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Interview With Cal Senior Major Gifts Officer, Monica Lebron

Several weeks back, I attended a presentation on the ESP program.  There, I met Cal's Senior Major Gifts Officer, Monica Lebron, who is in charge of donations to the Cal Athletics program.  Certainly, here at CGB, we love Cal Athletics and are doing what we can to help promote the Cal Athletics department.  Donations from readers, such as yourself (yes, yourself!) are the lifeblood of this program.  I truly believe we are in the golden era of Cal sports.  However, with the budget crisis in Sacramento and a hostile academic body, it is becoming more and more apparent that Cal Athletics will need to be as self-sufficient as possible.  

Monica Lebron was kind enough to speak with me over the phone regarding her role as Senior Major Gifts Officer and what we can all do to help Cal Athletics.  Remember, no donation is too small.  You can find more information about donating to Cal Athletics at the Bearbackers site and the Give To Cal site.  You can donate generally to the Annual Fund or to a specific Cal sport.  After the jump, read the interview in its entirety and, no matter what, GO BEARS!  Many thanks to Monica Lebron for her time and interest regarding this interview.

TwistNHook:  I guess what my readers might be interested in and I think what Cal might be interested in is helping them better understand how they can help Cal.  What their money goes to and how they can control what their money goes to.  I noticed that you are a major gift officer.  What is a major gift?

Monica Lebron:  It is usually considered anything 50K and above.  But, honestly, I don't even limit my responsibilities to that. I feel like I was hired to help fund raise and essentially help offset the cost of running an athletics department.  What that means is offering scholarships and providing the best facilities for our students athletes to attend one of the best schools in the country.  Receiving an education and competing at the highest level in collegiate athletics. 

Whether it is a dollar or a million dollars, I want every Cal alum and fan and donor to feel that we are here to support them.  We appreciate any gift, big or small and so even though I am specifically hired to work in the major gift side and I do do that, I also work with people who say, "Hey, I just wanna give $100 to Cal women's lacrosse."  We certainly do not limit ourselves in terms of the gift size.  We appreciate any and everything that can help offset those costs

TwistNHook:  It sounds like there is help for poor people such as myself

Monica Lebron:  We appreciate any gift.  We appreciate any and everything gift.  Even if it is a season ticket holder, that will help offset our costs.  Especially for young alums.  I want people to feel like even in their first year, ok, maybe you don't go out this weekend and instead give that $50 to Cal athletics.  The gift does not have to be large.  Everyone can participate.  Every gift helps.  If everybody is giving a little bit, then it will add up to a lot.



TwistNHook:  Every gift helps.  Earlier you noted that people could call in and say  "Here's $100 for women's lacrosse."  It might be helpful for our readers to understand if there are sort of pre-set gift ideas or if you can literally just do anything you want with any sum of money you want.

Monica Lebron:  What we are trying to do is raise money for the annual fund in athletics.  ESP is completely separate for that and I will get to that.  In general, when we raise money, we raise money for this annual fund, which offsets the cost of running an athletics program.   We do so by way of direct fundraiser, ticket sales, licensing,   marketing, TV contracts and all that stuff.  All of that contributes to offsetting the cost of the  budget.  The annual fund is just part of that.  What we hope is that if people have an affinity to Cal athletics regardless of the team that they will give to the annual fund, that they can designate which sport they want it to go to.  Again, as that is offsetting the cost, we can continue to provide the best in facilities and the most scholarships the NCAA allows us offer.  When someone gives that is where the money is going.

TwistNHook:  Is there a sport or are there sports that athletics wishes people would donate directly to or just give it generally and then athletics allocates it as need be?

Monica Lebron:  The most efficient way to incorporate fund-raising is to encourage our donors to give to the general fund.  That way we are not restricted in how it is spent.  Even when they do designate to a specific sport, that is OK, also, because unless they are giving above and beyond what it costs to run that sport, then we are still going to subsidize the other portion of it by way of ticket sales and licensing etc.  We do want to encourage our donors to give more towards the general fund.  That makes it easier in terms of spending. 

