Making Connections

By Beth Morrow

No one likes to ask for money--even if it’s for a good cause. Many people and businesses are becoming more budget-conscious, scaling back expenditures in myriad ways in order to maintain operations on a status-quo level.

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For organizations looking to expand camp grounds and improve buildings through a capital campaign, this hits doubly hard. Not only is it difficult to find willing donors, but locating enough of them to meet campaign goals takes more time and in-depth effort.

Many folks new to capital campaigning think that raising enough capital for a project is a matter of asking regular donors for more money. Sure, you can. But let’s look first at reasons why capital-campaign giving equals more than just asking for a bigger donation.

Traditional donors--also called “transactional” donors--give smaller, more frequent offerings for the simple reason that they’re asked to. Think about the last time you donated as a traditional giver--change in the Salvation Army kettle, a check for a team’s Little League T-shirts or a contribution to a camp scholarship fund. Providing funds to worthy causes leaves us with a good feeling, but rarely do we recognize we’ve left a legacy or supported something bigger than ourselves.

Capital campaigns are built upon the belief of joining like-minded philanthropists with an organization’s vision to create something of value for future generations. Capital campaigns don’t sell a “good time,” they sell a dream--a building or created community, such as a campground, that has significance, purpose and value that can only come about through cooperation and meaningful, trusting relationships. Capital campaigns are not necessarily built upon the donor’s ability and willingness to offer funding, but an emotional investment and depth of relationship donors feel toward a project.

Here are four strategies to consider in planning a capital campaign:

Prove Your Worthiness
Before you can expect donors in the community, region or state to support fundraising efforts, you must get the entire organization--from part-time office staff to the board of directors--actively involved. Foundations, corporations and agencies that have the ability to donate want to know that their donations are going toward something others believe in and will stand behind. The people in your organization need to know the vision behind the campaign and the reasons a project will make a difference for future generations. The ability to build this sense of purpose in employees and the board is crucial to establishing respect for your efforts from outside sources--potential funders.

Make It Personal
You may be lucky enough to have some regular donors who will increase donations when asked to contribute to a project. For the rest of the capital, however, you must create a structured approach to entice new patrons to fund your dreams. One surefire way to do this is by making the campaign appeal to them in a personal, elemental way.

For maximum results, do preliminary work to know the donors on a multitude of levels. How do they view the organization? How do they interact in the community? What is their history of charitable giving? Do they have preferred areas of giving? For example, if the camp has a health focus, are they more interested in donating toward the medical building, an educational cabin or a recreation pavilion? If they lean more toward beautification and practical living contributions, appeal to that interest as well.

Knowing donors in-depth before approaching them can also translate into using their networks and affiliations for even more potential donors. A doctor who has worked at your camp lends a credible voice to solicitations at his hospital or network of private-practice colleagues. Maybe one of your long-term supporters has a connection to other funding foundations.

Be careful not to underestimate the importance of past camp employees and organization staff members. Sharing a campaign dream with those who have directly experienced the priceless value a camp has given brings them as well as their extended networks one step closer to your vision.

The Value Of Pre-Planning
Asking for money can be a lonely feeling, especially in these difficult economic times. But there are local foundations and corporations looking to invest capital toward improving their community while bolstering their image to citizens. Be knowledgeable about how these funders operate and how to approach them, i.e., some foundations prefer to donate to the beginning stages of a project whereas others like giving “capping” grants to finish what has been started.

Be sure to maximize donations by seeking funds from private, community, corporate and governmental sources. Delve deeply into the ways the camp helps strengthen and enrich the lives of those who attend. Does the camp have a religious affiliation? What about specific interest groups? Does it cater to children and families, health and wellness, education or nature in general? Is it an activity and sports camp or does it center on life skills? Most subject areas offer grants to similar organizations in general, while others offer specific capital grants. You may also find government grants at local levels and federal help through state and regional agencies to add to the campaign. Be aware that most government funds come with fine print that must be evaluated carefully before accepting.

Corporations often have programs that offer a percentage donation of the goal toward the project. With corporate mergers and fewer local ties, these may be harder to spot but are worth the effort.

Participation
With the enormous amount of money required by a capital campaign, it can be tempting to focus most, if not all, of your energy on finding donors capable of meeting two, five or even ten percent of the project needs, and spending less time on smaller donors whose contributions may only amount to a few hundred dollars. But making a positive impression on every single person who finds the beauty in your vision should be the ultimate goal. Creating some type of recognition for everyone who contributes to the campaign leaves donors with a sense of pride in being a part of something bigger than themselves—and a willingness to involve others. Nothing grabs people and stokes their interest like word-of-mouth praise from others close to them, so finding ways to acknowledge even small gifts is a good practice.

Create a reward system with levels of donation by naming buildings after the largest donors. Have visitation days when sponsors come to see their donations in action. Thanking donors publicly via a newsletter, a newspaper advertisement or a radio spot can ensure no one is overlooked. There are many low-cost, creative ways to tell every donor that their gift made a difference now and will continue to improve the lives of those who visit the camp in the future.

A successful capital campaign can be the start of many dynamic, significant relationships with people and companies from all walks of life, who chose your vision as the one they find most meaningful. It may be one of many projects they contribute to or the only one they will ever be able to support financially. By knowing each donor’s abilities, expectations and limitations and how the vision of that donation meshes with the reality of your organization’s dream, you’ll reach your goal and create a legacy for generations to come.

Beth Morrow is a freelance writer, educator and a member of the Central Ohio Diabetes Association’s Youth Committee and Camp Leadership Teams. She has served as Senior Program Director for Camp Hamwi, a residential, age-based, week-long camp for diabetic youth for fifteen years. She can be reached via e-mail at beth@bethmorrow.com.