When Funding Success Feels Like Magic

By Laurie Herrick

What would it take to have funding ‘magically’ appear to your camp? Check out this story that a development friend told me:

She worked for a large museum that had just embarked upon a $75 million capital campaign. As part of the training, the development department presented the organizational “story” of why it was so critical to fund the museum campaign to more than 500 staff throughout the organization including guards, porters, and program/front-line ticketing staff. It really paid off, as you’ll see…

Toward the end of the campaign they were baffled as to why one of their prospects, a famous philanthropist in their community, had been unresponsive to requests for a meeting. One day, the mother and granddaughter of this gentleman came to visit the museum. A savvy ticketer at the membership desk noted their name and alerted a nearby porter who ran up to development to tell them that the family of this philanthropist was in the house.

That child got the tour of her life! Programs worked with exhibits to release the best of the on-floor explainers to engage the two. They received a tour behind the theater as well as the planetarium. They went to visit the curators who were restoring an old clock … you get the picture.

The very next day, my friend was sitting with the President at their usual morning meeting. They received a call from the philanthropist’s executive assistant who asked, “On your board, what is the largest category for giving?” “A million and up,” they replied.

By the next week, they received a check from this family in the amount of $2 million.

So what was the magic that had this $2 million fall from the sky? In fact, there was no “magic.” There was intention, planning, training and multiple conversations.

How does this apply to your camp? Notice that this would not have happened if ALL of these individuals had not been trained:

  • The development team was responsible for training staff in sharing the essential story of the museum.
  • The front desk (the ticketer) had the wherewithal to know who was coming in the door.
  • The porter readily went to development to share the news of the philanthropist’s family arrival.
  • The curator took an important role by including the family in the day’s activities.

Lastly, did you notice the question that the philanthropist’s office asked? They wanted to know what the largest category of giving was for the board. If their board’s highest level of giving was $1,000, then perhaps the philanthropist would have given $2,000 instead of $2 million! The museum’s board had to be actively seeking stretch gifts.

Here are five things you should be doing to create a culture of philanthropy at your camp, things that will build fundraising momentum and make your success feel like magic:

  1. Ensure all staff are aware of their role in creating a culture of philanthropy. If you have development staff, have them teach staff about what they are doing and share how they can make a difference. Include the person answering the phones, those doing the bookkeeping and thank you notes, the counselors at camp, and the program staff. Share this story. Ask staff what role they could imagine themselves having if they met a philanthropist. Have them understand that anyone having contact with your camp could be a potential philanthropist.
  2. Place your development staff, or development volunteers in leadership roles at your camp. This will show that your organization values philanthropy. Have development staff be part of alumni activities, camp sessions, communications, web design, etc. They represent the donors. If you want more donors, development staff and volunteers must be well informed and involved in camp. An organization that is successful in creating a culture of philanthropy integrates the donors and the development staff into their daily work.
  3. Invite alumni and other prospective donors to camp for tours led by your development staff. Have the different staff that they meet be passionate about expressing the organization’s essential story.
  4. Educate your Board about philanthropy and the importance of their giving in the eyes of current and potential major donors. Encourage them to make stretch gifts to your camp. Train them to be proficient in your camp’s story as well.
  5. Include development in staff and board meetings. Make it a high priority throughout your organization. This way, development knows about the successes at camp to share with your funders, and the other departments know about the work of development and its value to the health and well-being of your mission.

Successful fundraising results when every lay and professional member of your team is trained and aware of the importance of their role in supporting your development team.

As for my development friend’s story, now you know:

Even if it felt like magic, it was the integration of the museum’s development team throughout the fabric of the organization that led to their large “surprise” donation. This same integration that can provide your camp similar success stories.

Laurie Herrick is a JCamp 180 Mentor.

cross-posted at JCamp 180 Knowledge Center