It always surprises me to see a development office pigeonholed to the back pages of an athletics website. It happens all the time. Development is an after thought on the website. It sends such a confusing message. Our development raises money for facilities and to serve our student athletes. It is incredibly important to what we do as an athletic department, yet we do not care enough to make them a focal point on our largest touch point with our fan base.
I work in web and have for most of my career. It will not come as a surprise for anyone to hear me talk about how important a good website is or your website will be the most frequent interaction you have with your fan base or donor group. More people interested in your group, that are looking for information, and would be willing to donate, will interact with your brand online than anywhere else. You may have 100,000 people at your football game, but they are not looking to learn about your brand or see what they can do to help on Saturdays, they are looking for a good time and a win. When they are online, they are evaluating what you do, learning about what they can do, and are inching their way to helping your brand. This is where you need to be interacting with them, or at a minimum, have a presence.
There is an argument to be made that separate development websites will not get the traffic of the main athletic site and that is true. The games and athletes are still the most important things to fans, this is not going to change. BUT, having worked on campus and handled websites for many major athletic brands, I know the developer or webmaster or intern (or whatever you want to call the person who holds the keys to the site) feels the same way and will focus on making sure those areas of the site rise to the top. This is what I mean about being pigeonholed. Development offices are shunted to two or three sub nav pages that are never updated and have little interaction with the visitors on the site. More importantly, there is no engagement of those evaluators surfing the web. You need a website you can update, edit, and change to keep your office in the forefront of their minds.
We recently launched ACU Wildcat Club’s new website. It is a site dedicated to helping the development team push their message. They control the content through an easy to use content management system. They make the decisions on what the website will focus on and what promotions they want to push. The development office is in control. On top of all of that, they are still part of the main athletics site. They are in the navigation; it links off to their standalone site. They are a part of the promotions; several ads on the home page link to specific sections of the development website. They can control their presence online while still being able to piggyback on the traffic the main athletics site gets.
Development offices are integral to the modern colliegiate athletics department. They raise funds for scholarships, student athletes, and new facilities. With a stand alone website and a good CMS your development office can control the message it is sending and engage your fanbase, without being at the whims of a website responsible for promoting 17 sports, teams, and coaches.