Taking Over the “Family Business”

Brent Watson

Brent Watson ’04

Assistant Athletic Director for Development
USC Athletics

We don’t usually think of the show Succession when it comes to USC Advancement, but in the case of Brent Watson ’04, an assistant athletic director for development at USC Athletics, it just might come to mind. Both Brent’s dad and his stepmom worked for USC Advancement for over two decades, which means—get this—some of the donors he currently works with are people he met as a teenager, when his parents were the ones courting them!

Nevertheless, the path to his own USC Advancement career was not quite a straight line. After graduating from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences with a BA in economics, fundraising was not even on Brent’s radar. He dabbled in mortgages and sales, but he could tell that these were not the careers for him. Armed with skills transferable to fundraising, he arrived back at USC in 2012 as an assistant director of development for the USC Price School of Public Policy.

At Price, his focus was major gifts and parents, and in 2015 he moved over to Athletics, where he’s currently a member of their major gifts team. He manages Scholarship Club donors who contribute $20K-$100K annually for their Football and/or Basketball tickets, and also raises funds for large projects such as an upgraded baseball stadium, a brand-new stadium for women’s soccer and lacrosse, and a new football performance center. Along with all this, he and the major gift team seek scholarship endowments to support USC’s student-athletes.

When it comes to his success as a fundraiser, Brent cites his main mentor—his father, of course—who showed him the ropes and, to this day, continues to offer advice (whether solicited or not!). But he gives most of the credit to his colleagues:

“When I started at USC, my mindset was to just have the group of donors that I worked with and not collaborate with anyone across campus. But in the past five or so years, I’ve come to recognize that we’re a USC team, not just a USC Athletics or Price team. Now, when appropriate, I push to go on joint visits—not just to personally get to know my colleagues, but also to learn best practices, get different perspectives, and acquire a better sense of what’s happening around campus.” Brent says that the USC Fundraising Institute training programs are another great way to network, learn from colleagues and discover how USC operates.

He also has this, more heartfelt, advice: “Control what you can control. USC, especially in Athletics, always seems to be changing or in the headlines about something—and it’s not always positive. It’s our job as outward-facing fundraisers to keep the university in a positive light and express to our alumni and donors that we are all focused on one goal: to improve the experience of our students by providing them with state-of-the-art facilities, scholarships and the support they need as the future of the Trojan Family.”

On the personal side, Brent, who naturally grew up attending USC Football games, tailgates and picnics, now brings his own kids to them. And the whole family tries to get away on vacation together each year, with Hawaii and British Columbia topping the list.

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