Rob Ruchotzke Joins Creative Fundraising Advisors as Consultant

August 15, 2022

Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) is pleased to announce that Rob Ruchotzke has joined the firm as Consultant, where he will focus on annual giving strategy, development assessments, campaign feasibility studies, and campaign counsel. Ruchotzke comes to CFA with nearly a decade of annual giving experience in higher education institutions and brings a passion for building relationships to find solutions for CFA’s partners.

States CFA Principal Jake Muszynski, “Rob’s expertise is a tremendous asset to the company, and he brings new perspective that is key to CFA’s ability to provide fundraising strategy for all giving levels within an organization.”

Ruchotzke began his career at Ruffalo Noel Levitz as a project center manager for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) and then as an annual giving officer with the Missouri S&T Advancement team. Most recently, Ruchotzke served as the director of annual giving at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), where he led multi-channel campaigns, developed crowdfunding platforms, managed annual giving vendors, and served as the strategy lead for UNI’s Day of Giving (#LivePurpleGiveGold).

A native of Camanche, Iowa, Ruchotzke holds a BA in Public Relations from the University of Northern Iowa and currently resides in Cedar Falls, Iowa where he enjoys spending time outdoors.

States Ruchotzke, “I am excited to join the CFA team and their many partners. Philanthropy and annual giving are passions we all share, and I am eager to implement what I have learned to impact our partners, communities, and organizations at a fundamental level.”

Since CFA was founded in 2015, it has grown from sole practitioner practice to a full-service, nationally focused, strategic fundraising firm with clients in arts and culture, education, environment, and human services sectors. CFA’s client base includes The Entertainment Community Fund (New York), Philadelphia Contemporary (Philadelphia), Trinity Park Conservancy (Dallas), St. John’s College (Annapolis), Northside Achievement Zone (Minneapolis), North Carolina Museum of Art (Raleigh), Friends of the Mississippi River (Minneapolis), Mitchell Hamline School of Law (St. Paul), Sycamores (Los Angeles), Headlands Center for the Arts (San Francisco), Santa Fe Community Foundation (Santa Fe), Santa Fe School for the Arts & Sciences (Santa Fe), Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (Los Angeles), AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles (Los Angeles), Street Poets (Los Angeles), and numerous others.

We are Hiring! Apply to Join CFA’s Team

Job Postings (click to navigate):

TITLE

Administrative Associate

POSITION TYPE

Full-time, FLSA exempt

SALARY

$50,000 with growth potential based on experience and qualifications

LOCATION

Remote with 5-10% travel for client and team meetings
Strong preference for candidates based in the Twin Cities

PURPOSE

Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) is taking steps to build capacity as we strive to bring the best and brightest people and ideas to work with our mission-driven, non-profit clients. We have a shared vision for our biggest year of impact yet. We are looking for a dynamic, race equity-oriented professional with experience managing multiple projects simultaneously. Interested applicants should be motivated by the opportunity to contribute to a fast-paced, high growth, entrepreneurial environment.

Reporting directly to CFA’s President, the Administrative Associate will provide seamless administration and project engagement support to the office of the President. The Administrative Associate brings a client-focused mindset to everything they do, enabling the President’s fulfillment of short and long term organizational goals. The role engages with both internal team and external stakeholders to support the President’s business development, project execution, and strategic growth activities. The Administrative Associate anticipates opportunities and issues proactively and is highly adept at managing calendars, timelines, and deliverables.

Responsibilities

  • Manage President’s calendar, scheduling requests, and meeting logistics.
  • Manage other administrative tasks, including collecting and routing company mail and depositing business checks.
  • Work closely with the President to schedule, prepare and send invitations, and manage logistics for internal project orientation stand-ups, project kickoff meetings, weekly client meetings, stakeholder interviews, community listening sessions and focus groups.
  • Participate in weekly status and planning meetings, and capture notes and action items.
  • Help prepare project milestone summaries and status updates.
  • Assist with project proposals, responses to RFPs, and client agreements.
  • Provide outstanding customer service. Be responsive and timely in responding to client and manager questions, concerns, and requests.

Requirements

  • Demonstrated ability to manage multiple, conflicting priorities, and collaborate with a team in a fast-paced, remote-first environment.
  • Comfortable sending and answering emails with a high level of urgency and attention to detail.
  • Detail-oriented writer; effective verbal and written communication skills including strong listening, negotiation, and facilitation skills.
  • Skilled user of Zoom, Microsoft Office, and Google Suite applications.
  • Skilled user of Asana or other project management system.
  • Ability to learn and adapt to various technology applications.
  • Ability to work remotely.
  • Bachelor’s Degree preferred.

TO APPLY

Email your resume and a cover letter describing how you will uniquely add executive and administrative impact with “Administrative Associate” in the subject line to: [email protected]


TITLE

Operations and Business Manager

POSITION TYPE

Full-time, FLSA exempt

SALARY

$60,000 with growth potential based on experience and qualifications

LOCATION

Remote with up to 5% travel for team meetings
Strong preference for candidates based in Chicago, Illinois

ABOUT THE ROLE

Creative Fundraising Advisors is taking steps to build capacity as we strive to bring the best and brightest people and ideas to work with our mission-driven, non-profit clients. We have a shared vision for our biggest year of impact yet. The Operations & Business Manager will report to the Chief Operating Officer (COO). This role relies on using critical thinking to keep the organization running smoothly, delivering operational excellence to the team, being an operational point of contact for our clients and vendors, and working closely with the COO to support finance, HR, IT, and legal functions. The Operations & Business Manager operates with self-direction and initiative in creating, executing, and updating organizational processes and core administrative functions.

ABOUT YOU

You are a dynamic, race equity-oriented professional with a background in finance, accounting, operations, change management, or organizational administration. You are extremely well-organized and deeply satisfied by high quality customer service within and outside the organization. You’re passionate about social impact and supporting a team striving to maximize the missions of arts and cultural, education, social services, and environmental non-profits. You’re a clear and effective communicator both verbally and in writing to technical and non-technical audiences. You’re flexible, love variety, and are happy operating at any level. You thrive on being the “go to” person for inquiries about how to get things done. You’re adept at creating structure where needed, and you take the initiative to design and sustain organizational processes. You appreciate the big picture of our mission and balance and see operational excellence as an avenue to achieving CFA’s goals and impact. You are motivated by the opportunity to contribute to a responsive, high growth, entrepreneurial environment and to continually innovate on operations to meet a growing organization’s needs.

Responsibilities

Operations Management:

  • Together with the COO, establish annual goals framework, tracking and evaluation.
  • Lead contract management and compliance.
  • Design and lead strategic initiatives within the organization to support growth goals.
  • Plan and execute team meetings, retreats, and other teambuilding activities.
  • Assist with HR and benefits platform management and new hire onboarding.
  • Manage inbound inquiries across communication platforms including web, mail, and email.
  • Ensure that information is up to date, organized, and accessible to the team.
  • Be an expert in our finance and workflow applications including Quickbooks, Google Suite, MS Office, and Zoom.
  • Prepare standard proposal templates, agreements, and other legal documents for review.
  • Proactively identify opportunities and make a business case for operational improvements within the organization. 
  • Develop, document, and execute organizational processes.

Financial Administration:

  • Manage all accounts receivable according to billing schedule.
  • Process expense reimbursements in a timely and accurate manner. 
  • Ensure payroll is submitted timely and accurately. 
  • Collaborate with COO and finance and accounting partners to keep information up-to-date.
  • Assist COO in preparation of annual budget and monthly financial reports and forecasts.
  • Be the primary contact for invoicing and assist clients and team with use of accounting systems.
  • Develop tools and templates in Quickbooks to optimize processes and reporting.

TO APPLY

Email your resume and a cover letter describing how you will uniquely add operational impact with “Operations & Business Manager” in the subject line to: [email protected]

Liz Jellema Joins Creative Fundraising Advisors as Chief Operating Officer

Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) announced today that Liz Jellema will join the firm as its new Chief Operating Officer, effective January 5, 2022.

In her role, Jellema will provide oversight of the operations, culture, values, talent, marketing and communications, and financial performance of the full-service, fundraising consulting firm.

Jellema joins CFA from the University of Chicago where she served as Director of Operations and Strategic Initiatives for the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at the Booth School of Business.

“Liz is an action-oriented leader with a growth mindset,” says Paul Johnson, President of CFA. “She is highly strategic, collaborative, and detail oriented, which will serve our firm and our clients well. Liz has the skills to effectively co-lead our firm through a period of rapid growth and development.”

Since CFA was founded in 2014, it has grown from sole practitioner practice to a full-service, nationally focused, strategic fundraising firm with consultants based in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. CFA principally supports clients in the arts, education, environmental, and human services sectors.

