Plugged In: Josh Rebholz, senior associate AD, UCLA
Josh Rebholz was fresh out of college in 2004 when he took a development job at Portland State making $21,000 a year and living in a friend’s basement. Now the senior associate athletic director at UCLA, Rebholz touts his time at Portland State, where he was a one-man fundraising department in a market obsessed with Oregon and Oregon State, as a critical step in his growth. Rebholz also has emerged as a leader among his fundraising peers now that he is president of the National Association of Athletic Development Directors. As part of the NACDA convention this week in Orlando, NAADD speakers will include Ohio State AD Gene Smith and WME-IMG co-CEO Patrick Whitesell.
It’s a fairly volatile time in college athletics.”
On the NACDA convention this week: The convention used to be “rah-rah” and you’d talk about how to sell more tickets. It was pretty basic stuff. Now it’s become a lot more sophisticated. You’re battling perceptions and the court of public opinion about all of the money in the system, but college athletics is still very much a benefit to campus and the community.
What else will administrators be discussing? There’s such increased attention in the difference between the divisions, the haves and the have-nots. The amount of money these deals are creating — at UCLA we did a $280 million Under Armour deal and a $150 million multimedia rights deal — how do we make sure this is an environment where the Portland States and others stay competitive.
What are the challenges with fundraising? If you’re talking to a donor and they know that your football coach makes $3.5 million, then it does become a much tougher sell on the philanthropy side. What we really try to stress is our student-athlete support. We have a $16 million scholarship bill each year. But I can’t lie — when we announced the $280 million Under Armour deal, we had some donors say, “Well, you don’t need my money.”
But donors keep giving: Access is, hands down, the biggest influencer, and mostly it’s access with our student athletes. When our donors get to meet and spend time with our student athletes, and they learn about them as people without a helmet or jersey.
What’s a good example? A few years ago, we had a linebacker, Myles Jack, and when he put that helmet on, he was “Superman.” But when he took it off, he was really shy. We have this dinner event at UCLA where we’ll have some student athletes there to mingle and network. Myles was so nervous. He didn’t know what to say. Well, at the end of the night, Myles said it was one of the greatest experiences he’d had at UCLA. He came away with all of these new relationships, and the donors got a chance to meet these young, wide-eyed athletes, and they know their donations are going to support these really special kids.
On working his way up: I tell these people that if you get a chance to take a job at a smaller school, even if your aspiration is to be the AD at Ohio State one day, you will be amazed at how much you learn and grow.