Alan Srebnick is truly a man with his work cut out for him. His job during these difficult economic times is to raise funds for a growing athletic program at a relatively new university with a small alumni following, in an area known for its transient character.
Srebnick, 32, is head of the Patriot Club at George Mason University, where the money he raises supports athletic scholarships for players on teams in a highly ambitious college athletic program.
Consider how far GMU has come since it accepted its first 17 students in 1957:
In 1966 George Mason University, with approximately 1,000 students, competed in intercollegiate basketball for the first time in its history.
Today, with enrollment at 14,000 and growing, GMU fields teams in 20 intercollegiate sports, and its basketball team plays in Division I.
In the near future, a $4 million complex for indoor track, tennis, volleyball, weight-lifting and other sports will be completed. And, if the Virginia General Assembly gives its approval in January, construction will begin on a 9,000-seat basketball coliseum that will also house a 50-meter indoor pool.
In short, George Mason is moving toward participating in major college athletics. And that means the school's athletic program will need more talented athletes than ever before, and talented ahthletes don't expect to have to pay for their education.
That's where Srebnick, a former college basketball player and assistant coach, comes in.
"We get no money from the state for scholarships," said Srebnick. "We have to raise it all on our own."
Caught in the middle of the university's growing pains, Srebnick's office is in one of several trailers next to the gymnasium. His staff consists of one secretary.
Srebnick was hired 15 months ago to head the Patriot Club, which the university founded to replace the Patriot Education Foundation, an all-volunteer organization that "for whatever reason, did not fit the bill -- or meet the bills," according to Srebnick.
Srebnick immediately faced organizational problems. "I went through the files and compiled a list of 600 people who have been contacted (by the Foundation)," Srebnick said, "but some of them turned out to be dead, or their businesses had closed, or they had forgotten who we were. There hadn't been much follow-up in the past.
"I didn't want to project the image that we were looking for a handout. Normally in fund-raising you take time to educate, cultivate and then solicit. But here, all three had to be done at the same time."
For starters, Srebnick contacted local businesses by phone and in person and mailed 25,000 brochures designed to reacquaint businesses with the university. Then he asked members of the coaching staff to give him leads by supplying the names of persons who had expressed interest in their particular sports. Srebnick also tried to encourage the public to come on campus by organizing outdoor markets and free coaching clinics at the school.
The results? In his first nine months on the job, Srebnick raised $85,000 in cash and gifts and enrolled 475 members in the Patriot Club. Since this fiscal year began July 1, Srebnick has raised $56,563 -- well on the way to his $110,000 goal for the year.
The numbers still fall short, however, of keeping pace with the university's ambitious sports program. According to Srebnick, last year's athletic scholarships cost $150,000, and this year's will total $185,000.
George Mason University offers relatively few full scholarships, opting instead to spread its limited funds over a number of partial scholarships. In addition to the Patriot Club, the university gets its scholarship money from ticket revenues, concessions and other fund-raisers.
So far, however, attendance has been weak at George Mason games. The 350 basketball season tickets sold this season was a record; last year only 40 were sold.
"We're still mainly a commuter school only 1,000 students live on campus ," Srebnick said, "and we still don't have a big alumni following. Our alumni are still young, so we have to rely on others until they get into corporations of their own."
Some of the "others" to which Srebnick refers are local businessmen who have come to know him and the university's needs well. They also see the economic value of a thriving university.
"The university changes the atmosphere in and around the city," said John Sherwood, chairman of the board of George Mason Bank in Fairfax, who has helped Srebnick with Patriot Club membership campaigns. "The school provides a more intelligent community. And the sports program gives Northern Virginia something it never had before: a truly local college to root for."