CFA’s client base has grown to include The Actors Fund (NYC), Gotham Film & Media Institute (NYC), Philadelphia Contemporary (Philadelphia), St. John’s College (Annapolis), Northside Achievement Zone (Minneapolis), North Carolina Museum of Art (Raleigh), Friends of the Mississippi River (Minneapolis), Headlands Center for the Arts (San Francisco), Santa Fe Community Foundation, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (Los Angeles), Street Poets (Los Angeles), Orange County Museum of Art (Costa Mesa), and numerous others.

Johnson notes that Jellema’s rich work experience positions her well for the COO role. “Liz has held leadership positions at a start-up, a government-related economic development agency, and at one of the world’s top business schools. Her background is ideal for CFA as we continue to build a robust portfolio of clients from numerous sectors and locations across the U.S.”

Prior to joining the Booth School, Jellema served as vice president of engagement for CityBase in Chicago, director of research at World Business Chicago, and as an analyst at AECOM Economics. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration, real estate and urban land economics at the University of Wisconsin, a master’s degree in urban planning at the University of Michigan, and a certificate of civic leadership at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

Jellema was drawn to the COO position because of CFA’s reputation in the nonprofit arena and its significant growth potential. “I am energized by opportunities where I can make a difference by translating strategy to operations and where the culture is client-centered,” she says. “CFA is in the right place at the right time to continue along its trajectory from start up to a powerhouse. I look forward to working with this team to support the mission-driven clients we serve.”

Listening and Creativity Are Key To Successful Corporate Collaborations 

Bouncing back from the economic and societal upheaval of the past two years is going to take a lot of listening and creativity for not-for-profit organizations. This is particularly true for those wanting to partner with corporations on complex – and theoretically more lucrative – partnerships. This work, as opposed to corporate foundation support from a grant request, centers on mutually-beneficial marketing and brand partnerships that can provide corporate support for an organization’s mission. The ability to effectively solicit and steward these corporate relationships often requires dedicated staff and should not be entered into without thinking through internal resources and external perceptions. Measuring success in these partnerships requires thinking through your goals for funding and brand awareness.

We spoke with Fredrick Wodin, Director of Corporate Relations at New York City Ballet, to understand how nonprofit organizations can develop effective relationships with the corporate sector.

CFA: First things first, what are corporate partnerships?

Fredrick Wodin: The corporate relations function in a nonprofit works to develop relationships with corporations that ultimately lead to financial or other support. In a large organization like ours, we have a dedicated team (of two) to support this work. Smaller organizations may include this work in other departments within the development function.

These nonprofit fundraising professionals may work with foundation, community relations, special events or marketing teams to identify and build mutually-beneficial relationships. On both sides of the equation, these roles involve helping each other find our way through the unfamiliar complexities of the other side. The value to corporations can include building a stronger brand, strengthening business relationships, improving employee engagement, enabling or supporting a product launch, or building other external goodwill.

Of course, the goal is to create a perfect fit – and that isn’t just about what we want from the relationship. It’s about what the partner wants. (We always want financial support!) What the corporation wants and needs matters more. That means listening with curiosity and patience, understanding what you’re hearing from the other side, and doing some creative thinking to craft a proposal that advances the corporation’s strategy, but is true to your organization.

What are some examples of corporate partnerships that serve both organizations’ strategic interests?

I’ve approached big companies in the same industries, and the conversation is never the same nor is the partnership ever structured the same. That’s because our conversations always start with what their business needs. Then we look at what we have to offer.

For instance, over the years several jewelry companies have partnered with us. One wanted us to perform at the opening of a new flagship location. Another wanted to borrow the special nature of our creative process to reflect on its products in a certain way. And others wanted to host a private event in the theater for their best clients, to experience “our world” and meet the dancers.

Here’s another example: We previously worked with an activewear company that is very focused on the beauty of movement. Their team believes that our artists represented this beauty and could help support their commercial interests. As part of our partnership, some of the dancers appeared in marketing campaigns, we co-hosted events at the theater for social media, press and retail partners, and we created a workout together.

Where should organizations start with this effort?

Start internally. That means, look at your mission, programs, assets – including your board, your space, your collection, your people, and your brand – and consider how they might appeal to corporate funders. Your board is a valuable place to start, because these are people who believe in your mission and who believe that being connected to your organization accrues some value to their own personal brand.

First ask them why they’ve chosen to work with you, and then understand their background and network. Can they introduce you to like-minded companies where you could help advance their strategies?

In our case, the dancers are our most significant and differentiating asset. I can bring in our marketing colleagues to speak about beautiful possibilities. A hunger relief organization might use testimonials and data around the number of meals delivered to attract funders.

It sounds like a lot of relationship building, as with major gifts donors. How do corporate partnerships differ from major gifts?

With major gifts, you’re most often looking for an emotional connection to the mission. This is rare in the corporate sector, especially as executives have less personal discretion about directing corporate giving dollars. This is more likely a business decision, and when a corporation doesn’t partner with us I try to evaluate that unemotionally. Was it about our pricing, the timing, the competition? Learning something, even in a bad outcome, is always worth the time and effort, even asking the prospect for insights.

What should you know about a corporation before you approach it? What’s the best way to prepare for a meeting?

I go into the first meeting prepared to ask some good questions and to listen carefully. You should definitely do your background research to start thinking about possibilities, but you can’t know everything, and you definitely can’t walk into an early meeting with a proposal. You don’t know –  and aren’t expected to know – what’s most important to the organization right now. Listen and learn and then propose.

They will feel more excited and engaged if they come away from that first meeting feeling that you heard them  – their interests, financial limitations, past experience, etc. Use that first meeting to learn about major initiatives, budget, timing, objectives, and more. Take that insight back to your team to sketch out the best possibilities. Bring the best ideas and proposals to the next meeting.

How should a nonprofit think about goals and targets for a corporate relations program? What are some helpful short- and long-term KPIs?

Obviously revenue is the most important measure. But these are not quick-turn “deals,” and if you’re just getting started, you’re going to have to measure activity and progress instead of actual dollars in the door.

Here are some activities you can keep track of:

  • Discovery phase: Make sure you have a thorough understanding of your organization’s mission, vision and values, and the assets you have to offer through partnerships; You’ll continue to refine this as you talk to more people, but start with a strong base.
  • Conversations: Start talking with board members and major donors to see what matters to them;
  • Introductions: Ask your biggest supporters to introduce you to their contacts at companies to which they are connected;
  • Learning: What insights can you get about your organization from people not connected to you? This can help you talk about your value in a language outsiders will understand and might suggest new people to approach.”

Don’t make “emails sent to companies’’ a metric. That might drive you to take a mass marketing approach, which really won’t work here. There’s no value in sending out a cold proposal with the same message to a hundred companies. It has to feel like a genuine connection.

Is it important to match the caliber of brand between the sponsor and organization?

While you certainly want to avoid a mismatch of values or hurting your community with an inappropriate alignment between brands, don’t be a snob. Prestige brands are great in certain instances. There are also times when more accessible brands might be a better fit. If you want to increase access to transportation for lower income communities, an economy car brand is likely a more logical partner than a luxury brand.

If someone wants to offer significant support, and you like what the brand stands for, do all you can to make it happen.

What if a corporation says no?

Usually, it is “no’” unfortunately, but it’s not “no forever” – it’s “not right now.” There are some discussions that, no matter how much people want to make something happen, just don’t work out. What they want might be something we can’t give them. Take that information in and keep the conversation going. Apply the learning to the next, similar discussion. It’s an iterative process in what you hope is a long-term relationship.

We thank Fredrick Wodin for sharing his exceptional and generous insight. 

Thinking Beyond The Gift Pyramid: A case study for a campaign’s public phase

When the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) began planning for the public phase of an $85 million comprehensive campaign, Rehana Abbas, chief philanthropy officer, knew it was not going to be a traditional launch. Most museums are closing in on their goals by the time a campaign goes public. Abbas knew that would not be true for her organization.

“Unlike many museums, our board is not only about fundraising,” Abbas said. “Our trustees are generous, but giving capacity is not the top consideration for joining the board. We knew we had to have a much more robust public phase and that we had to do things differently to engage our diverse community.”

OMCA opened its doors in 1969, bringing together art, history, and natural sciences, in order to  explore California’s unique character, landscape, waves of migration, and culture of innovation. The museum, Abbas suggested, was at the forefront of the national movement to make museums more equitable gathering spaces where all people feel like they belong. As part of the Museum’s campaign, OMCA is renovating its seven-acre campus to create a Museum, Garden, and Gathering Place for all community members to feel welcome.

“All In! The Campaign for OMCA” sought to raise $85 million over five years: $30 million cumulative for annual operating support which has grown year over year during the five-year campaign, $40 million to build long-term funds for financial sustainability and $15 million to transform the campus.

Building the base authentically

Knowing that the board would provide 25% of the funding, Abbas and her colleagues focused on engaging supporters at all levels, and built the membership base from 7,000 to 12,000 (pre-COVID). Significant gains in membership were made through such dynamic exhibitions as No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man and All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50. “It’s in our DNA to engage people in respectful dialogue around important issues,” Abbas explained. “We offer lots of interactive opportunities to make that happen.”

