Lauren Flaum is currently the Director of Basketball Operations for Women’s Basketball at the University of Toledo. She helps coordinate and assist in a variety of areas including a big hand in community outreach and fundraising. Working for Coach Cullop, she has seen first hand what it takes to build a program that has record-setting support from its campus and community. Speaking with Flaum, it was clear that their fan support and #1 ranking in the MAC in attendance are not by accident!
Opportune Moments: Fundraisers & Fan Support
At Toledo, the women’s basketball program hosts a variety of events and is intentional in providing opportunities to engage with the community and fans. Ranking #1 in the MAC in attendance for 27 consecutive seasons, below are some examples of how they make the time to engage with their supporters:
- Right Before Season: Cake Rattle & Roll Event – This fundraiser, in its 6th year, is held in mid/late October to serve as the kickoff to the season. The program sells tables and individual tickets to raise money and much of the food and prizes are donated. By being held right before the season begins, it is a great chance for fans to meet the new players, get a schedule card and hopefully draw them out to games. The event has also hosted speakers in recent years, including Lin Dunn and Tamika Catchings. The year Catchings spoke, companies were inspired by her story and even bought tables to donate to youth basketball teams, providing about 100 kids, 7th grade and below, to come see her speak.
- Immediately After Games: Fans of Toledo women’s basketball know not to leave the arena directly after a game. “Different than probably 95% of teams in the country, we don’t go into the locker room right after the game,” said Flaum. Instead, they take a minute or two for Coach Cullop to speak to them at half court, and then the players line up with the band and cheerleaders to sing the alma mater. Right after that, the players are seen walking through the stands talking to fans, hugging family members and thanking their supporters. While this is happening, Coach Cullop’s media interview is happening and being broadcasted on the videoboard for fans to see.
“Win or lose, the student-athletes are out there with the fans.”
Mentors: Women Helping Women
Another key component to reaching beyond the x’s and o’s, Flaum pointed out, is their mentoring program. Each member of the team has a female mentor from the Toledo community. They are paired based on the player’s major, aspiring career path, personality, etc. The goal is to provide female role models who can act as another resource. Coach Cullop and the staff will take a look at their student-athletes and then compile a list of women they can reach out to in hopes that they will serve as mentors. They’ll have a mentor kick off dinner and then another reception during winter break. Mentors receive a thank you gift, are invited to games, and players touch base with them (via Skype, phone conversation, over coffee, etc.) about once a month. It is the player’s responsibility to keep in touch!
When Coach Cullop first got the job at Toledo, she revamped the Igniters booster club. There are four different levels of membership, which total to about 400-500 members each year. They’ll have a BBQ on campus, members will have a table on the concourse at games to sell memberships and they’ll do occasional pizza parties after practice. Members also have access to an occasional pre-game scouting report session as well as an occasional dinner with coaches. A key to running the booster club: it has an executive board of 14 people who help drive the events. Flaum and the university’s Senior Women’s Administrator (SWA) sit on the board as well, ensuring that events are compliant with NCAA rules.
Fundraising: Have a Plan & Communicate It!
Towards the beginning of the season, Flaum and Coach Cullop will meet with two members of the development office to go over their fundraising plans. Flaum was quick to point out how helpful their development office is in not only supporting their initiatives, but also in helping provide clarity on their donors and sponsors. The meeting goes something like this: Flaum and Coach Cullop present their plan and say “This is what we’re thinking. Are there any individuals or restaurants that are off limits?” The development staff will let them know if any donor/sponsor is off limits as well as provide more information on new donors or people Flaum and Cullop may have missed. The development staff then typically asks if they can be of help in any area or if there are any phone calls Flaum and Cullop need them to make.
Another helpful source of communication for Toledo women’s basketball is the weekly report of gifts and donations that they receive. The staff then acts accordingly, knowing who to thank and if they should invite a donor as a guest rather than asking them to donate for the next event.
A Little More About Lauren Flaum…
Flaum attended Eastern Michigan, where she served as the men’s basketball manager for four years. She’s thankful for the positive experience that Coach Charles Ramsey helped cultivate during her time with the men’s basketball program. Each day she learned to do different tasks, from running the clock to helping with film. By the middle of her senior year, she was asked to stay on after graduation as the men’s basketball graduate assistant (GA.). Her second year as a GA, she also had responsibilities with the women’s basketball program. She then continued on to the video coordinator position with the women’s basketball program at Eastern Michigan. After a year, she found herself in a transitional period, and worked at Quicken Loans from 2012-2013. During this time she worked camps at Toledo, which eventually led to her joining Coach Cullop’s staff as coordinator of women’s basketball and video coordinator. For those that are new to the world of athletics or considering breaking in, she reflects back on a quote by Michael Phelps, “There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. There will be mistakes. But with hard work, there are no limits.”
Follow Lauren Flaum on Twitter @LFlaum !