LAFAYETTE — The first executive director of the Ragin’ Cajun Athletic Foundation said he isn’t sure how the foundation has been so successful in its infancy as the fundraising arm for Louisiana-Lafayette athletics. But Jim Harris has no doubt that the capability is there for much more.
“To look at what’s been done, from really a volunteer-only perspective, it’s pretty impressive,” Harris said Friday at his announcement as the RCAF’s full-time director. “This group has done a lot of wonderful things these last few years through the RCAF, and I knew from that there was a buy-in from the community. All the right pieces are in place.”
Harris wasn’t referring to pieces of the large red-and-white cake in front of him as he spoke to a group of supporters Friday at the UL-Lafayette Student Union. But he could have been, since the announcement made for a great 36th birthday gift.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday,” said Harris, who has worked in fundraising and development at Indiana, Ohio and most recently South Florida, where he was senior associate athletic director and associate vice president of development for the USF Foundation.
“This is the culmination of what our executive committee and board have been working toward for several years,” RCAF chairman Robert Daigle said. “Our goal has always been to elevate athletics here to new heights, but we always had the understanding that to get there would take more than the volunteer board. It would take a professional organization with skilled people involved, people who had significant athletic fundraising experience.”
Search committee chairman Charlie Moncla said 69 applications were received for the post and that seven people interviewed. Harris’ selection was finalized at a Tuesday meeting of the search committee.
“Honestly, I was surprised to see how the Ragin’ Cajun brand had reached across the country,” Moncla said, “just from looking as the résumés and applications.”
Moncla said Harris is an employee of the RCAF, which will fund the university to allow Harris to be paid as a state employee. He will work with both Athletic Director Scott Farmer and vice president for university advancement John Bloom, who was hired in January. Harris will report directly to the RCAF executive committee.
“The RCAF has been unbelievably successful as a fundraising arm, with most of that taking place through businesspeople who were volunteers,” Daigle said. “At the end of the day, we’re volunteers. We all have day jobs. But we also had the desire to do something special for the university.
“We’ve been talking about creating this position and filling it with the most competent and qualified person we could find. We didn’t have the money a few years ago, but now we can realize our goals, and we ended up with an individual whose background, experience and credentials far surpass anything we thought we could accomplish.”
Harris, a graduate of Indiana with two master’s degrees from Ohio, helped raise the largest unrestricted annual gift in South Florida athletic history and set up a matching program for other donors. He also cultivated a portfolio at USF of more than 100 major gift prospects at the $500,000-and-up level.
“There are many leaders in this community that haven’t yet invested in this product, whether it’s the university or the athletic department,” Harris said. “We have the grassroots support, that fan base, and what we need to do is expand that, find more investors in this product.”
One major RCAF goal is to fund the two major projects in Tier 2 of the three-tier athletic facilities master plan, including the $57 million renovation of Cajun Field and its adjacent athletic administration building, and the total renovation of the Moore Field baseball complex. All three projects in Tier 1 have been finished or are in the final stages of completion, including the Athletic Performance Center set to open Sept. 1.