Recognizing planned gifts in real-time

Abbas said OMCA also decided that they would recognize estate intentions at face value if people let the museum know it was in their estate plans. “This motivated donors to disclose their estate plans, and allowed us to show our appreciation long before we received their planned gift,” she said.

Aligning philanthropy with values of the museum

OMCA leaders also worked hard to align philanthropy with the values of the museum. “Our development language was too transactional and inaccessible,” Abbas said. “We wanted the donor and member experience to match the museum experience.” To that end, they made shifts to communications to focus more on philanthropy, the act of giving at any level, and less on transactional benefits and exclusivity. Donor events became platforms for supporters to connect with community partners who were engaged in exhibition development. “We try to center the voices of our community partners and artists in donor engagement.”

OMCA also wanted the donor experience to be accessible, so she and her team changed up the online giving platform. “Accessibility is at the center of what we do, so if our donation mechanisms and language aren’t accessible, that’s just not going to reflect who we are and want to be.”

Raising money outside the box

OMCA is fortunate to have the Oakland Museum Women’s Board, a separate 501(c)3 that donates exclusively to the museum. Annually, the group of dedicated volunteers holds a “White Elephant Sale” in a 96,000 square foot warehouse that is owned by the Women’s Board. After a preview weekend in January, the sale then opens to a wider public for a month. “It is wild,” said Abbas. “They have everything from bric-a-brac and buttons, to furs and wedding dresses, to Frank Gehry designed furniture.” The Women’s Board raises over $2 million annually in their sale, and have contributed $8 million to OMCA’s “All In!” Campaign. (In Spring 2021, the sale will be held online due to COVID). 

Lessons learned

Most giving to the campaign has been unrestricted, which is a testament to the trust the community has in the museum and its leadership, especially Executive Director Lori Fogarty, Abbas said. “We’re telling a fuller story about what the museum is to the community and how it can foster social cohesion. People really responded to that message.”

With just a few months left in the campaign, which is slated to end June 30, 2021, Abbas said they are very much on track. OMCA saw an outpouring of generosity from loyal supporters when COVID forced the museum to close (closed since March 2020, it has not yet reopened). “We have less than $1 million to go and through customized outreach and direct mail, I am  confident that we’re going to make it.”

To learn more, visit https://50.museumca.org/

Read more about CFA’s approach to Strategic Planning or contact us to discuss your initiative.

Rehana Abbas Oakland Museum of California

Rehana is the chief philanthropy officer for the Oakland Museum of California

Webinar Insights from Sharing Power: The Challenge of Board Diversity

The issue of Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEA&I) is making headlines in America right now, as it  ought to be. So agreed the panelists of nonprofit and corporate leaders who discussed diversity and  Board representation at the “Sharing Power: The Challenge of Board Diversity” webinar. The online event was co-hosted by Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) and CultureBrokers, both national organizations based in Minneapolis.

CFA President and fundraising consultant Paul Johnson kicked off the discussion noting how the U.S. has made zero progress in Board diversity. Johnson cited a recent BoardSource study which found 84% of Boards were Caucasian as of 2017, up from 80% in 1994. This illustrates how BIPOC individuals and groups have little institutional influence on the nonprofits impacting their communities.

The event — attended live by over 90 people from L.A. to Brooklyn to Dallas — focused on what nonprofit leadership can do to move the needle toward more diversity on Boards. You can watch the hour-long webinar on YouTube. Moderated by Johnson, along with DEA&I strategist Lisa Tabor of CultureBrokers, the panel included:

  • William Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston;
  • Samuel Hoi, president of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA);
  • Kim Nelson, retired senior vice president of External Relations for General Mills; and
  • Drew Wilson, COO/CFO of SoundCloud.

Board Diversity Q&A

Staff and Board members are aware of the need to grow the power of BIPOC populations on Boards to enhance values, programs, governance, and efficacy, but they often lack the knowledge, skills, and commitment to move from  awareness into action. Johnson and Tabor led the group through a frank conversation on the subject as well as questions from participants.

Tabor: What are philosophies that need to change if an organization wants to diversify?

Hoi: “The barrier to Board diversity is intrinsically linked to structures in society and dominant culture. We must mindfully and actively dismantle these obstacles in our minds and in our Board policies and practices. People define power with what they have. If they have money, we can codify that money is important, but it is not the only form of currency. Money should not equal a Board seat. We must also recognize that knowledge, advocacy, community credibility, and honest feedback are as critical as money.”

“Most boards and members genuinely want to do good. However, well-intentioned people don’t always ensure good outcomes. Inherent bias limits the impact organizations intend to have on society. When Boards recruit from within their circles, they inadvertently nurture a cult culture instead of reflecting the people they serve.”

Tabor: How do the Board Chair and Executive Director work together to make the Board effective?

Harris – “This work is never done. The CEO and Chair must be committed to an inclusive board. They must be willing to listen to disparate voices. We have a proclivity as human beings to be with others like us. To confront that homogeneity, we have to be clear that we have a set of values around how we conduct ourselves. I am an advocate of a Code of Ethics complimentary to your Conflict-of-Interest declaration. It’s one way to address conscious bias.”

“Be clear about what you’re trying to advance culturally from entry-level employees to the Board. You have to walk the talk in your organization and expect the same from the Board. You have to have the candor to say, ‘we are not as representative as we need to be.’”

Tabor: What are you seeing in the corporate world in terms of Board recruitment where nonprofit boards could benefit?

Nelson: “They can benefit from each other.”

First, on recruitment, it’s about setting intentionality around what skills the organization needs for the future. There’s a lot of rigor in the corporate world for certain skills areas — ESG or cybersecurity or digitization. Focusing on skills has helped the for-profit world think about Board members.  Using a skills matrix can help focus on what you need.”

“A second option is requiring a diverse slate. If you have a skills matrix, you can get beyond why we want diversity. You simply need expertise. A best practice that works well with this is inclusion. You get there through Board onboarding. I’ve seen one-on-one onboarding with each board member and every key leadership team member. On another board, the Chair checks in once, twice or quarterly and ask questions like, ‘Are you getting your voice heard?’”

“Third, it’s important to have a robust feedback mechanism that’s quantitative, a survey with questions about equity on the Board. You must ask, ‘Do you have the opportunity to contribute?’ and ‘Is the board environment inclusive?’”

Tabor: What can leaders do to sustain a sense of urgency around diversity?

Wilson: “Since the pandemic and recent social justice movement, a lot of companies and organizations don’t want to be on the wrong side of it. Regulators, funders and customers require diversity.”

“NGO Boards have a false sense of comfort because they’re doing good. There’s a moment that’s happening now where I suspect you will see the ebb and flow of diversity turn favorably. The real benefit comes to the Board when you can add diverse members and their experiences and perspectives help the underlying performance of the organization.“

Johnson: There is a lot of data – it is fact — that a more inclusive and diverse organization is more productive and profitable. The Mansfield rule requires that 30 percent of the prospect pool be from a diverse population of women, people of color, LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities, and that an organization be intentional about recruiting through advertising and asking volunteers and community leaders far beyond regular networks. How do you prevent these changes from being performative?

Hoi: “Be committed to putting people of color in leadership positions. This cannot be rushed, but the Board membership has to embrace this as a mandate.”

Harris: “When you start having new members on the Board, make it participatory. Have a board retreat. Make it half play and half work. Be intentional around them getting to know each other. They’ll realize they have more commonalities than differences.”

Johnson: How do we break the pattern of complicity?

Nelson: “In the business world, which could happen in NGOs, two steamrollers are coming at companies: legislation requiring diversity and the investor community. A third is reporting requirements on diversity. The funding community can make a huge difference here in ensuring these moves aren’t performative.”

Johnson: Many organizations that serve majority BIPOC communities are white. How is that reconciled?

Wilson – “Self-awareness is not common in the Board room as it relates to homogeneity. Fear is what’s driving them to change now, but we have to hope that the value of diversity improves the Board’s effectiveness and becomes the number one motivator to expanding diversity at the Board level.”

Tabor: “One strategy is to add seats – don’t wait for a vacancy to come up. And, create a welcoming environment for people of color so they don’t feel tokenized.”

Hoi – “An all-white board serving a primarily non-white population or community is failing its fiduciary duty in some ways. The Board is about positioning its purpose and future and attracting maximum resources. In today’s contemporary society, an all-white Board won’t be attractive to future staff. Secondly, giving communities will not be interested in investing in non-diverse organizations. Last, diversity is a necessary lens for the Board but should never signify the value of the person once they’re at the table. That’s what it means to share power.”

Would you like to have more discussion and advice about how to make real change toward DEA&I? Read about CFA’s Finding Diverse Fundraising Talent webinar.

