Eye of the Tiger: The Journey of Ford Williams- Assistant Director of IPTAY Major Gifts, Clemson University
By Mary Kate Young (M.S. May 2017)– If you have attended a college football game in the South then you know that it is so much more than just a game. College game day in the South is akin to a religious experience. It is about the atmosphere, tailgating, age-old rivalries and above all, pride; pride in your team and the traditions that were created by the generations that came before you. Each game and each win takes your team that much closer to winning the coveted National Championship at the end of the season. Many fans don’t stop and think about just how much work goes on behind the scenes to make their game day experience and football team successful.
Georgia State Sports Administration alumnus Ford Williams not only understands what it takes, but it is his job to help raise funds that help create success for the Clemson University athletics teams. Currently, the athletics facilities at Clemson are getting a facelift to not only catch up with other Power 5 institutions, but to stay ahead of them as well. The athletic department has over $176 million dollars of athletics facilities projects and renovations in the works. While a majority of that money comes from South Carolina state bonds, roughly $60 million is raised by the IPTAY Major Gifts department. That’s where Ford Williams comes into play. As Assistant Director of IPTAY Major Gifts, Williams has the job of traveling all around the southeast to meet with donors who not only contribute to the annual fund but also generously give gifts of money on top of that. IPTAY stands for “I Pay Ten a Year,” which is how much sports boosters used to pay when the club was founded in 1934.
Williams began his career in the sports industry at Georgia State University, while pursuing his Master’s degree in Sports Administration. He interned and later became a graduate assistant then eventually a full-time employee for the GSU Athletics Development Department. He was fortunate enough to begin working right around the time GSU published their feasibility study in hopes of starting a D1 football program at the university. Georgia State’s inaugural football season was in 2010 and Williams had the privilege of being a part of the start of the program, as well as the first two seasons. During his time at GSU, Williams learned how to do a little bit of everything for the athletic department. He gained experience from development to ticket sales to even a little bit of marketing. When asked about his experience at GSU, he stated that it “prepared him well” for his future career path. It’s not every day that a graduate student gets to get in on the ground floor of a brand new collegiate sports team and the fact that it was a football program made the experience that much more beneficial.
In 2012, Williams decided that it was time to make a career change and began working at Clemson. He continued his career on the development side of athletics, but his new role as Assistant Director of IPTAY Major Gifts at Clemson challenged and allowed him to focus in on specific goals for the department. Williams handles gifts of $25,000 or more. Clemson has at least 7 different capital projects in the works to upgrade their facilities. In February, Clemson will open the doors to a $55 million football operations facility and everything that the football team would need is centrally located in this facility. There are offices, a weight room, a training room, 3 practice fields, a school study area and even an athlete’s village for the players and recruits. It’s not just football facilities that are getting a facelift either. Clemson recently opened the doors on a $65 million basketball arena. They also have plans in the works for tennis, soccer, indoor track, baseball and upgrading premium seating in the football stadium. The number of facility projects that Clemson is working puts Williams’ job into perspective. Without him and other staff members of IPTAY, none of these capital projects could happen.
Understanding what it takes to excel in the industry, Williams did offer a bit of advice. He noted that breaking into the sports industry is all about who you know, but he took it a step further. He emphasized that while the connections that you make are important, it is more important to make sure that the connections are meaningful. You want to be more than just a business card to those connections. Williams still has career goals ahead of him, but knows that he will be patient to get there. For now though, he enjoys what he does at Clemson and is in no rush to make a change. You can follow him on twitter @fordwilliams1.