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Original Issue

Playing the Money Game

When Richmond takes the court, school officials will be putting on a full-court press to gather alumni donations

Two years ago Richmond announced plans to turn Millhiser Gym, an 89-year-old campus structure, into a state-of-the-art practice facility. The economic downturn stalled the project, and it would most likely have been shelved for years, but then came the magical 2009--10 season, when the Spiders earned their first national ranking since 1986 and first NCAA tournament bid since 2004.

"What you often need in fund-raising is something to happen that reinvigorates the alumni," says John Richardson, associate director of annual giving for the Spider Club, the athletic department's fund-raising arm. "You need something to happen that makes alumni feel a sense of pride in their school."

While the Spiders prepare to face St. Mary's in Providence, Richardson, athletic director Jim Miller and other school officials will be engaged in a seldom spotlighted staple of March Madness: fund-raising. Small schools must parlay the excitement over a tournament bid into donations, striking while their alumni are at a fevered pitch. This is particularly true of Richmond, which has a small alumni base and draws 83% of its students from outside Virginia. Opportunities to engage far-flung alumni are few and far between.

"Everyone likes to be successful, so while you have their attention you show them what it will take to maintain that success," Miller says. "For years the pitch has been, 'This is what we need to build the program.' Now it is, 'This is what we need to keep winning.'"

In addition to the Millhiser renovation, the school hopes to refurbish the team's arena, the Robins Center. Together the projects would cost at least $2 million.

"It is easy to get addicted to success," Miller says. "People see all the excitement around the basketball program, the national ranking, and they are watching games on TV. It is an opportunity you have to take advantage of. It is an opportunity to try and do something big."



PERFECT PITCH Miller has a plan to capitalize on the Spiders' success.