Highlights from our Finding Diverse Fundraising Talent webinar

When a client strongly recommended to Paul Johnson, president of Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA), that he add a consultant of color to the CFA project team, Johnson readily agreed. To find that person, he turned to the channels he had long used: his LinkedIn contacts, traditional professional fundraising entities, and colleagues.

“I thought it would be relatively easy to find somebody to join our team,” says Johnson. “But over and over, people told me they were struggling to build staffs that were culturally and racially diverse, that there was shortage of diverse talent. And I realized that the fact I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to find consultants of color showed my implicit bias. That bias got me started on the wrong foot.”

Johnson sought assistance from Lisa Tabor, president of CultureBrokers, a trusted diversity, equity and inclusion consultant. “I told her I’m obviously doing something wrong here.” That admission launched a whole new journey for CFA. “CultureBrokers helped us take a broader look at our possible pool of talent and to consider changes to our hiring process, like posting on the African American Development Officers Network (AADO) site. As a result, we found several great candidates and ultimately hired two deeply experienced women of color, AJ Casey and Utica.”

 

Sharing Knowledge and Experience with the Field

The experience of building diversity in his own company led Johnson to partner with Tabor to develop a “Finding Diverse Fundraising Talent,” a panel discussion with national fundraising experts, which was hosted by CFA on February 25 and attended by nearly 150 people.

Tabor moderated the panel, which included William Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston; Birgit Smith Burton, executive director of Foundation Relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology and founder of AAD; Sunanda Ghosh, director of Strategic Relations for The Redford Foundation; and CFA’s new of counsel consultant, AJ Casey.

The panel started by answering the question why it matters to have people of color represented in fundraising. Their responses: Fundraising is where the narrative of an organization is shaped, so it matters whose voice is included. Fundraising manages external relationships, so it matters whose face is seen in community conversations. And importantly, donors of color are increasing, so diversity in staff is vital.

One panelist shared that, despite the importance of diversity, it has been estimated, by the Lilly Foundation, that of the approximately 37,000 development professionals in the U.S, only 12% of. are people of color. Often, Ghosh said, she is the only person of color at fundraising conferences.

Why is this? AJ Casey said one reason is that, until recently, it has not been a priority for nonprofit organizations to make sure their fundraising staff was diverse. And Birgit Smith Burton said organizations don’t commit resources to the search. “You can’t post and pray. You have to do things differently. You have to look for connections. With filling positions, you can’t just turn on the spigot; you need to always be out there.

The demand for professionals of color in fundraising is there, Burton said. “I’ve got 20 requests in my inbox of organizations looking for people of color.”

Recommendations for Building Diverse Fundraising Teams

One of the most helpful things that can be done to attract more staff of color is to develop an action plan, said Harris. “If you don’t operationalize it, you won’t have change. And attracting talent is fine but what about retention? It’s not only about putting policies in place but about culture.”

Panelists agreed that the focus of finding diverse talent cannot be about numbers. “It’s not about putting bodies in seats,” said Casey. “It’s about a complete social paradigm shift in how we do business, how we interact with each other, about our hair, our clothes, and how we interact with donors who come from different backgrounds.”

A common myth, Burton pointed out, is that you have to lower the bar to attract people of color. At the same time, the panelists all said that employers often have higher expectations for people of color, and that there was an expectation that they couldn’t make mistakes.

Ghosh said that having people of color in many positions throughout an organization is critically important for attracting diverse talent.

The panelists also addressed the issue of white leaders needing to create more space for people of color. “Sometimes it’s about white professionals stepping aside, making room at the table or giving up their seat,” Tabor said. As for dealing with leaders who don’t understand the value of diversity in a staff, Harris recommends you look to that person’s peers to help build awareness of how that lack of diversity is holding an organization back. Tabor agreed: “Peer pressure works.”

 

Supporting Professionals of Color in Philanthropy

For young professionals of color starting out in the philanthropic world, Casey recommended cross-cultural mentoring, and Burton suggests considering the difference between mentoring and sponsoring. “Mentors provide guidance. A sponsor uses influence to connect a person to opportunities, and sometimes we just need connection, not more guidance.”

 Harris said to make sure to ask potential employers about their commitment to diversity, equity, access and inclusion and about what kind of advancement opportunities they offer. “Be proactive in expressing your career aspirations,” he said, “and choose your boss carefully.” 

Being Willing to Stay in the Game

Casey noted how hard the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion can be. “We all want it to just be simple and easy, where we’re not always feeling like we have to learn something new. It’s always going to be awkward until it gets easy. So we have to socially normalize the awkwardness that we’re going to feel until we all learn to understand where each other is coming from and to respect each other.” 

Casey shared a helpful metaphor about diversity and inclusion: “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Diversity is inviting different people to the dance; inclusion is playing the music that makes them want to dance.’ Don’t look at it like some people are just going to have to leave the party because if you don’t want to listen to the music I want to listen to, then you have to leave. If we all stay in the party, we will learn to like things about each other’s music…It’s going to be hard until it’s easy, and it’s never going to get easy if we all just walk away from the difficulty.”

Planned giving in a pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has driven a significant rise in end-of-life planning, with many sources showing a 30-45% increase in the creation of wills, trusts, and estate plans. As a consequence, nonprofits are reporting a significant increase in planned gifts.

Creative Fundraising Advisors President Paul Johnson sat down with Theresa Gienapp, Director of Planned Giving at Macalester College, to analyze  this important issue, and to determine what an organization can do to make sure it is prepared for  these vital, sensitive  conversations. 

“In the past, planned gifts were usually triggered by a major life event — a marriage, divorce, change in job, the death of a family member,” says Johnson. “But this once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic is stimulating a whole new level of interest in planning for end-of-life and for helping beloved organizations that are suddenly under stress.”

Gienapp agrees. “I have definitely seen, in the face of hundreds of thousands of deaths in this country, that people are interested in tidying up their financial affairs. An alum called it ‘Marie Kondo-ing your estate,’ which certainly makes sense.”

In this rapidly changing environment, how can fundraising professionals be a respectful and helpful part of planned giving? The answer lies in deep and authentic relationships, says Johnson.

AN OVERVIEW OF PLANNED GIVING

“The traditional definition of planned giving is naming the people and organizations you want to receive your assets—money, property, a portion of your estate—upon your death,” says Johnson. “But I think of planned giving more as the result of an organization building an authentic, long-term relationship with a donor. It’s about planning your gift to the organizations during your lifetime and after you die.”

Johnson notes that planned gifts come in many forms. Some are bequests from a donor designating a charitable organization in a will. Others are annuities or trusts that provide income while a person is living, with the remainder going to a charitable organization upon the person’s death.

“The profile of a planned giving donor can be quite different than a major gifts donor,” explains  Johnson. “Your really great planned giving prospect might be the retired schoolteacher who doesn’t have cash but does have a retirement account and home, assets that can be transferred to you upon a person’s death.”

Planned giving also allows someone to participate in a campaign in a much more significant way than a cash gift might allow. For example, CFA recently consulted on the Dodge Nature Center campaign and the largest gift was a planned gift, which allowed the organization and the donor to think big, says Johnson. “That planned gift had a powerful effect on Dodge’s ability to plan for generations to come.”

Gienapp suggests that  Macalester College has found  that 50th reunions are a time of reflection and opportunity to talk about planned giving. “Our class of 1970, for example, felt strongly that they still had things they wanted to do, that they wanted to make a difference. It was a good time for a planned giving conversation.”

GETTING STARTED

Johnson emphasizes that, first and foremost, planned  giving must be an extension of a major gifts program. “While some nonprofits are not large enough to have  a planned giving director, every major gift officer needs to be well-versed in planned giving mechanisms to be of service to donors.”

Second, Johnson suggests   that if an organization has not yet started a program, it is never too late. Having a very simple, basic planned giving circle or society is a good place to begin. That forces an organization to set up its internal systems to accept planned gifts and it creates a public-facing recognition of donors. If your organization lacks expertise or mechanisms to accept planned gifts, Johnson recommends partnering with a local bank or community foundation that can provide the service with integrity.

Third, a development officer must assess when the time is appropriate to have a planned giving conversation. “The most likely candidates are people who have a long-term interest in the mission and well-being of the organization,” says Johnson. He also notes that it is just fine if people are reluctant to provide an exact dollar amount of a planned gift or simply not know what the value will be. “You really just want the donor to let you know that your organization is included in his or her or their estate plan.” Gienapp says that research shows once a donor has documented a planned gift, the person’s annual giving often increases significantly.

Gienapp acknowledges that planned giving conversations can be anxiety-producing. “It’s about money, and then you layer in death. That can be awkward. You have to listen to cues to understand where people are, and you have to keep your eye on helping them think about what they would love to see grow and flourish at your organization.”

CHARACTERISTICS OF A STRONG PLANNED GIVING PROGRAM

Organizations that have successful planned giving programs are those who have set up the internal systems and processes to identify and steward long-term relationships. The emphasis is on long-term, says Johnson. “I once worked at an organization that was the recipient of a $500 million gift. This donor was stewarded as a major gift donor for 27 years.”

