Note: The Hokie Club’s Drive for 25 is a paid sponsor of TechSideline.com.
It has been a little over two years since the Hokie Club announced its ambitious initiative to increase membership to 25,000, known as the “Drive for 25.”
Virginia Tech announced the Drive for 25 on December 12, 2016, and at the time, the climb to 25,000 seemed steep. Hokie Club membership stood at 10,609, so a push for 25,000 members meant an increase of nearly 150%.
The Hokie Club had one strategy at its disposal that would lead immediately to increased membership: per-seat minimum donations for seating in Lane Stadium and Cassell Coliseum. Introduced for the 2017 football season and 2017-18 basketball season, the program, along with the attention brought by the Drive for 25 announcement, gave a quick boost to Hokie Club membership.
All funds raised via the per-seat minimums were directed to the Hokie Scholarship Fund, the part of Virginia Tech fundraising that directly pays for scholarships.
Sponsored by the Drive for 25: The Hokie Club’s Drive for 25 is a campaign to increase membership in the Hokie Club to 25,000 members. No matter where you live, you can make an impact in the lives of Virginia Tech student-athletes! To learn more about the Drive for 25, click here.
By July of 2017, just seven months after the Drive for 25 began, Hokie Club membership had increased to 13,635 for the 2016-17 giving year. (Hokie Fund giving years end on June 30th). In addition to increasing membership numbers, the Hokie Club announced record donations that year of approximately $33 million.
From that point on, though, the sledding became more difficult. Over the course of the next year, the 2017-18 giving year, Hokie Club membership inched up just a small amount, to 13,787, an increase of barely 150 members. Donations again reached record levels of $47.7 million, driven by a single $15.2 million gift.
The figure of 13,787 was listed on the Drive for 25 tracking web site as of June 25,2018, but the site, which used to be updated regularly, has not been updated since then.
The early concentration by the Hokie Club on the Drive for 25 was focused on dollars raised for scholarships via the Hokie Scholarship Fund. Every time I talked with Hokie Club personnel and asked about the progress of the program, they answered in terms of Hokie Scholarship Fund dollars, not Hokie Club members.
From that standpoint, the early phases of the Drive for 25 were a success. Virginia Tech’s scholarship bill currently runs in the neighborhood of $14 to $15 million, and the Hokie Scholarship Fund hit $16.2 million in 2016-17 and $16.8 million in 2017-18, a small surplus.
With membership increased since the start of the program — but stalled — and Hokie Scholarship Fund donations covering the scholarship bill for the time being, the Hokie Club’s focus shifted towards increasing the number of members in the Hokie Club.
All of which leaves the question: how’s progress going on reaching 25,000 members? A couple of weeks ago, we sat down with Hokie Club Executive Director Bill Lansden to check in on the progress of the program.
Drive for 25 Giving Day
A key strategy for increasing membership was the Drive for 25 Giving Day back on September 25, 2018. For a 25-hour period on September 25 and 26, the Hokie Club held a one-day giving event, encouraging existing members to donate on that day, and non-members to sign up and join the Hokie Club.
The numbers for the day were impressive: 2,345 donors contributed $893,202 in 25 hours, per the Drive for 25 Giving Day web site.
The focus of the program was donating dollars to specific sports. Anonymous donors offered to match up to $5,000 contributed to each of 22 varsity sports, and BOV member Mehul Sanghani and wife Hema offered to match another $250,000 raised. The coaches of those varsity sports participated in the fundraising day, and each sport hit its $5,000 goal, and with the matching gifts raised at least $10,000.
Lansden could see a light bulb go on for some of the coaches.
“I promise you, if you talk to [women’s soccer coach] Chugger Adair, or Briz [men’s soccer coach Mike Brizendine], or Tony [Robie, head wrestling coach], any of our coaches, they would tell you how much they appreciate it. They all picked up $10,000 or more. But even if you’re [men’s tennis coach] Jim Thompson, and you’ve got ten tennis players, and you pick up $15,000 to go into your budget, that has a positive effect.
“Because of that day, those coaches – not that they didn’t understand it before – but I think it reinforced their ability to raise money for their sport. They’re being judged on winning [not fundraising]. But this, I think it opened their eyes to, ‘I can do both. I can aggressively jump into the fundraising side of it and really impact our program.'”
Lansden had hoped to add 5,000 new Hokie Club members that day, a number he admits was ambitious. “I am overly optimistic,” he chuckled.
Out of the 2,345 donors, Lansden said, “about 1,500” were new donors.
“Realistically, based on where we were, and what we did, that that was the right number. The staff did a tremendous job. We had two staffers who stayed overnight, and they tried to take some donations from people in Europe, some former athletes who the coaches had reached out to, which was pretty cool. So overall, I thought it was a win-win for everybody.”
As successful as the Giving Day was, discussions about its future are ongoing.
“We have to decide if we want to do that again,” Lansden said. “Are we going to try something different? We already had some discussions, we did the whole review of how the day went. We thought overall it went well. There were some things we’d tweak, but overall, we thought it went very positive. The members are positive, the donations were extremely positive.”
Student Hokie Club Introduces a Paid Model
To further increase Hokie Club membership, the Student Hokie Club changed from a free model to a pay model. Just like the regular Hokie Club, the minimum donation is $25, and any students who sign up are counted as members of the parent Hokie Club, adding to the Drive for 25 membership goal.
“When we went to a paid model,” Lansden said, “we had around 1,200 students sign up. Our anticipation going forward in the years to come, is that number’s going to increase. The key for us is to acknowledge these students who are doing that, and thank them. Hopefully, if they’re freshmen or sophomores, they’ll renew.”
Lansden thinks that Student Hokie Club membership of 4,000-5,000 is achievable.
“What we found is that there were a lot of freshmen who signed up. We hope that the freshmen, when they turn sophomores, we hope they stay, and over next three to four years, we build that up. I would say, over the next three years, if we can get to four or five thousand student paid members, that would be a good number.”
For comparison’s sake, Clemson’s IPTAY Collegiate Club, created in 1997, claims membership of 8,000 students at $40 a year (or $130 for all four years), among a student enrollment of 24,387.
Hokie Club Membership Projected at 16,000 for 2018-19
With about 1,500 new members from the Drive for 25 Giving Day, and 1,200 paying Student Hokie Club members who can be added to the count, Lansden projects Hokie Club membership for 2018-19 to be about 16,000 members.
They won’t have the final numbers until the end of the giving year, at the end of June 2019.
“If we count the student Hokie Club and count the 1,500 new donors we picked up, we anticipate on June 30th of 2019 that we’ll be at that 16,000,” Lansden said.
That’s an increase of approximately 50% in Hokie Club membership in the two years the Drive for 25 has been in existence. Lansden knows that a lot of work lies ahead, but the results so far are encouraging. For example, all else being equal, if they can continue to grow the Student Hokie Club to the 4,000-5,000 member level, that would put overall Hokie Club membership at about 20,000 members just a few years from now.
Will the count on the Drive for 25 tracking site be updated any time soon?
“We were talking about getting close to December 31st, and see where we are on the renewals,” Lansden answered.
We’ll be watching it. Growth of the Hokie Club is critical to the future success of Virginia Tech Athletics, and if the numbers can be pushed to 25,000, the future for Hokie Athletics will be brighter.