Randy York's N-Sider
To "Respond to Randy" click the link below and choose "Randy York's N-Sider" under "Area of Interest". Please include your name and where you live and comment on this column. Follow Randy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RandyYorkNsider
To help Nebraska kickoff its first year in the Big Ten Conference, the NU Athletic Department has a star-studded lineup of year-long speakers for Huskers Athletic Fund Luncheons at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Downtown Lincoln. The N-Sider asked Nebraska Associate Athletic Director Paul Meyers to discuss this nine-luncheon series that will start this fall and finish next spring. Meyers' Athletic Development Office, which has been the liaison between Nebraska Athletics and Husker donors, is in the process of changing its name to Huskers Athletics Fund, a move that is explained later in this column.
Q: With such keynote speakers as Bo Pelini, Tom Osborne, Will Shields, Tim Beck, John Cook, Doc Sadler, Connie Yori, John Papuchis, Darin Erstad, Rhonda Revelle, Carl Pelini and James Dobson, how big can this Downtown Lincoln Luncheon Series be?
A: I think it can be huge. I think it can be one of the most exciting things we've had in a long time. Our donors love to see the coaches, hear the coaches and be connected with the coaches. They give and donate for that opportunity. We hear that a lot. Now they can go to lunch with their friends, and they'll hear the same stories all over again. Or they can come to the HAF Luncheons with their buddies and hear Bo Pelini stories or Coach Osborne stories or Jim Delany stories. We are featuring people that we think Nebraska fans can connect with - people that are special to them and speakers you can't get every day, and we're doing it at a very reasonable price so it's fun for everybody.
Q:Sometimes, when you get bigger, you have to get simpler. Moving from Nebraska Athletic Development to Huskers Athletic Fund means one check instead of two, one organization to deal with rather than multiple booster groups and one centralized place to gather all year long. Haven't you merged Walk-On Club luncheons with Nebraska basketball luncheons and brought together football, volleyball and softball speakers to broaden the appeal?
A: There's no question. The Walk-On Club and their Board of Advisors have done an outstanding job of really connecting to something that's really important to Nebraska football and really across the board to all Nebraska Athletics. What we're doing now is taking that idea to a different level. We're going to include the Walk-On Club at several different luncheons and include everyone in our luncheons. That's what this all-inclusive opportunity is all about. We support everybody. You'll still get your football. You'll still get your basketball or you'll still get your baseball. You'll just get them at different times in different ways. It keeps it fresh and exciting all the time. It's still all in the family. It's just a much more simple and forthright approach for our donors.
Q: Can you see this event becoming the place to go for the names you know, something like the old Extra Point Club Luncheons that packed the house decades ago in Lincoln?
A: I think it's a tremendous parallel about why we adjusted and upgraded into the Huskers Athletic Fund. We're not taking away from what we've done in the past and quite frankly, we embraced what started this whole thing from the beginning. Those old Extra Point Clubs and all of those committed, loyal and longtime people started this whole thing. All we're doing is freshening it up. We're taking the idea of what it was 20 or 30 years ago and bringing out something new and fresh.
Q: If you owned a business or wanted to get together with colleagues for some meaningful food and entertainment, why would you buy a full table for nine luncheons throughout the year?
A: Our hope is that people want to help in whatever way they can. If they're going to lunch anyway, and they like to be entertained, we keep the price as good as anybody. We have great speakers. We have great food. We're holding it in a great venue. When you talk about impressing your clients or impressing your friends or having a nice place to go meet either, there won't be a better place or a better opportunity or more fun than getting together and experiencing these luncheons.
Q: You've lined up speakers with substance. If you fill up the ballroom, what kind of chance is there for an old-fashioned pep rally at the same time?
A: I would bet that there will be several opportunities to have pep rallies at these luncheons. That's the idea. We're all just going to feed off of each other. The enthusiasm that's happening with Nebraska Athletics starts in the fall with volleyball and football it'll go all the way through the year into baseball and softball. I think we can fill this place up, and I think those who buy tickets to all nine luncheons will be glad they did.
Q: A new era is launching in Nebraska Athletics, and three words are about to become common for Big Red fans preparing for life in the Big Ten Conference ... Huskers Athletic Fund. Tell us why those three words are so important to Nebraska's present and future.