Gienapp emphasizes the need to stay focused on impact. “You’re helping them plan for a gift after they are gone, but you’re consistently stewarding them to show the impact of donors.”

Establishing clear gift acceptance policies — what you will and will not accept — is vital, Gienapp says. “Will you take assets related to tobacco or fossil fuels, for example? These are complicated decisions an organization must address up front. A donor’s values and an organization’s values must align.”

A strong planned giving program is not possible without excellent documentation and recordkeeping. “You have to have contact reports and a CRM system that allows you to track well,” says Gienapp.

Johnson has seen  that an organization’s  board/trustees also play a crucial role. “You want your current board members to include you in their estate and for them to be tuned into planned giving as a long-term strategy for the organization.”

THE BENEFITS OF PLANNED GIVING – FOR THE DONOR

Planned giving is often positioned as a benefit for the organization, which it is. But Johnson says the most important point of planned giving is that the donor can have a say in the organization’s future. “It is vital that we think about the legacy a person wants to leave. A planned gift says, ‘I care about this institution and I want it to thrive well into the future.’”

Paul Johnson
Creative Fundraising Advisors

Paul is the founder of Creative Fundraising Advisors based in Saint Paul, MN.
[email protected]

Theresa Gienapp
Macalester College

Theresa is the director of planned giving at Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN.

CultureBrokers and CFA are co-hosting a webinar to discuss diversity and the fundraising talent pipeline

For too long, some fundraising and nonprofit leaders have struggled to build teams that are culturally and racially diverse. When questioned, they often explained that the difficulty was that there is a real shortage of diverse talent to be found.

Those were our assumptions, as well, so, during a recent search to hire additional, experienced consultants, we talked to the experts at CultureBrokers. They helped us take a broader look at our possible pool of talent and to consider our hiring process a bit differently. Based on their advice, we found several great candidates and ultimately hired two deeply experienced women of color.

This process taught us there is a lot we could do to appeal to a more diverse pool of well-qualified candidates while making a commitment to attract new talent to the fundraising field. Join us for a webinar Thursday, February 25 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. CST to hear from a panel of deeply experienced fundraising leaders. They will talk about what the real 
problems are when it comes to lack of diversity in the fundraising pipeline, how to adjust your recruiting and hiring practices to appeal to talent of color, and why all of this matters.

Lisa Tabor, president of CultureBrokers, will moderate the panel, which includes William Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston; Birgit Smith Burton, executive director of Foundation Relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology and founder of the African American Development Officers Network (AADO); Sunanda Ghosh, director of Strategic Relations for The Redford Foundation, and CFA’s new of counsel consultant, AJ Casey.

AJ Casey and Utica Gray Join Creative Fundraising Advisors Team

Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) welcomed two experienced fundraising consultants to its team in January 2021: AJ Casey, a nonprofit leader, trainer, and consultant for more than 25 years who will serve as Of Counsel for work with The Actors Fund, and Dr. Utica J. Gray, an experienced leader with expertise in human services, education, and health care who will serve as Of Counsel for work with Walker|West Music Academy.

“AJ and Utica bring unique perspectives and experiences to our growing team,” said CFA President Paul Johnson. “We are so pleased to have people of their caliber on board to serve The Actors Fund and Walker West right now and new clients on the horizon.”

About AJ Casey 

AJ specializes in capital campaigns, fundraising assessments and strategies, board training and advancement, as well as executive coaching and professional development. She also has deep experience with start-up organizations and organizations focusing on people of color. She has led complex fundraising projects of local, regional, and national scope and has worked with a full array of nonprofit organizations and foundations.

Before launching her own practice in 2006, AJ served for eight years as a senior consultant and vice president in a national philanthropic consulting firm, as chief development officer and executive director within several nonprofit organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club of Seattle, and as a special advisor to the Stonewall LBGTQ center in Columbus, Ohio. She recently served as the board chair for Mental Health America of Franklin County. She is a former vice president of National Speakers Association, Ohio chapter, and a former executive board member for the Columbus Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

“I’m eager to bring my passions and skills to Creative Fundraising Advisors’ work with The Actors Fund,” AJ said. “My family placed high value on the arts, and I was a member of the inaugural class of Cincinnati School for Creative and Performing Arts. My brother is an award-winning lighting designer, so I have a deep history and interest in the arts.”

AJ grew up in Cincinnati and Youngstown, Ohio, where her father helped found the area’s first Black-owned law firm. She attended Georgetown University, studying foreign languages and international economics. She also earned certifications as a Certified Fund Raising Executive and a Certified LifeSuccess Coach. AJ has two sons, Aaron and Royce, and is based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

About Utica Gray, PhD

In addition to her consulting work, Utica serves as national director for Fresh Start Caring for Kids Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide no-cost reconstructive surgeries to disadvantaged children who have deformities as a result of birth defects, accidents, injuries, abuse, or disease. She has 20 years of nonprofit development experience and 15 years of consulting experience in the areas of developmental disabilities, adoption, homelessness, education, senior services, and healthcare. She is well versed in nonprofit mergers, leadership, and management.

“I have a passion for nonprofits that have a rich and long history in their community, like Walker|West,” Utica says. “There is community trust that speaks to the integrity of the organization. I’m also impressed with Creative Fundraising Advisors’ commitment to building the capacity to best serve its clients and with the leadership’s desire to model equity.”

Utica is a graduate of Northwestern University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, a Master of Science in Human Services Administration from Spertus College, and a PhD in Business Administration with a Public Administration concentration from Northcentral University. She lives with her husband, 15-year-old daughter, and 12-year-old son in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, where she is a Girl Scout Troop leader focusing her group on projects ranging from cyber bullying to the dangers of sex trafficking. She is also an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority, Inc., the same sorority to which Vice President Kamala Harris belongs.

“Utica’s formal educational background in business, research, public administration, and human services is of tremendous value to our work,” says Johnson. “She also understands the tremendous importance of relationships in fundraising and nonprofit management. We’re so happy to have her on board.”

About Creative Fundraising Advisors

Creative Fundraising Advisors is a full-service consulting firm dedicated to transformational fundraising counsel and implementation. The firm prides itself on developing and applying new techniques to tackle complex fundraising challenges. CFA’s services include campaign counsel, development assessment, strategic planning, annual giving, creative services and data analytics.

CFA’s clients include The Actors Fund (New York), Friends of the Mississippi River (St. Paul, MN), The Gabriella Foundation (Los Angeles), Milwaukee Art Museum (Milwaukee, WI), Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis, MN), Portland Museum of Art (Portland, ME), St. John’s College (Annapolis, MD/Santa Fe, NM), The School for Advanced Research (Santa Fe, NM), North Carolina Museum of Art (Raleigh, NC), Northside Achievement Zone (Minneapolis MN), and Walker West (St. Paul, MN), among many others.

More information at creativefundraisingadvisors.com.

Wise Strategic Planning Drives Impact and Resilience

A well-run nonprofit organization delivers on its mission through a visionary strategic plan. That plan aligns board, staff and resources around goals that are ambitious but achievable.

In today’s world, nonprofit organizations face a vast number of considerable challenges, making solid strategic planning more urgent than ever. Arts and cultural institutions do not know when they can welcome patrons back in large numbers. Hunger relief organizations are unsure when volunteers can safely return to pack and distribute food. Needs fluctuate with stay-at-home orders and civil unrest.

Paul Johnson, CFA’s founder and president, working in collaboration with our strategic partner Kathy Graves of the strategic planning and communications firm Parenteau Graves, has good news: facing all of these challenges does not mean you have to change your vision. And, if you incorporate solid scenario planning into your process, your plan should be flexible enough to help you adjust to whatever the future presents.

The Strategic Planning Process Is Vital

“Strategic planning must first articulate an organization’s mission, vision, and values,” Paul says. “Your strategic plan then becomes the lens through which the organization does its work. Your plan isn’t the work that you do at the end of the day when your ‘other’ work is done or in advance of a quarterly check-in with your Strategic Planning Committee. Rather, it is at the center of your daily actions.” 

CFA’s strategic planning process begins by helping clients agree on what good they are doing, and for whom. Then we ask, “What’s your north star?” Organizations need to agree where they are headed and what’s guiding them. Only then can you set your priorities.

Paul and Kathy agree that it can be challenging to keep the focus on vision. “People tend to get really tactical because many of us are concrete operational thinkers,” Kathy says. In their strategic planning sessions, they use exercises that probe vision, distinction, community need and impact before an organization establishes its near-term goals and the roadmap to help staff and board put a plan into action.

In their work with organizations of all sizes across the country, Paul and Kathy often find nonprofits have become a collection of programs instead of a vision. “Nonprofits tend to add and never delete,” says Kathy. “Strategic planning, when done well, helps organizations shed old ways of thinking and generate new possibilities for impact.”

