After receiving a record-breaking amount of donations and media mentions during the men’s basketball team’s 2018 Final Four run, the university is ramping up efforts to engage its donor and alumni base as the team heads to the tournament once again beginning March 19.
Loyola was thrust into the national spotlight in March 2018 when the men’s basketball team defeated steep odds to not only earn a spot in the March Madness tournament, but win enough games to make it to the coveted Final Four spot.
Along with team chaplain Sister Jean becoming an international icon and Loyola merchandise sales spiking, the university received a historical number of gifts and donations that year, according to Loyola’s Vice President of Advancement Karen Paciero, who oversees the university’s fundraising and alumni relations in the Advancement Division.
Paciero told The Phoenix engaging with alumni and the greater Loyola community is an “essential component to a giving relationship” with the university.
“Things like a Final Four run or success with the basketball team helps us — and publicity that comes from media sources outside the university — really helps us tell the story of Loyola, get people excited, and re-energized around being a Rambler, and allows us to bring people into or back into the family,” she said.
University documents showed the athletic department set an all-time record for most gifts in March 2018 — 28 percent more gifts than the previous highest year, 1988, and up 660 percent from 2017. Documents also showed men’s basketball season ticket sales increased by 274 percent in the year following the team’s 2018 Final Four run. That year saw seven men’s basketball game sell-outs — the most in school history.
Paciero said the university is now tackling the challenge of how to fundraise and get people excited about the news during a global pandemic. She said it’s been “challenging,” but also acknowledged virtual fundraising has advantages such as making it easier for people to attend events if they don’t have to travel or leave their home.
Prior to last year, Paciero said Loyola’s Advancement Division — which deals with fundraising and alumni relations — didn’t have many resources to go toward digital engagement and marketing, but is now making an effort to figure out how to “build in that energy and excitement of sitting in a restaurant or bar and watching the game but doing that from our collective living rooms.”
Virtual events and watch parties, as well as social media content, are some of the ways the university is trying to shift gears from the in-person events of previous years, according to Paciero. Fans can also download fan experience kits from Loyola’s website, which gives them Rambler-themed Zoom backgrounds to download as well as social media stickers to add to posts.
Paciero also said the university is trying to engage the community by sharing news coverage about Loyola and the men’s basketball team.
Back in 2018, there were an estimated 61,000 media mentions of Loyola, which had an estimated value of $900 million to $1.5 billion, according to the documents from Paciero. Just three articles from Mar. 23-24, 2018 — from Yahoo, Fox News and USA Today — had an estimated publicity value of hundreds of thousands of dollars and reached a combined estimated 23 million people, the document showed.
Despite the challenges of virtual events and “Zoom-fatigue,” Paciero said the university is still seeing “great success” with its philanthropic efforts and is hopeful about what kind of impact this year’s March Madness run could do for the university.
“We’re excited and ready to really leverage that engagement and rekindle … the amazing publicity that the men’s basketball team is garnering with their success, and their persons and who they are,” Paciero said. “It helps us really illustrate the core values of our Loyola students and what an amazing group of students they are.”