New AD Teague: Someone to invest in people

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 30, 2012 - 6:31 AM

Norwood Teague, soon to be in charge of Gophers athletics, believes in forging relationships with donors and making them feel like a part of the team.

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Norwood Teague speaks to reporters at a news conference Monday April 23, 2012 in the Gopher football locker room.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Associated Press - Ap

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One year before Leighton Klevana became a top-level donor to Virginia Commonwealth University's athletic department, he had never seen a single game at the school.

The 42-year-old businessman grew up near Richmond, home to the Rams, but went to Vanderbilt University and barely thought about sports at VCU, which at that time was something of a commuter school with a lackluster campus. "Never in a million years" did he dream he would give a cent to VCU, much less a significant sum.

And then Klevana met Norwood Teague.

Klevana's business partner, who was already considering donating, dragged him to a happy hour in the summer of 2006 with Teague -- the new Gophers athletic director who at the time was the new athletic director at VCU.

"You feel like you've known [Teague] for five years after just a few conversations," Klevana said.

He was so comfortable around him, in fact, that he soon became a season-ticket holder and a top-level donor at the university. He made a five-year commitment of at least $25,000 annually, well before the men's basketball program exploded onto the national scene with a 2011 Final Four appearance.

"He had to work a little bit harder, to legitimize a VCU game," said Klevana, adding that Teague's excitement about the program was contagious. "I think big Gophers fans, having Norwood to make them feel like they're a part of it, and bring a fresh approach -- that can only build on the enthusiasm."

Minnesota introduced Teague as the school's new AD last week, pending Board of Regents approval, and is counting on him having the same fundraising success here that he had at VCU after he officially starts his new job July 1. The U has multiple facility issues to solve and a budget nearing $80 million, which dwarfs VCU's. Teague's last school didn't have football, and his new school has a BCS program in need of a jump-start. All of that, of course, can be looked at one of two ways: The Gophers have more problems, but more to sell.

"I think Minnesota athletics in the next five or 10 years has an unbelievable opportunity for dramatic growth," Teague said. "And I think the ceiling is very high."

What he did

A program's success can help push along expensive plans. That is why, Teague says, he's so proud that his first major project at VCU -- a $4 million upgrade to the school's multipurpose arena, the Siegel Center -- was 90 percent funded before the school's basketball team had even received an NCAA bid.

The timing for the project, though, was perfect. With the Rams coming off their breakout year in 2010-11, the 2011-12 season brought three new suites, 120 club seats and 68 floor seats to the basketball arena, all which were sold out in three weeks.

That was possible, VCU's executive associate AD David Benedict said, because of the relationships with donors Teague had amassed in the previous four years. What followed was a significant leap in donor involvement. Ram Athletic Fund members jumped from 528 in Teague's first year as AD to 1,777 last year. Total money raised surged from $1.6 million in his first year to $5.3 million last year and is projected to be $13 million this year.

Teague, who also has worked in the athletic departments at North Carolina (his alma mater), Arizona State and Virginia, kept the momentum going by getting approval on a $10 million practice facility in February.

"Over time, he's built value for sponsors that wanted to invest in the schools he's with," said North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham, a close friend of Teague's. "He connects well with people, so donors want to support the programs and ideas he has to make the school successful."

Said Stuart Siegel, the arena's namesake, who contributed $500,000 to its renovations: "He gets along very well with our donors ... and the numbers show it."

How he did it

Teague said roughly eight members of the VCU athletic staff have keys to his Richmond home, which might startle some who have ideas about personal time and privacy.

For Teague, who is 46 and single, his home is just another office.

He would host pre- or postgame receptions with donors, throw parties and hold exclusive dinners. The house was used as a meeting place so often that staff members would be in and out, starting shindigs if Teague was out of town or running late.

"There's a lot of us that have access to his home for one reason or another -- we're very active," Benedict said with a laugh. "I promise you this is the way it's going to be [in Minnesota]. On a Friday night before a home game, Norwood's house is going to be the place to be."

In many ways, Teague is the life of the party. But there is a formula behind the festivities.

When Benedict came on board, the pair restructured the athletic department, creating a strategic and aggressive fundraising plan that assigned specializations -- such as major gifts or planned gifts -- to different staff members.

A greater emphasis was placed on major gifts. Teague started taking donors who had given large gifts or were contemplating large gifts on road trips, and gave 14 of his 16 seats at the Final Four to donors.

"To truly capitalize on building the kinds of relationships you need to ultimately be successful -- and to do the things that need to be done at Minnesota -- you can't just see people during the workday," Benedict said. "It's not enough. It can't just be about business; it's more than that."

And it's nonstop.

"It's a lot of time, and it's a lot of work," Teague said. "That's the way we were able to do it [at VCU]. I think you have to be gregarious. You have to be aggressive. You have to put a vision in place that people can buy into and feel great about."

The next level

David Boardman, Klevana's business partner at Dynamic Brands, played golf at VCU from 1986 to '90. He's also a rabid college basketball fan and owns a profitable local business.

"There was every reason in the world I should have been giving money all along," he said. "Frankly, I never gave a dime. ... Nobody ever asked me for it. No one made an effort. Until Norwood got there."

Boardman became a top-level donor in Teague's first season and now goes to games with a smattering of friends -- all season-ticket holders -- who never previously watched the Rams.

"He did it in a way where I never felt like he was asking me for money. I never felt like he was in my pocket," Boardman said. "He builds a relationship with you first. You almost feel like you're giving money to a friend when you deal with Norwood."

Those close to Teague say he understood the importance of creating sincere relationships and delivering value for commitment. Teague would bring donors around the offices, let them meet coaches, take them on trips and inside practices. And mostly, he put a friendly face on a fund.

"There's a lot of opportunities to give money in this day and age, and the comfort factor is a big part of it," Klevana said. "He kind of just pulled you in and you became a friend of his. He was very engaging. He always recognized you. ... It never felt like at the end of drinks I'm supposed to pull out my checkbook."

It's almost as though Teague likes it, the pressure of always donning a smile, the grind of always meeting and greeting and being on the go, the relinquished privacy in opening up his house. When that is mentioned to him, Teague looks momentarily confused. Then a good-natured smile spreads across his face.

"You have to love it," he said. "You can't like it -- you have to love it. And I love it."

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