Purdue's Unique Fundraising Vision

InterviewAthletic DepartmentFundraising

Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski essentially threw down a challenge: how can we get better across the board? Sitting in a room surrounded by his co-workers, Tim House remembers his wheels starting to spin. Tim House, Purdue’s executive senior associate athletic director and associate director for development, is a champion of college athletics. A lifelong administrator and former athlete, he staunchly believes that the uniquely American world of college sports can be, and is, a life changer for individuals and, by extension, a community.

So, as Bobinski started to push his staff to think broader, House raised his hand. “I’m the fundraising guy,” he says with a chuckle. “I volunteered to raise the money and figure out what that all means.’’

House didn’t have immediate answers. Instead, he started to dig into other schools, zeroing in on departments that had achieved across-the- board success to see what they had done at the nitty-gritty level to win. House’s search was exhaustive and yet yielded little in unique thinking. Everyone was essentially doing the same thing - concentrating on facilities and fundraising - hoping to create a competitive advantage.

House knew that wouldn’t do. Where was the advantage in doing what everyone else was doing? Bobinski wanted something unique that would separate Purdue from everyone else. Purdue needed innovation and outside-the-box thinking.

Ironically, House found it in his own backyard. Purdue’s men’s basketball team has been a model of consistency for over a decade, finishing with winning seasons, regularly claiming Big Ten championships, and frequently ranking as the No. 1 team in the nation. Curious, House reached out to the staff to see if they had found any unique tools.

The answer was Profile. Head coach Matt Painter had connected with CEO Profile Chad Brown years ago, back when Painter was looking to reconfigure his own recruiting approach. Brown suggested he try the personality assessments to see if they could help Painter better identify the players who suited him and each other and better understand how he could communicate with his staff and team. It seemed like common sense, so Painter gave it a whirl. He started using Profile with his players, staff , and recruits. He shared his own assessment with his athletes so they could better understand how he’s wired, and the results blew him away.

Painter and his staff relayed all of this to House, explaining how much better they felt about their operation and their chance at success because of how much better they understood the people involved.

House realized this was exactly what Bobinski was looking for - an innovative way to engage donors while simultaneously investing in the core element of the Purdue athletic department, its people. And when he learned that Brown also had worked in other areas of the university - including the Purdue Research Foundation - and was a Purdue alum and former student-athlete, House nearly jumped for joy. “It became such a no-brainer,’’ he says.

Today, the no-brainer is the cornerstone of Purdue’s capital campaign, Forging Ahead, which is perhaps the first fundraising effort of its kind. Instead of investing in just brick and mortar, Forging Ahead is about investing in systematic data analysis and programming to create a recognizable, solid, and successful culture from within. Profile is at the cornerstone of it all. “The fascinating thing to us is there’s a system behind it, a strategic intentionality,’’ House says. “This isn’t emotionally driven as much as it is a science. This is about understanding anyone and everyone who is touching our student-athletes’ lives, who’s involved in their development, and getting a full grasp on our locker room culture across the board.”

House has been astounded by the response. That’s undoubtedly primarily because it came with Painter’s rubber stamp of approval. That the solution to Purdue’s challenge was right under its nose made any interdepartmental ‘sell’ a whole lot easier, particularly since it came with the men’s basketball team’s proven results.

But House has been stunned at how quickly donors have gotten on board as well. Usually, fundraising campaigns take years. Forging Ahead launched in September. Purdue is already one-third of the way to its goal. House quickly realized why.

Many of Purdue’s major donors have spent their careers in the business world, and the concept of personality profiles is hardly foreign to them. Combining that comfort and familiarity with a genuine desire to do what’s best for their alma mater and buying into the concept of Profile as a tool to differentiate Purdue from a very crowded and competitive market made good sense. “There’s such a premium on who can get there the fastest in this business,’’ he says. “But if you’re going fast and you’re not really understanding who the people are - who your teammates are - you can mess things up. You lose good people. The Profile relationship gives people the opportunity to work intelligently and yet be nimble and give you a real competitive advantage in creating a culture of success.’’

The reality is that college athletic departments these days are, in and of themselves, Fortune 500 companies. They require strong leaders - whether at the director level or team level - who foster strong relationships. House has learned that himself. He has worked at a number of disparate stops in college athletics - Duke, Army, and Purdue - but has found the same recipe for success holds true. “The most important attribute is having self-awareness and an acceptance of who you are,’’ he says. “The job is not to dictate. It’s to lead. You have to understand how your communication style is resonating and recognize that you do have deficiencies. That’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with me. That just means I should surround myself with those who fill my gaps. We don’t need ten of me.’’

That’s the message he’s delivered to the coaches as he spreads Profile across the department with the boost from Forging Ahead. While most of the Purdue staff members have been open-minded and receptive to incorporating Profile - the wrestling team, like the men’s basketball program already used it -House did find a little hesitancy, if not all-out resistance. Coaches are generally alpha dogs, and coaches who are good enough to make it to the Big Ten level also tend to know what they’re doing. For House, a development person, to come in and tell them how to do their job wouldn’t work. Instead, he’s asked them to use Profile as a tool. “I’m not selling them on what I think the culture at Purdue should be or what their roster should like,’’ he says. “I’m facilitating their decision- making. It’s not a requirement. We’re not forcing this down anyone’s throat. It’s just an opportunity to have more data on the human element within your program.’’