TwistNHook:  Is it possible for people to specify even further than the individual sport.  For example, is it possible to say I want to donate $200 to softball for equipment?

No. We again ask that they give to the sports annual fund.  Then, the sport supervisor and the head coach will sit down and go over the budget each year and will indicate what he/she feels he/she needs to compete at the highest level and what he/she needs  for the next fiscal year.  Now as fundraisers it is our job to turn around and say "OK, now let's go fundraise to offset that entire budget.  For example if one of our sports has a $200,000.00 budget, let's go raise $200,000.00.  Whatever we fall short in, then we have to go find the funds elsewhere either in the general fund or through other avenues to  generate revenue.



TwistNHook:  Are there people who call in to attach certain strings to the gifts?  Do people call in to say "I want to donate if the following event occurs?"

Monica Lebron:  No.  Personally, you do not want to go down that road, because you do not want to be handcuffed into feeling like you have to do something to get a gift in return.

TwistNHook:  I want to be more specific.  It would not be "I will give $1,000 if Monica Lebron goes on a date with me."  It'd be more like "I will give $1,000 if Cal wins 10 games this year or makes the NCAA Tournament."  It would be things outside of people's control.

Monica Lebron:  Again, no. We would never take a gift under those circumstances.  In fact, I would encourage somebody to wait if they feel the need to go in that direction.  I would say, "Hold on to your gift and give when you are ready to give."  There cannot be stipulations, because again it is an unhealthy environment to work under.  If somebody wants to name a facility and they have a specific name they want to put on it, then that is different.  If it is based on stipulations, then I don't think this is a healthy way to fundraise.

TwistNHook:  It is possible to have a building named after you??  I mean I don't have enough money and I never will.

Monica Lebron:  For example, with the SAHPC as that continues to be built, it'll be done in 2011, we will have naming opportunities within that building.  So, on top of having to fundraise to actually construct the building, then we are going to have naming opportunities in which someone can put their name on the foyer or the locker room or even the name the entire building.  That has already been named.  Within the entire building, we will put a menu together, a menu of opportunities.  On the menu will again be the men's locker room, the women's lockerroom, the foyer, etc.  We can sit down with donors and say "What do you want to pick off the menu for your name?"  And then we'll have a price attached to it which we haven't set yet and they can contribute a donation and put their name on that area of the building.

TwistNHook:  Are there any plans to do a brick fundraising where people purchase bricks and the names are put on that?

Monica Lebron:  We have talked about that and we might tie that in with the ESP.  So, we have not set those parameters in stone yet.  When I most recently worked at the University of Florida, we had a brick program there.  It was HIGHLY HIGHLY successful.  We talked about it and we have not ironed out the details.  We want to look at that as another opportunity for people to get involved with the renovation of the facility.

TwistNHook:  You mentioned that you work previously at Florida.  Do you see a difference between your experience at Cal and your previous experience a Florida or another school?

Monica Lebron:  The biggest difference I've noticed is that people give for different reasons.  At Fla with a 95,000 seat stadium that is sold out for years and years and years to come, people definitely want to donate and donate at a very high level.  And they certainly want tickets in return.  It is more "I will definitely support the program, but I want to be as close to the program as possible.  I want to attend the games and I want a good seat." 

I have found that here people give more so for the sake of giving.  They love their university.  They want to make it a better place.  They are proud of attending the school and thankful for the opportunity they had.  They want to give more for the sake of giving. I do not think any one way is right or wrong.  It is different.  I can appreciate both again for those different reasons.  I certainly loved my time at Florida, but I have really really enjoyed my time here at Cal now.  I have been here now about a year and a half.  I have really enjoyed getting to know and meet the donors, the alums, the fans.  They are great people and we do have a lot of support. 



TwistNHook:  You are welcome for the opportunity to meet me, I know that was high on your list when you came to Cal.

Monica Lebron:  It was, it was.

TwistNHook:  I know that was a big selling point.  It seems like Florida more so than Cal might have donors who were not alums.  Do you find a difference in that regard between Cal and Florida?

