In 40th year, Razorback Foundation creates ‘major gift’ society

by Paul Gatling (pgatling@nwabj.com) 689 views 

Razorback Foundation Executive Director Scott Varady speaks to a crowd during the dedication of the wild Band of Razorbacks monument outside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Nov. 10, 2018.

The University of Arkansas is a way of life for Scott Varady.

Born in Fayetteville and raised in Little Rock, Varady was named in December 2015 as executive director and general counsel of the nonprofit Razorback Foundation, the private fundraising arm that raises millions of dollars in support of the university’s athletics department. He’d spent the previous 19 years in the general counsel’s office at the UA, where he earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in political science in 1985.

Varady went on to earn a master’s degree in foreign service in 1988 and a law degree in 1993, both from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. In a recent interview at the Razorback Foundation offices in Fayetteville, Varady said he was focused on a career in public service before attending Georgetown Law School. But a conversation with the late Congressman Ray Thornton — a Democrat who represented Arkansas’ 4th congressional district from 1973 to 1979 and the 2nd district from 1991 to 1997 — opened his eyes to the fact he could do that without being an elected official.

“Part of my desire was to use my law degree to serve something I believed in,” Varady said. “I have always believed in higher education and the state of Arkansas, and I have always loved the University of Arkansas. Those were my passions when I had the opportunity come back as general counsel and help the mission of the university to educate students. Athletics was a natural extension of that when I came [to the Razorback Foundation].”

Varady seems a perfect fit as a UA ambassador. And you might say drumming up financial support for the Razorbacks comes naturally.

Varady plays the drums for Mary-Heather and the Sinners, a regional country/classic rock band. Just last month, Varady was nominated for an Arkansas Country Music Award in the category of Drummer of the Year. The second annual awards show is June 3 in Maumelle.

Bad puns aside, Varady’s job is to keep the forward momentum going for the Razorback Foundation. The organization gained nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in 1982, but its signature annual fund campaign dates back to 1979 when it was known as the Razorback Scholarship Fund.

According to historical data provided by the foundation, the first annual fund campaign raised about $2.5 million. Today, annual fund support has averaged about $20 million over the past seven years. The campaign for the current fiscal year ends June 30.

To recognize the 40th anniversary, Varady said the foundation is planning some special recognition events for a select group of donors. Of the approximately 16,000 foundation membership accounts, there are 1,363 that have been maintained for the past 40 years. That select group includes members in 72 of Arkansas’ 75 counties and in 19 additional states.

TAX TALK
Also in the anniversary year, the foundation recently unveiled a new charitable avenue for financial support, called Cardinal & White.

Varady said Cardinal & White is independent of the annual fund campaign, where donations are tied to “priority points,” which assist with priority seating and parking benefits to Razorback games.

“That will continue just as it is, and the annual fund will continue to exist,” Varady said. “It is still our lifeblood in many ways. We’re just trying to formalize some things we have done in the past but make it available for everybody.”

Donors who make a gift to the foundation of at least $25,000 — which can be spread over five years — will qualify for membership in Cardinal & White. Benefits include facility naming opportunities, pregame sideline access for home football games, football away game travel, and more depending on the gift.

Varady said the creation of Cardinal & White is a response, at least in part, to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The overhauled federal tax code went into effect Jan. 1, 2018. Any contribution made on or after that date for which a benefit is provided (in this case, the right to purchase athletic tickets) is no longer tax deductible. Donations were 80% tax deductible before the tax law change.

The foundation will not award any “priority points” in connection with any gifts to the Cardinal & White, making those donations fully tax-deductible because there is no benefit received. Donors can choose, however, to take the points instead and receive no tax deduction.

Varady said it’s too early to tell what the impact of the new tax code might be to the foundation’s annual fund. The current campaign started July 1, 2018, and is the first full-year campaign under the new law.

In addition, the new tax code increases the standard deduction, which may reduce the incentive to contribute for taxpayers who do not itemize.

“Regardless of the tax law and its impact, many of our donors and members of the foundation support the organization because they believe in the mission to support Razorback athletics,” Varady said. “I think it transcends purely transactional tax issues. We’re blessed to have a donor base like that.

“The thing that’s common around the country is everybody is facing this issue. It’s not just us,” Varady added. “There’s still a lot to be played out and still more guidance coming forth in the future from the IRS regarding, for example, priority points and whether they make a gift [tax deductible] or not.”

NEW HIRE
Colton Primm recently joined the Razorback Foundation as associate director of development. His first day was Jan. 28.

Primm, a Fayetteville native, spent the past two years as director of development for the University of Central Arkansas athletics department. He received a bachelor’s degree in economics and business from Hendrix College in Conway and was a two-time all-conference selection for the Warriors basketball team.

He earned an MBA from Ohio University in May 2016, and before being hired at UCA, was a graduate assistant in athletics development for Ohio University’s Bobcat Club.

Primm will work in the Razorback Foundation’s Little Rock office, which opened in 2016, with senior director of development Mica Strother. He filled the fundraising role previously held by Susannah “Susie” Shinn, who took a development job at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

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