MARQUETTE - David Diles has been a collegiate athletics director for 18 years, with his current position being at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Prior to that, he headed the Eastern Michigan University athletic department and before that, he was AD at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y.
It was with the Bonnies that Diles learned an important lesson when it comes to fundraising after cold calling Steve Boser, who had just stuck it rich by winning the New York state lottery.
Northern Michigan University senior center Jared Benson (3) goes for the opening tip against Lake Superior State on Feb. 9 in front of a reported 325 fans at the Berry Events Center. Upper Peninsula hoops fans have expressed their displeasure with the BEC as a basketball facility ever since the multipurpose facility — mainly built for hockey — opened in 1999 and have dreamed of a basketball-specific facility. Case Western Reserve University Athletic Director David Diles, who will visit Marquette on Tuesday as a finalist for the NMU AD position, has a history at multiple universities of raising money for capitol campaigns. (Journal file photo)
It never hurts to ask.
"I'm sure a lot of people called him, but he took my call and he became a great benefactor at St. Bonaventure," Diles said.
"He donated the weight room. He became philanthropically committed not only to us, but the community.
"I didn't even know his name before I read it in the paper, but he lived in the community so I made a phone call,"he added.
Diles has proved to be a strong fundraiser during his 18 years as an AD, whether it was at cash-strapped St. Bonaventure or at Case Western Reserve, which has an endowment of over $1.5 billion, according to Diles.
Now Diles hopes to become the next athletic director at Northern Michigan University. He'll be visiting campus on Tuesday with a public presentation scheduled for 3 p.m. in the Pioneer Rooms of the University Center.
"I have a goal here to make sure our financial future is secure in that we're not always looking to the institution to solve our problems. We are the institution so we have to solve it," said Diles, whose wife, Suzanne, grew up in Iron Mountain.
"At a place like Northern Michigan, with an endowment of about $14-18 million, a tuition-driven budget in a state that has had some economic challenges, it's not realistic to enter the discussion and look to the institution's executive leadership to build the budget for us. We have to take responsibility for that."
St. Bonaventure was Diles' biggest fundraising challenge, not only because he was one of the youngest athletic directors in NCAA Division I at the time, but because the university had declared financial exigency - or a financial emergency.
When Diles was hired in 1994, expenses at St. Bonaventure were exceeding revenues and undergraduate enrollment was dropping. The athletic department was only receiving $20,000 in annual giving and there was no corporate sponsorship program.
By 1998, giving had increased to $550,000 and corporate sponsorships were bringing in $175,000 in cash and trade.
Diles would go on to raise $1.5 million for capitol improvements, including the money donated by Boser for the weight room, named in the local resident's honor.
"We developed a good plan," Diles said. "You have to plan before you fundraise. Everybody wants to hit the ground running. It doesn't work that way, or its going to be short term.
At Eastern Michigan, Diles increased the annual fund drive for EMU athletics from $392,737 to $610,376 in the first year. He went on to secure five the of the department's largest gifts at the time with the most notable being $980,000 in 2002 for the sports medicine department.
At Case Western Reserve, Diles secured a gift of $4 million toward the building of an $8.5 fieldhouse that is set to open this year.
Since taking over as Case Western Reserves director of athletics and chair of the Department of Physical Education, Recreation and Athletics, the school has also built a $650,000 baseball facility and $500,000 softball stadium.
"You've got to dream a little bit and be willing to stick your chin out there," Diles said. "I think people give when they are happy, when they share your vision and when you engage them.
"Our best donors are repeat donors because we've been good stewards of their gift."
Diles' programs have not only been successful financially, but athletically and academically, as well.
Under Diles, St. Bonaventure won more Atlantic 10 Conference championships from 1995-1997 than what had been won all years prior to 1995 combined. The Bonnies joined the A10 in 1979.
The Bonnies' graduation rate when Diles left in 1999 for Eastern Michigan was 87 percent.
The Eagles won 21 Mid-American Conference championships from 1999-2005 under Diles and the school was recognized by USA Today and the NCAA for achieving the greatest percentage increase in graduation rates in NCAA Division I-A in 2002.
When Diles arrived at Eastern, the graduation rate was 31 percent. But in five years, he had pushed it above 60 percent.
At Case Western Reserve, an NCAA Division III school, Diles' program has a graduation rate of 88 percent and grade point average of 3.3 at the private research university that touts 16 Nobel Laureates.
The most successful athletic program during Diles' tenure has been football, which won 38 consecutive regular season games, completed three straight undefeated regular seasons and reached the NCAA playoffs in 2007, '08, and '09.
"I hope 18 years of being an NCAA director of athletic experience gives me a good foundation," Diles said. "I know that I've learned quite a lot throughout the tenures I've had at three institutions to develop the skills and leadership to guide a program and position it for advancement within the conference and therefore nationally.
"I don't walk into any job thinking I have got the answers. You have to be a very good listener and to try to benefit from the collective wisdom from all the people your are going to interface with."
"Be yourself, roll up your sleeves and try to collaborate with people and come up with a good composite picture of what you need to do," he added.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.