A: Huskers Athletic Fund represents all the donors of Nebraska Athletics. It didn't use to be that way. We had contributors who donated straight to the NU Foundation or straight to certain booster clubs for different reasons. We have pooled all of those so that we are now one unified organization that supports Husker Athletics. We're the Huskers Athletic Fund, so people know that if they want to give to Nebraska Athletics, they give to the Huskers Athletics Fund.
Q: Doesn't it feel good to be able to say that now that you don't have to jump through any more hoops to be one size that fits all?
A: We're finally saying goodbye to about 30 or 40 years, or longer, in the way that things were done. We had individual booster clubs, and when we gave, we gave directly to the Foundation. Actually, it started with individual coaches going out and collecting donations as a basic point of their jobs. Given the move to the Big Ten Conference and all of the exciting things that go with that, it was time to fix what we maybe have outgrown. Now we have a new organization that represents the latest way to include your donors in your athletic department. That's how the Huskers Athletic Fund was born. I'm excited. For the first time in the 20 years I've been here, we feel we have a unified, organized situation that we think will grow.
Q: For a lot of reasons, but especially for customer service and compliance, the timing was right to streamline fundraising. Explain why this made so much sense for you and the department you lead.
A: We've always been all about customer service. It starts and stops with the donors who are helping us build and improve Husker Athletics. We want to make everything as easy as possible for donors to help our student-athletes or whatever purpose they choose to support. By moving to a single Huskers Athletic Fund, our donors can now write just one check. They no longer have to write two, three or four separate checks to support different sports. They can still support those sports, but we will now be able to take one check and separate it out within the University of Nebraska's Foundation. We're excited not only about helping donors in terms of customer service, but also helping them find out exactly what's going on. There is now one central location by which all information is disseminated. That should clear up client confusion.
Q: Guess the name "Development" is now out and "HAF" -- Huskers Athletic Fund -- is now in. How is this going to help you deal with Nebraska donors - small, medium and large - as Nebraska gears itself up to become a force in a power-packed league?
A: Tom Osborne is the fourth athletic director that I've worked for. One thing that I think all four athletic directors agreed on was that no one knew what Athletic Development was. We get calls all the time: "Hey, would you develop our student-athlete to jump higher or run faster?" We would tell those callers: "You know what? We're the fundraising group in the Nebraska Athletic Department." For the best part of 15 to 20 years, we've been trying to figure out how we should communicate and rebrand ourselves into something that makes sense to our donors when they want to talk about "how can I help the program?" We transitioned to Huskers Athletic Fund for that very purpose. Now, Huskers Athletic Fund - or HAF - states exactly what it is ... a place where I give money to help support student-athletes.
Q: We hear the words branding and rebranding. With all the upgrades for Nebraska athletic facilities, what are you doing to make sure HAF becomes a household abbreviation for everyone who wants to support Husker Athletics - whether it's a $10 text on your cell phone or a $10 million contribution to jump-start the new basketball and wrestling practice facility?
A: We will have a logo, and that logo will be everywhere. What that logo means is this is where our donors should be ... this is what our donors can look to. This stretches to everything from changing invoices to online content that will link off of Huskers.com to a Huskers Athletic Fund website. It goes across the board in every possible way, so that when our donors see that HAF logo, this is where I should be.
Q: Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany says Nebraska fans are so ubiquitous that he compares our college brand to the Green Bay Packers NFL brand - a school that draws support from all over the country, even though fans have no family or geographical connection to the team. Whether they buy Husker gear in Maine or fly a flag in Florida, a simplified HAF site will give fans in those areas the chance to donate $10 to $100 or more to show their respect and appreciation.
A: We only have 1.8 million people here in the state of Nebraska. For us to get it done at the level we have to reach, it isn't going to happen just inside the borders of the state of Nebraska. It happens nationally and in some respects, globally. We have donors all over the world. What we do then is to connect all of those lines in all of those countries and all of those states to one central location to help. That's what this does. The Huskers Athletic Fund gives everyone a line right into the middle of the Nebraska Athletic Department.
Respond to Randy
Editor's note: Reservations can be made online at www.huskers.com/donate, or by calling the Huskers Athletic Fund at 800-8-BIG RED. All reservations must be made no later than the Friday prior to the luncheon each month. That means reservations for the Bo Pelini luncheon is this Friday, July 29.