By Bill Sheehan
Greg Paules had it all mapped out. With his UC Irvine undergraduate degree in hand, he would earn an MBA and begin a career in wealth management.
But his timing couldn't have been worse. He enrolled in Irvine's Paul Merage School of Business in fall 2007, just before the nation was hit with the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. "During my first year, my academic advisor told me there were no jobs in financial planning," said Paules.
He worked part-time at a boutique wealth management firm at the start of his master's program but began exploring the world of sports management. Paules gained insight into the profession by meeting informally with college sports administrators up and down California. He started working at his alma mater's athletics department and was named Special Assistant to the Athletic Director for External Relations after completing his MBA program in 2009.
In spring 2013, Cal State Fullerton Athletics Director Jim Donovan hired Paules as the school's director of Development for Athletics. It was a decision that has paid huge dividends for Titans athletics.
Paules has led an amazing turnaround in Titan fundraising. His development team has raised $13.8 million in the last six years, which eclipses the $12.8 million raised in the previous 55 years. (The figures don't factor inflation.) For the 2018-2019 school year, the team raised $3.6 million.
"It has become more and more important across all of Division 1 to have solid athletics fund-raising to supplement your budget and improve your facilities," said Donovan. "Greg and his team have been successful largely because of his personality, leadership and plan of action."
Fundraising is critical for mid-majors
The Titan athletics department relies on a combination of state funds, student fees, endowments, sponsorships, donations, ticket sales and facility rentals. With the Power 5 conferences controlling the lion's share of collegiate sports television money, Paules said the
Mid-major conference schools can't afford not to have a strong fundraising arm. "You need it to compete. Without it, you are just treading water."
"When I first arrived at Fullerton, donors had concerns about where their funds were going.
We had been raising a lot of money just to maintain the bare essentials for our programs and keep the lights on."
Paules, who now also carries the title of associate athletics director, said a group of Fullerton administrators paved the way for the success in sports fundraising.
"[Former] President Mildred Garcia made fundraising a fundamental part of her strategic plan," said Paules. "And President Fram Virjee and his wife, Julie, have played a big part in building the Fullerton athletic community.
"Jim and Vice President of Student Affairs Berenecea Johnson-Eanes have put an infrastructure behind our fundraising. Previously, we only had a team of two. Now we are blessed with four people."
Lauren Goins (Associate Director of Development), Marcella Burrell (Development Coordinator) and Brendan Hallinan (Special Events Coordinator) are the team members.
Shortly after Paules' arrival, Fullerton took steps to put the athletics department on a more stable financial footing. Previously, Fullerton had an "unrestricted" athletics fund, in which any money raised for athletics went into a general fund. For the 2013-2014 school year, Donovan moved the university to a "sport-specific" fundraising model that allowed teams to raise money directly for their programs.
In 2014, passage of the Student Success Initiative student fee provided funding for athletic facility improvements, increased staff personnel, full scholarships for student-athletes and basic services.
'Sport-specific' policy pleases coaches, donors
"The 'sports-specific' fundraising motivated coaches and teams to raise money because they knew their programs would directly benefit from the funds," Paules said. "And donors are able to see where their money is going," said Paules. For example, baseball contributors helped purchase a radar machine that displays pitch speeds at Goodwin Field.
Most teams now have a kickoff fundraising event at the start of each season, with coaches and student-athletes joining fans at the gatherings. Coaches try to outdo each other in raising funds, whether it's having parents or boosters buying a table at a dinner or donating items for an auction, said Paules.
Earlier this year, the "Sprint into Spring Fundraiser" dinner at a downtown Fullerton restaurant raised $25,000 for the Titan men's and women's track teams. The softball team collected $50,000 at its "Leadoff Social Fundraiser" at the Golleher Alumni House. And the baseball team raised more than $100,000 at its "Dinner with the Titans" at an Anaheim venue.
Four fundraising events will be held next month. The Women's Soccer Kick-Off Fundraiser will be Aug. 10 at the Alumni House. The women's volleyball team's Welcome Back Fundraiser Lunch is planned for Aug. 17 at Titan Gym. On Aug. 23, the men's soccer team will hold its Footgolf Fundraiser at the Brea Creek Golf Course. And the men's and women's cross-country teams will host their PRs and Pancakes Fundraiser on Aug. 24 at Florentine's Grill in Fullerton.
"We have tried to take a more holistic approach and get as many people involved as possible. Each sport has its own unique donors. The golf donors are more private. They currently don't have an annual event, but they have built a $1 million endowment for men's and women's golf. Baseball's reach is widespread – there are donors from all over the country. It's been a well-known brand for a long time and that helps," Paules said.