Reflecting Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) and Access in Strategic Plans

The topics of justice and equity are rightfully permeating conversations, especially in light of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Nonprofits are asking pointed questions about the diversity of their boards and staff, about structures and systems that privilege white people, and about how they can be places of inclusion and access. “Nonprofits must show how they are relevant,” Kathy says. “Making an action-oriented commitment to justice and equity is central to relevance and impact. This is not about shifting quotas on a board or simply adding a siloed diversity, equity and inclusion goal to a plan; it’s about much deeper work organization-wide. It must be a lens through which strategic planning is done.”

Paul notes that the conversations around access and equity are opening organizations up to new ideas about how they serve their communities and how they define their space. “One nature center we work with is looking at sending buses out into the community to bring the outdoors to them rather than limiting access to kids at schools that can afford buses,” he says. “An arts organization has used this moment to assess its DEI policies and create a more intentional roadmap to broaden its offerings and make them more accessible. That might mean putting its collection online for the first time.” 

Strategic Plans and Fundraising

Why would a strategic plan matter to donors? Paul has discovered that a good plan helps fundraisers in two ways. “Strategic plans often lead people to develop interesting programs or capital projects, and those exciting and ambitious ideas can generate campaign or fundraising programs,” he explains. “Importantly, a smart plan helps a fundraiser articulate a case for support that is aligned with an organization’s mission, vision and values, one that is focused on maximizing impact.” 

Kathy agrees. “People give to need, but they really give to impact,” she says.

Future Proofing The Strategic Plan: Scenario Planning

Early in the pandemic, Kathy, Paul, and CFA colleagues spoke with many organizations that required help adjusting their plans and operations. “People needed to figure out how to pivot to shorter-term plans,” Kathy says. “We helped them adjust and stabilize. Then they were able to look up and see that their north star was still there — they were still headed in the right direction. We always build in flexibility so that an organization can be resilient in turbulent and smooth waters.”

To create that flexibility, Kathy and Paul employ scenario planning, which allows boards and staff to envision various paths. As Paul points out, “Scenario planning helps organizations ponder, ‘What if we don’t raise as much as we thought we would? What if we raise more? What if we’re not able to open our doors or welcome volunteers for three months? What if it’s nine months? What would happen if we sold our building or renovated it?’ Taking time to map possibilities in the planning process is a tremendous help for organizations.” 

Ultimately, strategic planning can be the best tool to build organizational resilience. “The last seven words of a dying organization are ‘Because we’ve always done it that way,’” says Paul. “Strategic planning allows a board and leadership team to step back, to take stock, and to use their creative and analytical powers to plan a wise path.”

Read more about CFA’s approach to Strategic Planning or contact us to discuss your initiative.

Kathy Graves Parenteau Graves

Kathy is a strategic planning consultant based in Minneapolis, MN.
[email protected]

Paul Johnson Creative Fundraising Advisors

Paul is the founder of Creative Fundraising Advisors based in Saint Paul, MN.
[email protected]

Dodge Nature Center’s Transformative Campaign Thrives Amid Pandemic

Dodge Nature Center kicked off its largest-ever fundraising campaign in September 2020. This was as the United States was six months into the global pandemic and people throughout the country were feeling great economic pain.

And yet, this environmental education center headquartered in a small suburb of St. Paul launched the public phase of a $40 million campaign, with nearly 75% of the funding already secured. How did they do it? According to Dodge Executive Director Jason Sanders, the key was listening to the right people.

“Our initial intention was to raise $15 million for a new property in Cottage Grove, Minn., in order to build a new preschool facility there and make improvements to our main property,” Sanders explains. “After listening to our most committed donors, board members, staff, and expert campaign counsel, we realized we could and should do far more than we ever thought possible. The vision for the campaign significantly expanded from modest capital improvements to securing funds to ensure this 52-year old institution would be vital for another 50 years and beyond.”

Sanders and his team partnered with Creative Fundraising Advisors throughout the development and launch of the campaign called Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature. Given that much of the campaign was developed pre-pandemic, Dodge’s experience pivoting its plan and adjusting to a virtual environment for prospect cultivation and solicitation can be a case study for organizations considering a major campaign.

Start with a Solid Vision

In the fall of 2018, Sanders and the board were considering plans for Dodge’s Shepard Farm property. Since receiving the property in 2013, they had been maintaining it and making small upgrades. However, they knew it could be more closely aligned with the other properties, and they started contemplating a capital campaign.

“We were getting real momentum internally for the idea of building a preschool there,” says Sanders. “Our West St. Paul preschool is hugely popular, and it was appealing to replicate that program at Shepard Farm.” Sanders and the board asked CFA to help explore the idea. “CFA was knowledgeable about conservation and education, but they had enough distance from our normal operations that they were able to challenge assumptions, to bring perspective, and to ask hard questions.’’

“It’s really important to get boards and leadership teams aligned before kicking off a big campaign,” says CFA Vice President Jake Muszynski, who led the work with Dodge. “In order to do that, we stepped back from the campaign idea and held a workshop to help all the major stakeholders come into agreement around the future of Dodge. And what we found was, opening a new preschool in another community was not central to their shared vision.”

“The vision workshop was really enlightening,” Sanders says. “We did a lot of small group work to be sure that everyone’s voice was heard. Collectively, our priorities are to expand and impact the lives of thousands more visitors, to preserve and protect the original vision of our founder, Olivia Irvine Dodge, and to be a significant force in educating future generations about environmental education. A new preschool in a new community might be a priority at some point, but we realized it wasn’t where we wanted to start.”

Sanders worked with his board and leadership team to expand on the vision they had established in the workshop. Based on those discussions and recommendations from CFA, Dodge decided to test a $15 million campaign focused on growing Dodge’s endowment, investing in capital improvements, and supporting the annual fund.

“We were focused on the endowment because we know we don’t need big buildings,” Sanders says. “We exist to get people outside, and we don’t want to devote big dollars to buildings and drywall. Because we knew our ‘Why,’ our priorities for the campaign were clear.”

Validate Your Case with Donors

Sanders then asked CFA to conduct a feasibility study, which included conversations with top donors to see if the goals of the campaign were compelling. “Feasibility studies are all about fact-finding, understanding potential investors’ support for the vision of the campaign, and positioning the organization for success,” Muszynski says. “Organizations discover how motivated their donors are, and sometimes they find out that they won’t attract major gifts.”

For the study, Muszynski and CFA President Paul Johnson crafted a summary of the case for the campaign, screening and interviewing potential donors. It soon became clear that the board’s vision and campaign goals were right on track.

The feasibility study had another powerful outcome: a $22 million lead gift from a long-time supporter. This gift changed the entire dynamic of the project and led Dodge to increase the scope of the campaign to $40 million.

“We really appreciated CFA leading us through that feasibility study,” Sanders says. “We knew we wanted to talk to our nearest friends, and it was incredible to find out that we could secure a lead gift that was larger than the initial scope of the campaign. Because of the study, we knew we could ask for enough to protect our endowment, to secure our annual fund, and to invest in capital improvements as dictated by our strategic planning, not limited to a specific site. This all will help us ensure that Dodge is healthy and able to serve the community for at least 50 more years.”

“A rigorous feasibility study is absolutely critical for a successful campaign,” says Johnson. “You get rich input from your supporters, uncover unrecognized needs and opportunities, and sometimes you learn enough to know you’re not really ready to go forward.”

Ask for Major Gifts

By mid-2019, with an ambitious plan developed and a significant lead gift secured, Dodge was ready to move into the quiet phase of its campaign.

After the lead donor, the first significant gift conversation was with Minnesota philanthropists Si and Vicki Ford. Vicki is the niece of founder Olivia Irvine Dodge, and in 2000, the Fords had established the preschool in West St. Paul. They had been part of the feasibility study and had expressed interest in contributing to the campaign. “But when we went back to them with our vision and showed them our path to $40 million, they became even more inspired,” Muszynski recalled.

They found the vision so compelling that they committed $5 million to the campaign, and Vicki signed on as a campaign co-chair. “The size and scope of our campaign, and our ability to show how we would get to the $40 million, really drove their interest and their level of commitment,” Muszynski says.

Plan For Anything

When the U.S. started feeling the effects of the pandemic earlier this year, there was significant concern about moving forward with the campaign. In March, as schools and businesses shut down, the team stopped soliciting major gifts.

After the first few weeks, people were encouraged to get outside. “You couldn’t gather but you could get outside safely, so we saw people coming to Dodge,” Sanders says. “We were seeing new people on our trails, and we had great attendance at our online “lunch and learns” with our naturalists. Our mission was right in line with what people needed. We knew we had a responsibility to protect our ability to do that, which meant pressing on with the campaign.”

Increased attendance was proof of Dodge’s value to the community, while the organization also had data from the feasibility study that confirmed the great level of commitment of their donors.

“When the team considered whether to delay or to lower the goal, we had the data,” Muszynski says. “We kept showing the numbers and our fundraising pipeline. With that assessment we could move forward confidently, knowing that our ask was not tone deaf and that donors would prioritize Dodge.”

