Bowling Green ‘Raps’ Up Big Fundraising Goal

January 2, 2012       Mark Hrywna      

His last name is 83 percent consonants, he can’t dunk or hit a three, but he’ll “melt your face with his philanthropy.”

A case in point is Allen Schmidthorst’s $1.7-million contribution to the construction of Bowling Green State University (BGSU)’s newest athletic facility. The donation was one of four seven-figure gifts that helped to raise $14 million in private money for the $36-million Stroh Center on the Bowling Green campus, just south of Toledo, Ohio. BGSU recognized the key Stroh Center donors in a unique three-minute rap video, highlighting the new facility. In the video the four donors are decked out in BGSU athletic gear, looking anything but athletic or agile, fumbling in attempts to spin a basketball.

“We wanted to open the building in the right way and celebrate the dedication. We had this fantastic video board in the building and this is so big and so new. It’s the first best way to get that wow,” said Mary Ellen Gillespie, associate athletics director for external relations. Kerm Stroh made a lead gift of $7.7 million. Larry Miles donated $1 million to help build an auxiliary gym in the pavilion. Bill Frack gave $2 million and now the basketball court is named after him. The rap lyrics make a point to highlight each donor.

For instance, Stroh “came to BG way back in the 60’s/He looked around and thought this place was ‘nifty’/Rockin’ the mic in his cardigan-sweata/Calling play by play, straight up from Wapakoneta” [a town about 100 miles south of Toledo, by the way].

In the case of Miles, he “gave cash in piles/Sportin’ Charles Taylors, rockin’ argyles/He knows the game ya’ll, he ain’t no amateur/back in the 50s he was the student manager.”

Frack “made cash in stacks – snap – he’s given some back/2 cold million. Mad Falcon support!/He’s laying it down for the Bill Frack Court.” “There’s a little risk to anything you do of that nature, a video or a rap video. But, we tested it with some people, ran it by the president, shared it with all four donors. If they were comfortable with it, we moved forward with it. If not, we would’ve pulled it,” said Gillespie. The first people they asked were the four donors to make sure they were comfortable being part of the video. “We’d supply jerseys if they’d come in their workout gear, help ham it up and be visible in the video,” she said. It was received very well at the dedication this past Sept. 9 before the women’s volleyball team opened its season. “It’s something we’ve never ever done before,” she said.

“There really wasn’t apprehension about it,” Gillespie said. “They had so much passion from the day this was announced. Any time they could help us — get us in front of prospects, spread the message about the campaign, milestone events — they were the first ones there,” she said. The university worked with Toledo, Ohio-based Madhouse, a production company run by BGSU alumni that produces the Falcons’ football commercials, and composed the lyrics, with students Mikey “Rosco” Blair and Rachel Willingham performing. The video, and lyrics, are now prominently featured on the company’s website.

The largest facility fundraising campaign in university history was done in record time. The lead gift from the Stroh family was announced March 3, 2008, kicking off the campaign. Groundbreaking occurred when the campaign ended in May 2010 and construction was completed in July 2011. Almost a third of the cost for the $36-million facility was raised in meeting the $14-million private fundraising goal, according to Gillespie, with the remaining funds to come from a student activity fee that will help pay down the debt. Between cash gifts and a brick program for the plaza outside the 4,400-seat facility, the campaign had about 2,300 donors. There were other naming opportunities like a locker endowment program where a $5,000 gift would get a donor’s name on one of 25 lockers for the lifetime of the building.

“I’m not quite sure if a rap video is the best mode of stewardship for any facility. You really have to know your institution, your donor base, your fan base,” said Gillespie. A new arena with a new video board just seemed right. “We had a lot of pieces fall into place,” she said. “You really need to talk it through. Bounce it off donors, the athletic director, the advancement office, so one person isn’t solely making that decision,” said Gillespie. She also advocated “thinking outside the box,” as people need to be more creative in stewardship these days. “It’s OK to take a risk.” NPT