"It's really important to be donor centric. We just had a booster donate $25,000 as an initial step toward funding a women's soccer full scholarship. Someone else may want to contribute toward our new baseball and softball locker room facilities. Another donor might want to sponsor a table at a fundraising dinner," he said.
Paules and his staff try to tailor their approach to each individual donor. "Some want to receive a phone call about athletics department news. Others prefer a text. And some may want to be left alone in general. Each of their stories is different, but they all share a love of Cal State Fullerton athletics," he said.
He supervises four Titan teams
In addition to directing athletic fundraising and corporate sponsorships, Paules supervisors the men's basketball, men's soccer and men's and women's golf programs. "I wear a lot of different hats. I have to deal with budgets, scheduling, facility issues, academics and study plans."
He enjoys working with the coaches in problem-solving and said one of most important duties is reviewing potential student-athletes before signing off on their national letters of intent. "We have to have an understanding about what type of student-athlete is coming here, looking at their academic, athletic and character backgrounds."
Titan men's golf coach Jason Drotter, whose team won the Big West championship in April, said Paules has been very helpful both as a sports supervisor and a development administrator.
Drotter, who just completed his ninth season at Fullerton, said he's enjoyed working with Paules over the years. "Greg has been a pillar of support for the program. He wants to know what's going on, and he comes out to our tournaments."
"We used to have a fundraising golf tournament, but in the last few years we have relied on direct pledges. We have an extensive and deep base of donors that we have developed over the years. Greg has brought many donors and donations to the program himself, and it's allowed me to concentrate more on coaching."
Paules has built relationships with his counterparts at other Big West schools. They sometime exchange ideas, but Paules said "everyone is a little cautious. We are competitive just like anyone else."
He met Andy Fee, Cal State Long Beach's athletics director, five years ago when the latter directed fundraising at UC Santa Barbara. "Andy came up the development channel," said Paules. 'A lot of athletic directors have that background. You have to know how everything operates and understand relationships with a lot of people."
Development called "an intricate job"
Fee said a development administrator faces a daunting task. "It's an intricate job because you are working with the athletic director and the president or chancellor as well as the coaches. There are two streams pulling you in two different directions. Greg has done a good job of navigating that.
"Greg is a good listener, which has become a lost art. If you are a fundraiser, one of the best skills you can acquire is listening. Hearing what the donor is looking for, whether it is scholarships or other ways to contribute, is so important."
Paules grew up in Monrovia and he attended La Salle College Preparatory in Pasadena. At UC Irvine, he received an undergraduate degree in sociology and a master's in business administration. "When I interviewed for this job, I had a lot of Anteater on my resume," joked Paules. "I feel so much more invested here now."
He has other ties to the Titan world. Paules' parents met at Carl's Jr. in Placentia and began dating while he father was attending Cal State Fullerton. His wife, Peggy, is a Cal State Fullerton graduate.
Paules and his wife, who was a first-grade teacher before becoming a stay-at-home mom, live in Orange with their daughters, Lyla, 3 1/2, and Eve, 2. The family has Disneyland season passes and frequently visit the theme park. "We are just five miles away, and the girls just love going there," he said.
He recently became a Big Brother to 12-year-old Landon, whose father died a few years ago.
"I love having dress-up and tea parties with my girls. And Lyla enjoys going to Fullerton basketball games. But I also like to go outside and shoot some hoops, and I do that now with Landon," said Paules, who also serves on the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Club of Fullerton.
A baritone, Paules was a member of a gospel choir as a UC Irvine student. Nowadays, he sings religious songs at the Friends Church in Yorba Linda and Disney tunes at home with his girls.
Greg Paules, with his wife Peggy and daughters, Eve, left, and Lyla. Paules arrived at Cal State Fullerton in 2013. "I feel much more invested here now," he says
An appreciation for his mentors
He credits Big 12 Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and Cal State Northridge Athletics Director Mike Izzi with helping launch his work in sports management. Bowlsby counseled Paules when he was Stanford's director of athletics. Izzi was Bowlsby's assistant at Stanford and hired Paules when he took over as Irvine's athletics director.
Paules said Donovan and Titan Senior Associate Athletics Director Steve DiTolla have strengthened his skills as a sports administrator. "I love what I'm doing, and I'm being mentored the right way," said Paules, who hopes to become a Division 1 athletics director.
"I would love to be an AD," said Paules. "I love the niche of competing at a school like Cal State Fullerton. We keep figuring ways to outmaneuver our competition. Izzi, Jim and Steve have put me in good spots."
Donovan has no doubts that Paules will lead an athletics department someday. "He was my first administrative hire in 2013. I couldn't be more pleased with how things have worked out."