Monica Lebron:  That is a big difference.  They are mostly alums around here.  You may get some who came to the games with their parents who are alums, but they went to a different school and then came back, but still want to support the program.  More often than not, the people we interact with here at some point went to the school either for undergrad or grad and then took an affinity to the athletic department.  At Florida, from the time you are born you are doing the Gator Chomp.  Whether you went to school there or not, you are a fan.

TwistNHook:  They cut the umbilical cord and then teach you to do the Gator Chomp.  This is kind of an urban myth, perhaps you can help shed light on it.  Do donations change during a successful season or an unsuccessful season and if so what do you see for a rate of change?

Monica Lebron:  Success on the field or on the court or on the pool, that success just gets people excited.  It doesn't change oh so drastically, but it certainly helps.  I don't know if you were here for the ASU game when we clinched a share of the title.  But for a lot of the people in the seats, they were there 50 years ago the last time we won.  To see that excitement.  I've only been here 1.5 years, but you could just see it.  The confetti, the excitement, the fact that people didn't leave the seats until the last string on the net was cut.  It was something that I had had an opportunity to see at Florida, winning back to back national championships in basketball and winning in football.

I had not seen it here yet until that game  When people get excited, they want to call you to say "Yknow what I wouldn't mind getting those chairback seats in basketball."  People want to follow Coach Montgomery and they are proud of what he has done in two years with these student athletes.  The success gets people excited.  It makes them more proud of being affiliated with the university.  It also brings success on the academic side.  When 16 and 17 year olds see Cal celebrating on TV they think, "Oh so I can get a good education AND go to the games?"  That's fun and it gets kids excited to want to apply here.  I think it's a direct correlation to having applications increased.  I definitely think that there is a direct correlation and it certainly helps.  I do find that because we have had years with a lack of success, it just goes to show again back to the earlier question of people giving  here, because they care about the university.  They are going to give whether we win or lose and that is greatly appreciated.   

TwistNHook:  You think a situation such as Cal where it's more likely than not where donors are alumni is less controlled by success and more controlled by people's enjoyment by their time there compared to a situation in Florida where people might not be alumni as much, if the success level drops, then you might similar drop in donations??

Monica Lebron:  Fortunately, when I was at Florida, we didn't really deal with a lull in the success.

TwistNHook:  Fair enough.  Fair enough.

Monica Lebron:  It is hard for me to speak about that.  I mean my first year was Ron Zook's last year, who is now at Illinois and I definitely heard upset fans.  Did they drop their season tickets?  No, because they still won 9 games.  When I say unsuccessful at Florida, it is just a different level.  If they don't win 10 games, it is "What's happening to our program??  It is a little different.  I don't think that people will drop what they have built, especially if you have been there a long time and don't want to lose the seats.  Ill give you an example.  Right after we won the national championship in basketball in 2006, we literally sent a letter out the following morning after the victory , saying, "Please donate X amount to the 2006 Men's Basketball National Championship Endowment Fund."  We just created an Endowment and we sent it out and if you gave more than $1,000 you could meet Billy Donovan.  It probably cost $1,000, maybe, to mail that.  In a matter of a month, we had $250,000.  Just like that.  You did not even have to do anything.  Just write a letter, money comes back.

TwistNHook:  I hope we have that opportunity at Cal very soon!  I appreciate your time.  Is there anything further you'd like to tell our readers to better understand how they can donate?

Monica Lebron:  You can give to CAL Athletics at or call the Bear Backer office.  We are always here.  If you have any questions at all.  If they need help with season tickets.  If they want to become a Bear backer.  Don't hesitate to contact us.  No gift is ever too big.  No gift is ever too small.  For younger alums, it helps to get in that giving mode, even if it is just $15 and then $20 and then $25.  Just gets you in the habit of giving back.  We certainly appreciate everyone's support, especially now with the ESP . We are extremely lucky.  Thank you!




Thank you to Monica Lebron and GO BEARS!