The University of Maine athletic department has announced a new grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation that will serve as the cornerstone to restructure and centralize athletic fundraising.

Over a three-year period, the Alfond Foundation will give $750,000 in unrestricted funds to UMaine athletics. That gift will be used to create the Alfond Fund, designed to increase the visibility of Maine athletics and encourage donor support to support all 17 of Maine’s Division I athletic programs.

In addition, the Alfond Foundation made a three-year commitment to continue its annual $250,000 matching grant for the Harold Alfond Football Challenge, which has assisted the football program since 2007.

“Absolutely it’s a great day for us,” Maine Athletic Director Karlton Creech said Monday. “It’s a continuation of the existing grant for our football program, but this new element of the unrestricted grant will really serve as a catalyst for us to restructure our whole approach to annual giving.”

In fiscal year 2016, Maine’s athletic department had a budget of $18.487 million, of which approximately $4 million was allocated for football.

The Alfond Fund will be modeled after similar fundraising programs, like the Flynn Fund at Boston College and the Ahearn Fund at Kansas State.

“They really define the structures of giving,” said Seth Woodcock, Maine’s senior associate athletic director for development. “It’s very transparent. Donors know where their money is going and how it’s going to help us.”

Donors will still be able to specify which athletic teams will receive their funds. But now all donations will be treated equally when it comes to incentives such as preferred seating at events and public recognition. Further, the administration of donations should be more efficient.

Fundraising currently is handled by each athletic program.

“Some have been better than others, and a lot of the branding and marketing has been specific to each sport program,” Creech said. “This allows us to be much more efficient with our branding and marketing and we’ll be able to more consistently thank our donors.”

The Alfond Fund is scheduled for an official launch in the spring of 2017. At that point, specific benefits for different giving levels will be announced.

“To have our fundraising vehicle be named for the Alfond family is a powerful thing,” Creech added. “It certainly helps initially for buy-in and legitimacy, and then the longer you do it, there becomes an association and people want to be involved to be a donor at a certain level.”

The Alfond family and its foundation have previously donated more than $15 million in gifts and pledges to UMaine athletics. Those included significant capital projects, such as building the on-campus Alfond Arena in 1977 (and then contributing $2 million to expand it in the early 1990s); major renovations to the football stadium and Memorial Gym; and building the Shawn Walsh Hockey Center.

“Through the years, Harold Alfond and the Harold Alfond Foundation have helped the University of Maine achieve excellence in Division I athletics for Maine,” UMaine President Susan J. Hunter said in a press release. “This newest award further underscores the leadership role of UMaine Athletics, and will be a game-changer for fundraising and friend-raising going forward.”

The new gift of $750,000 in unrestricted funds provides the athletic department with some flexible spending.

“That part of the grant is really important to us,” Woodcock said. “It just gives the athletic director the ability to have some resources to allocate where the needs are the greatest.”

Examples of possible expenditures would be chartering a flight for a lengthy road trip, purchasing new equipment, buying championship rings, expanding a recruiting budget when warranted or simply handling unexpected operational costs, Woodcock said.

“It’s a very significant gift,” Creech said. “It could be transformational, not only in dollar amounts but what we anticipate it doing for us with our whole fundraising culture. It’s not just the benefit of $250,000 each year that we can direct, but this idea that this gift will serve as a catalyst to leverage even more giving.”

The Football Challenge funds have been a significant boost to UMaine’s football team. Since 2007, the Alfond Foundation has contributed up to $250,000 annually in a matching grant to the football team. For the past seven years, Maine has generated enough outside funds to receive the full Alfond grant for football, meaning at least an extra $500,000 annually for the football program, Woodcock said. Those funds have been used to charter flights for road games, increase equipment and recruiting expenditures, and raise salaries for assistant coaches.

“One thing that has had a huge impact is our ability to charter our football team,” Woodcock said. “Our location can make road games really challenging. For example, we just got back from William & Mary. Being able to charter is more than just convenient, it’s allowed us to play pretty well on the road.”

Maine beat William & Mary, 35-28 on Saturday, for its fifth consecutive victory.

Meanwhile, efforts to create a $5 million to $7 million endowment for the men’s ice hockey team are progressing. In 2014, Tom and Sally Savage pledged to match the first $1 million in pledges from former UMaine players and coaches to create the Grant Standbrook Hockey Forever Fund.

“It was designed as a five-year effort and the initial goal was to match Tom’s million, and we’re somewhere around $450,000,” Woodcock said. “We’re well on our way. We’ve hit unprecedented levels with our hockey alums. We’re trying to get to that million (dollar) level and celebrate that, and then we’ll try to motivate others.”