Stanford Buck/Cardinal Club Reviews Its Brand and Marketing Strategy

As they sought to increase their membership base, especially among younger donors, the club wondered if their name was meaningful to potential donors.

January 01, 2015

Stanford's Womens Basketball team

With roots going back to 1934, the Buck/Cardinal Club at Stanford provides athletic scholarships to needy and worthy varsity student athletes, and program support to help Stanford teams compete at the highest levels. Essentially all the funding comes as donations from alumni and friends of the school. Their name had evolved from the original “Tiny Buck of the Month Club” in 1934, to the Buck Club, and then, after merging with the Cardinal Club (the women’s athletic support club) to their current Buck/Cardinal Club name. As they sought to increase their membership base, especially among younger donors, the club wondered if this name was meaningful to potential donors, wanted to better understand their brand name awareness, and find specific ways to improve it. Bill Brownell, MBA ’88, and Ryan Lippert, MBA ’10, were the ACT Fast Track team that took on this project.

Project Methodology

Working with the Board Chairman as well as Ellen Otto, Buck/Cardinal Senior Director, the ACT team quickly expanded the project scope from strictly focusing on its brand to include plans for a new overall marketing strategy. The two would meet every week or two, review what they’d each done, decide on the work needed, and go off and execute. They regularly checked in with the client including making presentations at two quarterly Board meetings. With the expanded scope, the project lasted six months, longer than most ACT Fast Track projects.

After developing a work plan, the team conducted interviews with a cross-section of fans, donors, non-donors, students, alums, former athletes, staff, and board members. They also analyzed market and alumni donor data, benchmarked other Pac12 and NCAA organizations, and reviewed marketing best-practices from the corporate world.

Recommendations on Ways to Expand Marketing

Based on their analysis, the team made a number of recommendations. These included: adopting a broader marketing strategy that takes into account alumni needs and preferences as well as new segmentation; developing a stronger social media and web presence; utilizing a new tagline which they suggested; and changing its name given an evaluation framework the team proposed. The majority of recommendations were adopted, though the name change wasn’t – there was too much history for the Board to agree on this. In the ACT satisfaction survey at the end of the project, the client said the project had a “great deal of impact” on the Buck/Cardinal Club.

Crest for the Buck/Cardinal Club

According to Ellen Otto, “The ACT team helped us to build a robust marketing and communication plan that is coordinated across the Athletic Department. Additionally, Board members now have more compelling stories to tell when they ask donors for financial support each year. The results have been broader alumni participation in the Buck/Cardinal Club and increased dollars to support our student athletes. It was a great experience working with the ACT team on this project and yielded an excellent result.”

Consultant Experiences

“I was thrilled with how the project went,” said Ryan. “I was a few years out of school and this was my first ACT project. Bill had great consulting experience and though this was also his first ACT project, he helped me quickly learn how to interact with and deliver value to our client. I was eager to work with the Stanford Buck/Cardinal club because I’m a big Stanford sports fan. Stanford Athletics is my main interface with the school now that I’ve graduated, so it was fun to help them out.”

“Working with the Board on this project opened doors to me, including getting to meet some of the coaches and attending events I never would have been able to otherwise”, Ryan continued. “Best of all, this project has directly lead to me joining the Buck/Cardinal Board recently. I’m now able to help implement our recommendations and see first-hand the results from their adoption.”

“This was a really fun and interesting project,” said Bill. “We had a chance to explore Stanford alumni interests in Stanford athletics, see how athletics giving programs work at other colleges, and build a growth program for the Club. I think we provided a lot of value back to Stanford and had a lot of fun in the process.”

By Ryan Lippert, MBA ’10, and Bill Brownell, MBA ’88, ACT volunteers

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