. Social memberships require a $6,000 initiation fee and $430 in monthly dues. The club said it ran a promotion earlier this year that cut initiation fees to $12,500 for golf and $5,000 for a social membership.

A full membership at Firethorn includes a $7,000 initiation fee plus monthly dues of $495, according to information posted on its website.. A social membership requires a $3,000 initiation fee, with monthly dues of $175, which gets you access to their two restaurants, par-3 short course, swimming pool, tennis and workout facilities.

At Champions Run, a golf membership costs $5,000 to join, plus $455 in monthly dues, according to information provided by the club. For a social membership, the initiation fee is $1,500 plus $205 in monthly dues.

It’s unlikely Nebraska’s athletic department shelled out that type of money, Boehm said there were “no cash” membership arrangements. Rather, the department set up trade arrangements with the clubs, involving game tickets and invitations to several events in exchange for certain membership arrangements, he said.

For example, Firethorn will host NU President Hank Bounds, Athletic Director Bill Moos and Husker golf coaches Mark Hankins and Judd Cornell for a social hour open to their members on Oct. 18.

Neither Boehm nor Jantz disclosed the value of those trade agreements.

Moos is the only official with a Country Club of Lincoln membership. Boehm has a social membership at Firethorn, while three staff memberships have golf privileges there. Marla Grose, a development associate based in Omaha, has a membership at Champions Run.

Former Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst eliminated all perks like club memberships and car deals in the Athletic Department when he hired Mike Riley in 2015.
Former Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst eliminated all perks like club memberships and car deals in the Athletic Department when he hired Mike Riley in 2015. (Associated Press)

Go where the fish are

Are country club privileges necessary? Does it make sense to conduct business in the privacy of a club as opposed to a more public setting where a quick photo taken with a cell phone can show up instantly on Facebook or Twitter?

Bob Vecchione, executive director of the National Association of the Collegiate Directors of Athletics, said athletic departments utilizing country clubs “is not standard operating procedure. But similar to local businesses, some athletic departments utilize country club settings for business purposes.”

While Vecchione said country club privileges are not a necessity, if a “high percentage of athletic department donors are members of a local club, one could make a case that becoming a part of that community and getting to interact on a frequent basis would increase one’s chance to raise money.”

He ended his email response with an anecdote: “When my father took me fishing as a youngster, he always motored to locations where other boats congregated. When I asked him why he followed those procedures, he said, “because we gotta fish where the fish are!” I would argue that the same procedures apply to fundraising.”

Jim Rose followed that approach during his time as an athletic department fundraiser under several athletic directors.

He said he paid for his personal membership at Happy Hollow country club in Omaha, and viewed the expense as an important investment for his business and for his career

Meeting in a country club setting, where there was a higher level of privacy, would “help me close deals,” Rose said. “It’s not about exclusiveness” nor are you “using it to take your brother-in-law for a round of golf.”

Generally speaking, he said, a donor “appreciates that level of privacy. You want them to feel comfortable...Most donors prefer to keep their activities as private as possible and don’t want their philanthropic considerations to be made public. They don’t want to show up on social media.”

Given Moos’ career background as a fundraiser, Rose said he’s not surprised that the athletic department has largely reinstituted club memberships.

“I’m thrilled they are bringing them back,” he said. “It’s a good way to do business.”

Athletic funding spark 

When it’s all said and done, club privileges are another tool for the athletic department to utilize to raise money.

And in that regard, the late August launch of the Huskers Athletic Fund has provided “a really nice uptick” in the donor base, said Boehm.

Most of the new gifts have been in the $100 to $500 range, and about 70 percent have come from out-of-state donors, including many from North Dakota, South Dakota, California, Texas, Arizona and Indiana,

In addition, more than 50 percent of new Huskers Athletic Fund members are new donors. Boehm also said, “a really good thing is that some of the new donors have come back to us for the first time since 2010 to 2013.”

Slicing the numbers another way, Boehm said, the age demographics of the new donors are evenly spread between the 35-to-50 age group and 70-to-80.

While Boehm didn’t disclose donation totals, he said “we’ve had some nice gifts and what we hope is that they will increase, especially from outside our borders.”

The development office’s goal now is to “execute” and to provide “constant communication” to members.

The staff is also focusing on 29 suite renewals on the west side of Memorial Stadium, Boehm said. Suite renewals throughout the stadium are staggered.

Boehm expects to wrap up the current batch of renewals by mid-November. And if there are cancellations, “we do have a long waiting list.”

The department still has several staffing positions to fill, including finding a replacement for Alex Kringen, who was the number two man in the department. Kringen resigned shortly after the launch of the Huskers Athletic Fund to take a job with a Lincoln company, Boehm said.

“It was a great opportunity that he couldn’t pass up,” Boehm said.

Steve Rosen covers the business of sports for HuskerOnline. Questions, comments, column ideas? Reach Steve at sbrosen1030@gmail.com.