Paladin soccer alumni raise nearly $1 million for program
Rob Victor ’09 was part of many big wins during his four years on the Furman Men’s Soccer team. But if you ask Victor what the best part of his experience at Furman was, he doesn’t mention any of them, not even the 2007 Southern Conference championship.
Instead, Victor talks about the lifelong relationships and connections he made, not only with his teammates but with dozens of players who came before and after him. “If I was stranded at an airport just about anywhere, I could pick up the phone and call Coach (Doug) Allison, and he could connect me to a former player in that town, and even if I had never met them, they would come to the airport and pick me up,” Victor said. “That’s the kind of special thing that Doug has built.”
Indeed, after more than 300 wins and 10 conference championships, Allison hasn’t just built one of the Southern Conference’s most enduring dynasties in any sport. He’s built a family.
Players stay connected to each other and the program long after they have graduated. Anytime the Paladins play — from home games on campus to matches in foreign countries — Allison can count on at least a handful of former players being there to support the program. After 27 seasons, it’s a big family.
It’s also a family that is used to winning, and recently several of its members have stepped up financially to help ensure the program remains a perennial championship contender for years to come.
Victor, alongside soccer alumni Graham Seagraves ’00, David May ’89, and close friend of the program, Steve Spinks, helped lead an effort that has raised close to $1 million — all from former players — to build the program’s scholarship endowment. When the effort began, the men’s soccer endowment stood at just $27,000.
“You want to give back to things because they had a massive impact on you and you hope it can have the same impact on the next generation,” said Victor, who has built a successful wealth management firm in Greenville with Furman Men’s Basketball alumnus Paul Foster ’02. “At the end of the day, I’m where I’m at today because of Furman Men’s Soccer and Doug Allison. This is a way to give to something that can have a sustaining, lasting legacy, so our program stays at the same high level 25 years from now.”
The money was raised in a matter of a few months and was part of a record-setting fundraising year for the Furman Athletics Department after an important change in its approach. Rather than focusing its efforts primarily on the annual Paladin Club campaign (now known as the Paladin Scholarship Fund), the athletics fundraising strategy has shifted to encourage giving to any athletics initiative, with priority on funding for each sport’s scholarship endowment.
The department raised just more than $10 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year that closed on June 30. The best year prior to that was FY18 when the department raised $8.9 million.
“That was a huge victory, especially after such a difficult year,” Furman Senior Associate Athletics Director Erin Wissing said. “We completely revised our athletics fundraising model. While the Paladin Scholarship Fund remains an annual priority, we have shifted our strategy to allow donors to give exactly where they want to give. Enabling donors to give to their passions while knowing that their dollars are doing exactly what they intended makes the giving that much more rewarding. In many cases, we have seen donors giving more – even double and triple what they normally give – because they can support what they’re most passionate about.”
The plan is to fundraise so that each program can provide the maximum number of scholarships allowed by the NCAA. In the case of men’s soccer, that means going from offering eight scholarships to the NCAA max of 9.9. The ultimate goal is to fully endow all those scholarships rather than relying on the institution, through tuition revenue, to fund what is not currently funded by endowment.
“One of the biggest strategic goals we have for the athletics program and the university as a whole is raising dollars for scholarship endowments,” Wissing said. “Athletics today receives a generous subsidy from the university for athletics scholarships.”
She said of 170 athletics scholarships, roughly 25 are funded through endowment, and the remainder are funded by Furman with tuition dollars.
“Our goal is to endow those unfunded scholarships. If we can fund them through endowment, we can help the institution reinvest the subsidy elsewhere while ensuring the sustainability of our programs.”
The strategy to focus on endowing athletics scholarships began in 2019 and was accelerated in 2020 with the pandemic and the need to build more financially sustainable programs.
“When a scholarship is endowed, it’s there forever,” said Wissing. “What we’ve advised our coaches, and what rallied this particular effort with men’s soccer, is that growing scholarship endowment is the most effective way to secure long-term viability and success for their programs.”
She said the fundraising process for men’s soccer has been one of the most rewarding experiences she has had at Furman because of the passion of the alumni and the legacy they are leaving.
“Furman Athletics is deeply grateful for the leadership, vision and generosity of our men’s soccer donors, including our distinguished alumni,” Furman Director of Athletics Jason Donnelly said. “Their philanthropy helps our department to build a successful and sustainable Division I model for the future. We appreciate Doug Allison’s impact on and off the field that contributes to character development, meaningful relationships and an affinity among our student-athletes and alumni for Furman University.”