While Covid-19 forced shifts in operations, the fundraising program was able to continue largely as planned because the campaign was so clearly connected to the larger vision for Dodge. Not every organization is in that position, and that uncertainty can make planning difficult.

“The best solution we can offer for that is scenario planning,” says Johnson. “We work with clients to think through their long-term plans and to consider what they would do if there is no vaccine, or if a completely new disruption were to hit. When we imagine how we would handle major disruptions, we are able to be nimble, no matter what comes at us. And we account for those possibilities as we approach our strategic plans and feasibility studies.”

Support the Development Team

The launch of the public phase of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature was slated for Sept. 17. It became an online event rather than a live gala, with videos, remarks from Sanders and other campaign leaders, and an online auction. As planning progressed, Dodge’s Development Director moved to another organization. Fundraising veteran Tony Grundhauser had recently joined CFA and stepped into the vacant seat on an interim basis. “He had a great background in environmental work and was a natural fit for Dodge,” Muszynski says. “He really reenergized the campaign from the inside during its quiet phase.”

The CFA team was able to lead launch efforts so seamlessly because of the close alignment it had with the campaign from the beginning. Also helpful was having in-house design capabilities and writers.

Ensure Top-Notch Execution for Public Phase

While Grundhauser worked with Sanders to call donors and secure large gifts, Muszynski focused on leading the planning for the public launch. He scripted and oversaw videos, arranged for the online auction, and coordinated design and web production along with CFA Creative Services Director Sara Johnson. “My primary focus was that we were going to be able to announce a very successful campaign,” Muszynski says.

The public launch of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature took place, as scheduled, on Sept. 17, 2020, with its virtual gala and online auction. Remarkably, nearly 75% of the campaign was already secured, while the gala raised another $150,000 for Dodge (See the campaign collateral).

Executive Director Sanders is immensely pleased with the results of the campaign, for the funds it has raised so far and for the sense of focus the team has developed in the process. “We know who we are and what mission we’re serving,” Sanders explains. “Now we can look at our decisions more firmly through the lens of why we exist and how we protect our ability to give people access to nature.”

Creative Fundraising Advisors Welcomes Tony Grundhauser and Sara Johnson

(Saint Paul, MINN) — Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA), a national strategic fundraising firm based in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is expanding its staff to include Principal Tony Grundhauser, who brings more than 25 years of fundraising experience to CFA’s practice, and Creative Services Director Sara Johnson, who most recently served as Vice President Creative Director at KNOCK.

“We are so pleased to have Tony and Sara as members of our growing team,” said CFA President Paul Johnson. “They, like the rest of our group, believe in the power of nonprofit organizations to transform the world. People of the caliber of Tony and Sara, who are at the peak of their careers, add considerable strength to CFA’s bench and will be a major asset for our clients. Their addition helps us truly be a full-service consulting firm.”

About Tony Grundhauser

Most recently, Grundhauser was the executive director for the Minnesota Zoo Foundation. There, he led the foundation to its best fundraising year in history, doubling results from prior years. Under his leadership, the Zoo improved its annual fundraising performance, raised its largest gift in history, and launched the ambitious “Step Into Nature” capital campaign. Tony is passionate about the outdoors and started his career as the first campaign director for the Minnesota Environmental Fund where he increased the number of workplaces conducting campaigns on behalf of environmental organizations. From there, he moved to The Nature Conservancy’s Minnesota Chapter where he built a 30-member Corporate Council and helped shape its $15 million Campaign for Conservation. He rose rapidly through the ranks at TNC and ultimately was promoted to director and senior manager to lead the Conservancy’s work in Canada. From 2003 to 2006, he co-led an international campaign that raised $60 million to secure the permanent protection of more than 5 million acres in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest.

After several years of intense travel, Grundhauser settled back in the Twin Cities to work in higher education, first as director of individual gifts at Macalester College and then for eight years as vice president for institutional advancement at Hamline University. Tony was recognized for his leadership at Hamline when he was nominated and accepted to the prestigious Harvard University Institute for Educational Management.

In his new position with CFA, Grundhauser has immediately applied his considerable experience working with environmental nonprofits to help launch Dodge Nature Center’s $40 million “Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature” campaign and leading CFA’s work with the Friends of the Mississippi River. He is also a part of the leadership team working with The Actors Fund in New York and Los Angeles on a proposed national campaign.

About Sara Johnson

Johnson has brought purpose, intention, and truth to visual storytelling and brand communications for clients around the world. Her core disciplines include design and creative direction for print, video, websites, and social content creation. She has more than 20 years of experience in the creative space, having worked as a graphic designer for Target Corp and then as the vice president creative director at KNOCK, one of the top branding and design agencies in the region.

At Creative Fundraising Advisors, Sara provides branding consultation, designs visual assets, and counsels clients on the creative direction of their campaigns.

“Having a Creative Services Director is unusual for a fundraising firm, but storytelling and design play an integral and vital part in the success of fundraising,” said Johnson. “Sara brings a level of excellence to our firm that will help our clients share their mission and vision with excitement, impact and effectiveness.”

About Creative Fundraising Advisors

Creative Fundraising Advisors is a full-service consulting firm dedicated to transformational fundraising counsel and implementation. The firm prides itself on developing and applying new techniques to tackle complex fundraising challenges. CFA’s services include campaign counsel, development assessment, strategic planning, annual giving, creative services and data analytics.

CFA’s clients include Dodge Nature Center (Saint Paul, MN), Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (Los Angeles, CA), The Gabriella Foundation (Los Angeles), Milwaukee Art Museum (Milwaukee, WI), Portland Museum of Art (Portland, ME), The McNay Art Museum (San Antonio, TX), St. John’s College (Annapolis, MD/Santa Fe, NM), The School for Advanced Research (Santa Fe, NM), The New Mexico School for the Arts (Santa Fe, NM), Northside Achievement Zone (Minneapolis MN), The Actors Fund (New York), Philadelphia Contemporary Art (Philadelphia, PA), Liberty Community Church (Minneapolis) among many others.

Creative Fundraising Advisors was founded in 2015 and has grown rapidly; in partnership with its nonprofit clients, CFA has raised more than $1 billion in the past five years. 

Non-profit Fundraising and Strategic Planning in the 2020 Landscape

 

 

Our nation is navigating dual pandemics: COVID-19 and the tragic, daily reminders of ongoing inequality. In this new environment, non-profits are navigating completely uncharted waters — having to rethink traditional approaches to strategy, fundraising, and planning.  

In this webinar, “Non-profit Fundraising and Strategic Planning in the 2020 Landscape”, panelists discuss surviving and thriving in the midst of the challenges posed by disease and discrimination.

Paul Johnson and Tony Grundhauser of Creative Fundraising Advisors give the initial presentation about the state of philanthropy in 2020, including lessons learned from past recessions and insights into constructive actions to take during tumultuous times.

Joining them are St. Olaf alumni from a variety of fundraising backgrounds.

Panelists present their insights from the field, discuss with each other, and answer questions. Questions include:

“Are emergency fund campaigns valid?”

“Should nonprofits accept gifts from donors with conflicting values?”

“What ideas would not have been possible before this pandemic — new ideas to be invested in and allowed to flourish?”

Watch the webinar recording from St. Olaf here.

Highlights from our Finding Diverse Fundraising Talent webinar

 When a client strongly recommended to Paul Johnson, president of Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA), that he add a consultant of color to the CFA project team, Johnson readily agreed. To find that person, he turned to the channels he had long used: his LinkedIn contacts, traditional professional fundraising entities, and colleagues.

 

“I thought it would be relatively easy to find somebody to join our team,” says Johnson. “But over and over, people told me they were struggling to build staffs that were culturally and racially diverse, that there was shortage of diverse talent. And I realized that the fact I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to find consultants of color showed my implicit bias. That bias got me started on the wrong foot.”

 

Johnson sought assistance from Lisa Tabor, president of CultureBrokers, a trusted diversity, equity and inclusion consultant. “I told her I’m obviously doing something wrong here.” That admission launched a whole new journey for CFA. “CultureBrokers helped us take a broader look at our possible pool of talent and to consider changes to our hiring process, like posting on the African American Development Officers Network (AADO) site. As a result, we found several great candidates and ultimately hired two deeply experienced women of color, AJ Casey and Utica.”

 

Sharing Knowledge and Experience with the Field

The experience of building diversity in his own company led Johnson to partner with Tabor to develop a “Finding Diverse Fundraising Talent,” a panel discussion with national fundraising experts, which was hosted by CFA on February 25 and attended by nearly 150 people.

 

Tabor moderated the panel, which included William Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston; Birgit Smith Burton, executive director of Foundation Relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology and founder of AAD; Sunanda Ghosh, director of Strategic Relations for The Redford Foundation; and CFA’s new of counsel consultant, AJ Casey.

