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New tax bill has UND Alumni Association prepping athletics donors for change

FILE PHOTO: The Gorecki Alumni Center on Tuesday, June 10, 2015, in Grand Forks, N.D. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)

The new tax bill that President Donald Trump signed last week will erase an 80 percent deduction for donations tied to premium seat purchases, prompting the UND Alumni Association to try to keep its athletic donors informed about the changes ahead.

Like many college athletic departments, UND fans pay a donation in order to purchase season tickets to sporting events, among other benefits.

UND, in turn, uses these donations to help fund athletic scholarships. That athletic department revenue is now in jeopardy as the tax bill changes the deduction from 80 percent to zero.

At UND, this giving places donors in a benefits system known as the Champions Club, which has recently produced a revenue of more than $3 million, according to Laura Block, the Alumni Association's Chief Financial Officer.

In preparation for the change, the Alumni Association sent out emails in December to its donor base to provide information.

The Alumni Association told donors to consider paying 2018 Champions Club membership in 2017 to maintain that deduction. The emails also encouraged donors to meet with a tax advisor to navigate the changes.

The long-term impact on athletic giving is difficult to gauge this early in the process.

"We have not got a lot of pushback," Block said. "For us to know right now, will we get pushback? ... that's something we're still studying internally with peer groups."

Currently, the Champions Club has a hierarchy of eight tiers (Legend, Diamond, Emerald, Directors, Coaches, Captains, Varsity and Century).

A donation to the top Legend status requires a $50,000 or more donation. On the bottom end of the Champions Club, a $200 donation nets you Century status.

The higher of status in the Champions Club point system, the better the benefits such as lower-bowl seating for men's hockey games at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

The fear is that without the tax deduction donors will opt for a lower tier.

Block said the Alumni Association also is studying the possibility of a change to the Champions Club point system.

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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