Editor’s note: Jon Denney, ’85, was a standout swimmer at Stanford and established a school record in the 200-yard butterfly in 1984. He has spent 22 years working at the university, most recently as senior associate vice president for development. Denney has been instrumental in fundraising at Stanford and will begin a new job on September 1 as chief development officer for the United States Olympic Committee and president of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Foundation.
-By Jon Denney
As a high school senior, I was attracted to Stanford because of its strong academic reputation and its up-and-coming swimming program. Thanks to donors to the Buck/Cardinal Club whose gifts provided scholarship assistance, I was able to attend Stanford. I am very grateful for the generosity of those donors who made my Stanford experience possible.
I enjoyed my four years as a member of the Stanford swimming team, training under the legendary Skip Kenney. One of the highlights of my swimming experience was being co-captain of the 1985 NCAA Championship team during my senior year. It was a good way to finish my career. More than my individual or team successes, I valued the camaraderie of my teammates, many of whom are still very close friends.
After graduating with a B.S. in industrial engineering, I started my career with the consulting division of Arthur Andersen in its San Francisco office. After two years at Arthur Andersen and realizing that I was not interested in a long-term consulting career, I applied for a job in the Stanford Athletic Department that I heard about from a friend who was working in the football office. The position was the assistant director of annual giving, and while I knew very little about fundraising, I thought it would be an interesting learning experience while I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. With some luck, I was hired for that job in 1988 and then enjoyed 11 years working in the athletic department, progressing through several development positions and eventually serving as associate athletic director for external relations.
In the early years, the focus of my job was raising money for athletic scholarships through gifts to the Buck/Cardinal Club. That was an incredibly gratifying experience and was where I learned how development worked in higher education, both within the athletic department, as well as how the athletic department’s fundraising program was coordinated within the university’s broader development environment.
In 1999, I succumbed to the lure of the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley and left the athletic department to join Fogdog Sports as director of business development and general manager of group and institutional sales. After Fogdog was acquired the following year, I worked for Commonfund Inworks, another start-up where I could leverage my professional background. Both organizations provided me with great work experience, but after a three-year period away from the Farm, I returned to Stanford in 2002 as the director of The Stanford Fund, and similar to my experience in the athletic department, I have enjoyed working in the university’s Office of Development (OOD) in progressively more senior roles. For the past several years, I have served as a senior associate vice president, overseeing a number of development teams within OOD, including athletics.
Looking back on my career in athletics, I was most inspired by the dedication and commitment of a large group of volunteers who gave of their time, talent, and money to build the most successful athletic department in the country. Volunteer engagement is a key to the university’s fundraising success and I was fortunate to experience that early in my career at Stanford. The history of volunteer support for Stanford Athletics dates back to the founding of the Buck Club in the early 1930’s. In the late 1980’s, we were raising $2 million a year and now the Buck/Cardinal Club is raising more than $9 million a year. A dedicated group of volunteers, well-supported by capable staff, has been instrumental in the Club’s success.
Because of the success of our teams and beautiful facilities like Stanford Stadium, there is a misperception by many people that Stanford Athletics is overflowing in resources and does not need any philanthropic support. That statement is not true. Gifts to Stanford Athletics, from the $50 donation from a recently-graduated former student-athlete to the multi-million dollar commitment from an older alum, are vital to maintaining the success of Stanford Athletics. Donors to the Buck/Cardinal Club are enabling our coaches to provide scholarships for student-athletes and attract the best athletes and the brightest students to the Farm. It fuels a broad-based program that is the envy of our competitors and the pride of our alumni.
I recently made a difficult decision to leave Stanford to become the chief development officer for the United States Olympic Committee and president of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation (USOPF). Quite honestly, I never thought I’d leave Stanford and was expecting to retire after a very long and gratifying career. But this opportunity just hit me as an opportunity to leverage my experience at Stanford to help the USOC develop a culture of philanthropy and diversify its sources of revenue to fund Team USA. I pursued the Olympic dream from my teenage years through my early 20s and participated in the 1980 and 1984 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials. Even though I did not ultimately make an Olympic team, the pursuit of that goal had a huge impact on shaping my character and providing opportunities that otherwise would not have been possible, so the mission of the USOC has a deep personal significance to me. The newly-created USOPF will also give me an opportunity to leverage my Stanford experience in building a foundation from the ground up—a challenge that motivates me greatly.
I will miss the daily interaction with my Stanford colleagues, but my love for Stanford will not be diminished. Even though I’ve spent most of my career on the Farm, the more important aspects of my relationship with Stanford are my affiliation as an alumnus, the parent of a current undergraduate student, and a fan of Stanford Athletics. Those roles aren’t changing.