A thick binder sits on Tim McMurray’s desk at the University of Maryland, labeled “Tim’s Prospect Profiles.” He has been responsible for keeping tabs on the donors listed within it since August, when McMurray was named chief fundraiser for the school’s financially struggling athletic department. Last Wednesday, the booster club McMurray runs changed its name from the Terrapin Club to the Terrapin Club Scholarship Fund, a rebranding that coincides with McMurray’s new mission.
“I say re-purposing,” he said last week, “which is a nice way of saying I’m blowing it up and starting over.”
He explained the challenge: Scholarships cost the Maryland athletic department around $11 million per year.
During the 2011-12 school year, the Terrapin Club raised around $9 million, or roughly 80 percent of the bill.
To overcome the $2 million shortfall, the athletic department had to siphon off money from other sources, such as brand licensing, television revenues, conference distribution and apparel sales. Coaches were forced to divert attention from their teams, even while in season, to embark on fundraising expeditions.
In the summer of 2012, the athletic department wound up eliminating seven sports in an attempt to close its mounting budget deficit.
“If we had been paying our scholarship bill, I don’t think we would have cut sports,” Athletic Director Kevin Anderson said. “That would have been $2.5 to $3 million to put into operations.”
The Terrapin Club Scholarship Fund currently counts only 7,000 members out of 320,000 Maryland alumni, a stunningly low percentage compared with other schools that have similar athletic programs. Only nine percent of Maryland’s graduates have made donations to the athletic department. At Southern Methodist, McMurray’s previous employer and a school with a much lower athletic profile than Maryland, that figure was 25 percent.
But McMurray, whose official title is senior associate athletic director of development, sees his department’s mission as an enterprise without a ceiling.
“I want people to drink the Maryland Kool-Aid,” he said.
At SMU, McMurray helped set fundraising records for its Mustang Club in three consecutive years. During his interview with an athletic search committee at Maryland, he said his proudest accomplishment was increasing revenue at his previous stops for 17 straight years.
Stability isn’t something McMurray’s new department has enjoyed recently. Turnover has shaken the TCSF staff on a yearly basis, leaving donors without a point of contact among the administrative staff. McMurray described Joe Bertoletti, one of his top assistants, as the department’s “grizzled veteran” with just two years of experience at Maryland. McMurray is the group’s fifth director in six years.
“That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence,” McMuray said.
Realistically, McMurray thinks the Terrapin Club Scholarship Fund can cut $1 million out of its deficit over the next year. Three new positions have been created to stabilize the staff and the athletic department is looking to hire three more people to fill existing positions. He and his employees carry “prospect profiles” of anywhere from 100 to 300 donors, each checking in with their assigned boosters on a regular basis.
The problem is, 83 percent of the Terrapin Club Scholarship Fund’s money comes from only 23 percent of the donors. So McMurray has to balance his time between deep-pocketed benefactors, the majority of donors who give less and the hundreds of thousands of alumni who don’t give anything at all. He wants to give all donors a tangible, altruistic goal — to increase the funds available for scholarships — rather than simply asking for money without first explaining how such donations would be used.
Changing the group’s name was just the first step.
“In the past, it was a transactional operation,” McMurray said. “We need to communicate that it’s transformational.”
On Dec. 11, Maryland will host Scholarship Day, a 24-hour challenge to alumni to donate to whichever department, college or organization it chooses, such as athletics or music. McMurray wants better integration between athletics and the university as a whole.
Maryland’s move to the Big Ten next summer is expected to bring in increased revenue and cut down on the athletic department’s debt. But until the budget is balanced, which is projected to be somewhere around 2018 or 2019, Maryland can ill afford to siphon money from elsewhere for its scholarships, especially with such an untapped donor market. McMurray likes to think he thrives in these challenges, tasked with generating money for a department that has little.
“Yeah,” McMurray says. “One of my five favorite songs is Billy Joel’s ‘Pressure.’ ”