ST. SIMONS ISLAND — The UGA athletic board was meeting on Thursday, and the subject at the moment was fundraising. Jon Stinchcomb, the former Georgia and NFL player, spoke up.
“With Magill Society donations, they can earmark what it goes towards? So it can go to soccer, or to golf, or the west end zone?” Stinchcomb asked UGA executive associate AD Matt Borman, who was giving a presentation to the board.
“Yes sir,” Borman answered. “The majority of those donors give it unrestricted. But there’s no question that if they wanted it to go to a certain area, and we have a current project going on, we can accept those requests.”
It may have seemed a minor exchange. But it spoke to something rather interesting about how UGA has fundraised for its two major football projects.
As construction begins on the most expensive facility project in recent UGA athletics history, the school already has millions of fundraised money available to pay for it. But that comes with an asterisk: Many of the donors didn’t know they were giving money for that project.
Back in 2015, when UGA unveiled plans for the indoor facility ($30.2 million), the administration said it would split the cost with donors: Half through fundraising, half out of the school’s own reserve funds.
But fans were so eager for the much-awaited facility that they poured in funds. In fact, when the facility was dedicated this past February, athletics director Greg McGarity announced that a total of 475 people had donated $36 million.
So what happened with the extra $6 million? It was simply applied, at least most of it, to the next project: The Sanford Stadium west end zone project, which carries a $63 million price tag, of which $53 million is expected to come from donations.
And by now the Magill Society — which was set up when fundraising for the indoor facility began — can boast just over $50 million in donations.
So the entire indoor facility has been paid for by donations, rather than just half. And McGarity said this week that “small slices” of the money was also directed to facility improvements for soccer and golf.
McGarity was asked if there was any consideration given to, when they hit $15 million, saying thank you, the administration will foot the rest.
“No, I think the key thing is you want to generate as much you can off new brick and mortar,” McGarity said. “For us to cap it at $15 million and say we’re done, doesn’t allow you the opportunity to grow. I think the passion that people know [they have], and once you add certain projects under the Magill Society, they continue to grow.”
UGA president Jere Morehead echoed that.
“It gives us the opportunity to fund the next project,” Morehead said. “That’s how we’re moving forward on the west end zone.”
In fact, Morehead added, the school is still seeking a donor to pay for naming rights to the indoor facility.
“And when that happens that will give us more revenue to support either the west end zone or other capital projects.”
But were donors told that their money may not be going towards the indoor facility, that it may be going toward other projects?
“No I think it’s just football. That’s what’s driving a lot of these donor events, donor gifts. Because they add to the Hartman points,” McGarity said, alluding to the system UGA has that connects fundraising to football tickets. “That’s an incentive.”
The majority of donors to the Magill Society gave it “unrestricted,” as Borman told Stinchcomb during the board meeting. But if the donors specified it go to a certain project, it would.
In an interview after the board meeting, Stinchcomb said he was satisfied with the answer.
“I just didn’t want it to be disingenuous to those donors, where you’re going, ‘All right we’re raising money for the indoor facility and they pay towards that, and all of a sudden it’s going to a different project,’” Stinchcomb said. “But his answer pretty firmly answered that in saying, you can direct funds, and most of them have come in unrestricted, that they’re giving in general. …
“And I think that’s important, that the donors are clear on what their money is going towards.”