New leader of FAMU boosters promises transparency
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Keeping a university’s athletic program out of the red requires having big financial donors. FAMU knows all too well.
That’s evident by the cuts that athletic director Milton Overton made over the last several months, leading to a balanced fiscal year budget for the first time in a decade. The changes even resulted in a surplus of a little more than $9,000 to the $7 million budget.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Overton said, citing the Legacy Banquet fundraiser and the 220 Quarterback Club for impacting the turnaround. “It is nice to end the fiscal year with a balanced budget.”
Overton figures that the financial stability could continue. And, that’s where a restructured boosters organization comes in.
Tommy Mitchell, former president of FAMU’s National Alumni Association (NAA), will lead the boosters. He is confident that the reorganized group, which he was chosen last May to run, could flourish by using some of the best practices that he employed to keep the NAA solvent.
First, he said, the boosters have to make transparency a priority. Then, spare no alumni when it comes to asking to financially support the athletic department, he said.
Social media could be effective in achieving that, Mitchell said.
“We will use technology to allow boosters and non-boosters to have an opportunity to participate in the process,” he said. “We are headed in the same direction (as the NAA). That’s a no-brainer.”
Reorganization of the boosters has been a long road that began last year when Overton moved to take control of game-day parking from the boosters. That led to negotiations between the athletic department and the boosters as Overton asked for financial documentation.
That went nowhere and the school’s Board of Trustees got involved, naming Trustee Thomas Dortch to sit on the boosters’ board of directors. With the financial picture not getting any clearer, talks of reorganization began while Overton demanded $60,000 that he said the boosters owed to athletics.
One final attempt to get those funds seemingly stalled, according to Dortch’s report during a recent BOT meeting. Meanwhile, the trustees had already agreed last fall to approve reorganization of the boosters, a direct support of athletics.
Former director of the boosters, Mickey Clayton stepped down, giving way for Mitchell who was named executive director in May.
BOT chairman Kelvin Lawson lauded the move, which Overton and Mitchell said will put the boosters under the same umbrella.
“I think it will be very effectively,” Lawson said. “Mr. Mitchell has a lot of institutional knowledge and history. Mr. Mitchell can protect the legacy of what the boosters have done.”
Under the reorganization, House Representative Ramon Alexander will assist the boosters’ fund-raising. His role will be to solicit corporate donors, Overton said.
Mitchell and Overton said they’re on the same page in their fund-raising approach. In addition to alumni, they plan to target corporate sponsors.
Corporations will have opportunities to purchase naming rights in a proposed remodeled field house that will be part of an athletic center that features a learning center for athletes. While the project is more than a year away, a campaign is under way to lock down naming rights for lockers in the football dressing room and the weight room, Overton said.
On the more immediate financial front, there is still a $7.7 million deficit that has to be paid back to auxiliary that was used to keep athletics afloat over the year. The first $225,000 paid back and additional annual payments will be made over the next several years.
Fund-raising will be essential to that being a success and Mitchell believes there won’t be any lapses. He pointed to the various incentives that donors will have as reason for his optimism.
For instance, he said, a $1,000 donation will be worth four football season tickets, parking at home games and parking at the Florida Classic in Orlando. The incentives also include free admission to the battle of the bands, one of the highlights of the annual meeting between FAMU and Bethune-Cookman University.
“We have to come up with ideas and approaches to make people want to come to our games,” Mitchell said. “We are going to ask them all to support us. I don’t have any feeling that we won’t get that support.”