Photo by Paul Flessland
Team Makers raised a record-breaking $4.7 million dollars cash in 2016. With 4,151 members, NDSU Athletics’ premier fundraising group has never been stronger. The organization will have a new president serve through 2018. We met with Kris Bakkegard in his office at KLJ Engineering to get to know the new man at the helm of NDSU Athletics’ philanthropic organization.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Bison Illustrated: What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Team Makers?
Kris Bakkegard: I’ve filled quite a few different roles with KLJ Engineering and most of them have been different. I started out traditionally doing design work, very much the nuts and bolts, calculations, then stepped more into managing projects so I wasn’t doing so much the day-to-day design work, but more making sure everything got done. Some client management, making sure our clients’ needs were met and most recently, I’ve moved more into a management role where we have our organization divided into three divisions. I help manage one of those divisions.
BI: Where are you from?
KB: I’m from Valley City (North Dakota). I’ve lived all but one or two years of my life within 60 miles of Fargo.
BI: So you grew up watching Rocky Hager led Bison teams?
KB: I did. Phil Hansen, that whole crew. I went to many, many playoff games in the 80s with my dad at the old Dacotah Field.
BI: How did your support grow after attending NDSU?
KB: One of my coworkers, who was out of school before me, he and I bought season tickets before I graduated from college so we’ve been season ticket holders since the 1990s for Bison football. The first year of the Fargodome.
BI: Is that when you became a Team Maker?
KB: Our company joined Team Makers right away. And each of us, there are four of us that ultimately went together to get our tickets. The four partners that worked at our company and then after a period of time, now all four of us have joined so it wasn’t right away that we joined Team Makers as individuals but we did as a company right away. I would say the company joined in the late 90s, and then it was in the early to mid-2000s when the rest of us joined.
BI: When did you decide to get more involved and join with Team Makers’ executive committee?
KB: I have known Pat (Simmers, Team Makers executive director) from the days when we joined Team Makers as KLJ. He’s been a staple part of our life and Team Makers, and one day, we were having lunch with Pat, and I asked, ‘Is there something more I can do to get involved?’ And the next thing I know, I’m on a fund drive team and did that for a few years, then went out for lunch another time and Pat asked me if I would be interested in being a part of this group and I said absolutely and that’s how it all started.
BI: One of the first things NDSU’s Director of Athletics Matt Larsen changed to Team Makers when he arrived was extended the terms on the executive committee from one year to two years. How did you feel about that?
KB: It’s definitely a labor of love to be a part of this organization and it certainly a time commitment. The only thing is, my son is a senior in high school this year so there are complications with all that going on in my outside life. But other than that, no.
I’ve talked to more of the Team Maker past presidents who feel more of the void after their tenure. They’re still an active part of Team Makers, but there’s a missing void without this interaction with Team Makers more so than oh my gosh, this has been such a burden to try to get through. I thought about it, but it was an easy decision to make. This make a lot of sense when Matt proposed it.
BI: Matt was excited about the Team Makers organization when he came to NDSU. What’s it been like working with him?
KB: Matt’s been great. He certainly has some new ideas, but just a great continuation of what, I think, Gene (Taylor) had started and had been building toward. Matt’s been doing that and branching out and has some new ideas, which have been great to liven things up again. Working with Matt has been a pleasure.
One thing that I have thought about is how easy the athletic department makes it to do our job and that they have such a good clear vision. They have good, clear direction on where they’re going, and it makes it easy for us to see where we plug in. We get a lot of assistance from Matt and his team as far as where they see the most need for Team Makers.
BI: Where is Team Makers needed?
KB: The biggest piece in the whole mission of Team Makers is to provide funding to the athletic department. I think our primary benefit in the past has been helping them fund scholarships, which again, allows them to get more athletes in the system and to feed the system that way.
I think one thing that’s shifting a little bit and something that we’re excited about is that we’ve gotten a little more involved in some of the brick and mortar projects as far as either lending support in a way of backing some of the donations that are coming in to also straight-up raising funds to help with specific projects.
Indirectly, I think Team Makers helps with the overall fan base visibility as well and sending the message of Bison Athletics out. They (NDSU) do a great job on their own with their performance on the field, though.
BI: Where are you hoping to see Team Makers go?
KB: A couple words we use come to mind. Just continuing to fund that excellence that already exists in the system. Knowing that you feel a great relief come off you when you see the Sanford Health Athletic Complex getting done although there’s a little bit left to finish. You realize that there is always something coming next and cost of education isn’t getting any cheaper so we’re always going to need to grow as an organization in order to fund even what we do today.
I think about what you heard from Terry (Ludlum, Team Makers’ past president) when you talked with him. We need to find ways outside of the ticket environment to continue gaining our membership. There are a lot of people across the entire country now that have a lot more visibility on a day-to-day basis of the activities going on at NDSU, and a lot of the benefit is from the excellence the program has had and the national recognition it’s gained. We’re hoping to tap into some of those folks who are now seeing what we live every day and get to see at the Fargodome, and what we do as season ticket holders. People are getting to see that across the country and we’re really emphasizing that a lot. We need their help to come back to help fund that excellence and to continue that visibility and to continue going into the future for everybody.
BI: Is the challenge to boost memberships and offer more incentives or raise more awareness if the organization?
KB: It is more challenging in that here (Fargo), we can bump into somebody on the street and talk to somebody about Bison Athletics and kind of strike up that conversation. It’s a lot easier (to be seen) here. We are relying a lot more on other resources to tap into the alumni databases and other places where we can at least connect with people. I think the other side of it is, as we get our message out more, Terry did a great job of laying out the tiered program and what we have now. (Team Makers) is a good organization to say you’re a member of, but you can now contribute to specific places so you know that your contribution is getting to the area that you’re more passionate about. All the way to the individual program funds, which exist all the way up to the cost-of-attendance, which right now, is where we’re focused.
The philanthropic giving, but beyond that, just general gifting to the athletic department and still keeping Team Makers that core fan group. With Matt’s assistance, we’ve done a good job of defining those, and Jack (Maughan) did a lot of heavy lifting in getting that organized in laying out the program, and how we want this to look. It gives us, as volunteers, easier talking points.
BI: Thanks for your time, Kris.
KB: Anytime. Go Bison!