The Interview: Eric Schimmoeller (2024)

Talk to Eric Schimmoeller and you can still hear a hint of his sports announcer past. He’s encyclopedic, dropping sports knowledge with ease. Now, he leverages his fandom for college culture to raise funds for UNLV, bringing gifts large and small across the finish line.

Two years in as senior director of gift planning in Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement, he spends his days meeting with donors to help them plan their estates to take care of the people and causes they care about after they pass away.

What did you do before you came to UNLV?

I spent 10 years in the South at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and then Clemson University in South Carolina, working in gift planning at both institutions. At UT, I was part of a team that successfully completed a billion-dollar capital campaign with more than $430 million in planned gifts. I also worked in planned giving for Purdue University, where I learned a lot from veteran fundraisers.

Tell us about your adventures in sports journalism.

I started in high school as a writer for local newspapers, covering high school and youth sports. I also worked the Sunday morning shift at a local radio station, WDOH, in Delphos, Ohio. I would play a little bit of country music, do news, sports, and weather reports, then it went to spiritual programming. I was operating what would now be considered prehistoric audio equipment: reel-to-reel tape machines, cart machines, some audio cassettes. By the time 1996 rolled around, they finally started getting some CD players.

My bachelor’s degree is in communications from Ashland University in Ohio, where I did TV news, covering NCAA Division II sports, along with high school and professional sports. And I covered high school football for a TV station in Mansfield, Ohio. I also interned with an NBC affiliate in Lima, Ohio, and pivoted to radio to do on-air work and ad sales.

Then, I got hired by the University of Findlay to do play-by-play announcing; I was the “Voice of the Oilers” on the radio for football, basketball, and hockey. I got paid in cash! It was a lot of fun, but I needed a job in the real world. That led me to a role with Gannett Publishing, selling newspapers as a district sales manager. The hours were intense, and it was a lot of driving.

What’s your favorite sports reporting moment?

During my summer NBC internship in 1999, we went to Dublin, Ohio, for the PGA Tour Memorial Tournament, an event hosted by the great Jack Nicklaus. We were filming golfers practicing and hanging out in the media center as the big-time pros came through. I remember Justin Leonard, who had just come off winning the British Open, was giving interviews. And then young little Eric said “Mr. Leonard, can I interview you?” And he treated me just like I was a reporter from Golf Digest or Sports Illustrated. It was a thrill.

How did you get started in higher education?

In college, I worked in the admissions office, doing everything from stuffing envelopes to campus tours. Because it was a small university, everyone was in Founders Hall at Ashland – the president, provost, financial aid, admissions, development, alumni, public relations, advising. I met all the people who make the university go. It lit a little fire for me.

Working for a university seemed like a fit for my personality and skill set. After college, I worked as a leadership consultant for my fraternity, Phi Delta Theta. I pretty much lived out of my car, driving to campuses big and small, checking on chapters all over Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Later, I got my first fundraising job with the Phi Delta Theta Foundation in Oxford, Ohio, as director of the annual fund, then director of development. The 2008 economic crisis hit, and I got laid off, like lots of other folks. Thankfully, I met so many people, including fundraisers at colleges and universities. So, I reached out.

How do you describe Planned Giving?

To me, planned giving is the most inclusive form of fundraising out there. There are no minimums. And it gives you the freedom to support any cause you care about. Planned giving is often an entrée into helping people think about proper estate planning, because you get to think about what you want to share with your family and with charity.

And planned giving is not just for the ultra-wealthy. I’ve worked with many retired educators and small town farmers. I’ve helped steward gifts that could fund a starting quarterback in the NFL, gifts $10 million and above. And I’ve worked on gifts where I’ve heard, “Eric, it’s really important that I name the university to receive $1,000 out of my estate plan, and this is why.” That’s always a really rewarding part of the job. You get to hear the why.

You deal with a sensitive subject. How do you approach it?

I’m not going to talk overtly about death, but I will talk about the future. Usually starting with questions like, “Why do you choose to share with UNLV?” Then get into topics such as “What is your plan to take care of the people you care about? You’ve had this wonderful life where you’ve made money, acquired assets, what is your plan for those items? Did you know that if you included charity in your plan, you and your family could save on taxes?” We get to have great conversations and explore it.

I’ve heard so many times, “I showed up on campus with the clothes on my back, a suitcase, and a $20 bill. And I somehow survived four years, and here I am 40 years later. The university gave me everything. I’ve had success, and now it’s my turn to give it back.”

Tell us the joke about planned giving.

If you want to extend your life by 20 years, sign a gift agreement funded by a gift from your will. It works really well!

What’s different about doing this job in Las Vegas?

UNLV enjoys incredible support from folks in the community who never went to school here. I think about a retired lady I’m working with; she lives out of state but spent her working years in Vegas. Now, she’s supporting scholarships for young women leaders in the Lee Business School and making a generous estate gift. She said she’s supporting UNLV instead of her alma mater because she knows how important the university is to the Vegas community. UNLV is a doorway for so many people to go through and start to build a better life for themselves.

Local foodie recommendations?

I’m a big breakfast guy. I love Rise & Shine in Southern Highlands; the steakhouse omelet, ribeye steak and eggs, ham steak, pancakes, French toast. Also, Omelet House on Boulder Highway at Russell; the omelets are the size of hubcaps. I also love barbecue places like Big B’s Texas BBQ, Jessie Rae’s BBQ, Johnny Mac’s Sports Bar & Grill.

What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?

Growing up, I had a little stutter, a hearing problem. I had multiple ear operations. So, part of my speech therapy was to read text aloud to the rhythm of music. Through that, I developed an affinity for singing. Going to a tiny public high school in farm country Ohio, at times I was the only boy in the high school choir. After college, I sang with the Lima Beane Barbershop Chorus.

What are you watching?

I usually watch sports— college football is at the top of the list. But, I also love this show, Billions, with Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti. Lewis plays this hedge fund manager. He makes $20 million, $100 million gifts, but he does it as a power play, to gain influence. One time he made, like, a $25 million gift, and it was all because they were going to put his name on the building. And the guy whose name they were taking off had fired him long ago, when he caddied for him on the golf course as a kid. So, he waited 30, 40 years to kick the guy’s name off a building.

So, it’s like donor wars?

Yeah! There’s also a lot of high finance, corporate espionage, and hedge fund activity.

What advice would you give your young self?

Embrace taking more risks. Learn to deal with things that are not perfect and that are outside your comfort zone. Also, keep your head down, watch the club, hit the ball.

Tell us about the golf club you chose for your picture. Why is it meaningful?

I use golf a lot in this job. You’re on that golf course for four to five hours, so you get to know people. In golf, you can hit a good shot and something bad can happen — you’re behind a tree, or in the sand, or in the water. Or you can hit a bad shot [and something good happens]. This happened when I played in the Rebel Athletics Fund Golf Tournament. I hit the ball into a tree, it fell, hit the slope, rolled onto the green, leaving us a six-foot putt for birdie.

Sometimes the hole is a 95-yard par three, with lots of bunkers around an undulated green, and sometimes it’s a 600-yard par 5 double dogleg, over water. No two holes of golf are the same. And no two donors or their gifts to the university are the same. Both require tremendous care and thought.

The Interview: Eric Schimmoeller (2024)

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