 

The panel started by answering the question why it matters to have people of color represented in fundraising. Their responses: Fundraising is where the narrative of an organization is shaped, so it matters whose voice is included. Fundraising manages external relationships, so it matters whose face is seen in community conversations. And importantly, donors of color are increasing, so diversity in staff is vital.

   

One panelist shared that, despite the importance of diversity, it has been estimated, by the Lilly Foundation, that of the approximately 37,000 development professionals in the U.S, only 12% of. are people of color. Often, Ghosh said, she is the only person of color at fundraising conferences.

 

Why is this? AJ Casey said one reason is that, until recently, it has not been a priority for nonprofit organizations to make sure their fundraising staff was diverse. And Birgit Smith Burton said organizations don’t commit resources to the search. “You can’t post and pray. You have to do things differently. You have to look for connections. With filling positions, you can’t just turn on the spigot; you need to always be out there.

 

The demand for professionals of color in fundraising is there, Burton said. “I’ve got 20 requests in my inbox of organizations looking for people of color.”

 

Recommendations for Building Diverse Fundraising Teams

One of the most helpful things that can be done to attract more staff of color is to develop an action plan, said Harris. “If you don’t operationalize it, you won’t have change. And attracting talent is fine but what about retention? It’s not only about putting policies in place but about culture.”

 

Panelists agreed that the focus of finding diverse talent cannot be about numbers. “It’s not about putting bodies in seats,” said Casey. “It’s about a complete social paradigm shift in how we do business, how we interact with each other, about our hair, our clothes, and how we interact with donors who come from different backgrounds.”

 

A common myth, Burton pointed out, is that you have to lower the bar to attract people of color. At the same time, the panelists all said that employers often have higher expectations for people of color, and that there was an expectation that they couldn’t make mistakes.

 

Ghosh said that having people of color in many positions throughout an organization is critically important for attracting diverse talent.

 

The panelists also addressed the issue of white leaders needing to create more space for people of color. “Sometimes it’s about white professionals stepping aside, making room at the table or giving up their seat,” Tabor said. As for dealing with leaders who don’t understand the value of diversity in a staff, Harris recommends you look to that person’s peers to help build awareness of how that lack of diversity is holding an organization back. Tabor agreed: “Peer pressure works.”

 

Supporting Professionals of Color in Philanthropy

For young professionals of color starting out in the philanthropic world, Casey recommended cross-cultural mentoring, and Burton suggests considering the difference between mentoring and sponsoring. “Mentors provide guidance. A sponsor uses influence to connect a person to opportunities, and sometimes we just need connection, not more guidance.”

 

Harris said to make sure to ask potential employers about their commitment to diversity, equity, access and inclusion and about what kind of advancement opportunities they offer. “Be proactive in expressing your career aspirations,” he said, “and choose your boss carefully.”

 

Being Willing to Stay in the Game

Casey noted how hard the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion can be. “We all want it to just be simple and easy, where we’re not always feeling like we have to learn something new. It’s always going to be awkward until it gets easy. So we have to socially normalize the awkwardness that we’re going to feel until we all learn to understand where each other is coming from and to respect each other.”

 

Casey shared a helpful metaphor about diversity and inclusion: “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Diversity is inviting different people to the dance; inclusion is playing the music that makes them want to dance.’ Don’t look at it like some people are just going to have to leave the party because if you don’t want to listen to the music I want to listen to, then you have to leave. If we all stay in the party, we will learn to like things about each other’s music…It’s going to be hard until it’s easy, and it’s never going to get easy if we all just walk away from the difficulty.”

The full “Finding Diverse Fundraising Talent” webinar is available here: https://youtu.be/ay8D-pTooLE

Dodge Nature Center kicked off its largest-ever fundraising campaign in September 2020. This was as the United States was six months into the global pandemic and people throughout the country were feeling great economic pain.

And yet, this environmental education center headquartered in a small suburb of St. Paul launched the public phase of a $40 million campaign, with nearly 75% of the funding already secured. How did they do it? According to Dodge Executive Director Jason Sanders, the key was listening to the right people.

“Our initial intention was to raise $15 million for a new property in Cottage Grove, Minn., in order to build a new preschool facility there and make improvements to our main property,” Sanders explains. “After listening to our most committed donors, board members, staff, and expert campaign counsel, we realized we could and should do far more than we ever thought possible. The vision for the campaign significantly expanded from modest capital improvements to securing funds to ensure this 52-year old institution would be vital for another 50 years and beyond.”

Sanders and his team partnered with Creative Fundraising Advisors throughout the development and launch of the campaign called Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature. Given that much of the campaign was developed pre-pandemic, Dodge’s experience pivoting its plan and adjusting to a virtual environment for prospect cultivation and solicitation can be a case study for organizations considering a major campaign.

Start with a Solid Vision

In the fall of 2018, Sanders and the board were considering plans for Dodge’s Shepard Farm property. Since receiving the property in 2013, they had been maintaining it and making small upgrades. However, they knew it could be more closely aligned with the other properties, and they started contemplating a capital campaign.

“We were getting real momentum internally for the idea of building a preschool there,” says Sanders. “Our West St. Paul preschool is hugely popular, and it was appealing to replicate that program at Shepard Farm.” Sanders and the board asked CFA to help explore the idea. “CFA was knowledgeable about conservation and education, but they had enough distance from our normal operations that they were able to challenge assumptions, to bring perspective, and to ask hard questions.’’

“It’s really important to get boards and leadership teams aligned before kicking off a big campaign,” says CFA Vice President Jake Muszynski, who led the work with Dodge. “In order to do that, we stepped back from the campaign idea and held a workshop to help all the major stakeholders come into agreement around the future of Dodge. And what we found was, opening a new preschool in another community was not central to their shared vision.”

“The vision workshop was really enlightening,” Sanders says. “We did a lot of small group work to be sure that everyone’s voice was heard. Collectively, our priorities are to expand and impact the lives of thousands more visitors, to preserve and protect the original vision of our founder, Olivia Irvine Dodge, and to be a significant force in educating future generations about environmental education. A new preschool in a new community might be a priority at some point, but we realized it wasn’t where we wanted to start.”

Sanders worked with his board and leadership team to expand on the vision they had established in the workshop. Based on those discussions and recommendations from CFA, Dodge decided to test a $15 million campaign focused on growing Dodge’s endowment, investing in capital improvements, and supporting the annual fund.

“We were focused on the endowment because we know we don’t need big buildings,” Sanders says. “We exist to get people outside, and we don’t want to devote big dollars to buildings and drywall. Because we knew our ‘Why,’ our priorities for the campaign were clear.”

Validate Your Case with Donors

Sanders then asked CFA to conduct a feasibility study, which included conversations with top donors to see if the goals of the campaign were compelling. “Feasibility studies are all about fact-finding, understanding potential investors’ support for the vision of the campaign, and positioning the organization for success,” Muszynski says. “Organizations discover how motivated their donors are, and sometimes they find out that they won’t attract major gifts.”

For the study, Muszynski and CFA President Paul Johnson crafted a summary of the case for the campaign, screening and interviewing potential donors. It soon became clear that the board’s vision and campaign goals were right on track.

The feasibility study had another powerful outcome: a $22 million lead gift from a long-time supporter. This gift changed the entire dynamic of the project and led Dodge to increase the scope of the campaign to $40 million.

“We really appreciated CFA leading us through that feasibility study,” Sanders says. “We knew we wanted to talk to our nearest friends, and it was incredible to find out that we could secure a lead gift that was larger than the initial scope of the campaign. Because of the study, we knew we could ask for enough to protect our endowment, to secure our annual fund, and to invest in capital improvements as dictated by our strategic planning, not limited to a specific site. This all will help us ensure that Dodge is healthy and able to serve the community for at least 50 more years.”

“A rigorous feasibility study is absolutely critical for a successful campaign,” says Johnson. “You get rich input from your supporters, uncover unrecognized needs and opportunities, and sometimes you learn enough to know you’re not really ready to go forward.”

Ask for Major Gifts

By mid-2019, with an ambitious plan developed and a significant lead gift secured, Dodge was ready to move into the quiet phase of its campaign.

After the lead donor, the first significant gift conversation was with Minnesota philanthropists Si and Vicki Ford. Vicki is the niece of founder Olivia Irvine Dodge, and in 2000, the Fords had established the preschool in West St. Paul. They had been part of the feasibility study and had expressed interest in contributing to the campaign. “But when we went back to them with our vision and showed them our path to $40 million, they became even more inspired,” Muszynski recalled.

They found the vision so compelling that they committed $5 million to the campaign, and Vicki signed on as a campaign co-chair. “The size and scope of our campaign, and our ability to show how we would get to the $40 million, really drove their interest and their level of commitment,” Muszynski says.

Plan For Anything

When the U.S. started feeling the effects of the pandemic earlier this year, there was significant concern about moving forward with the campaign. In March, as schools and businesses shut down, the team stopped soliciting major gifts.

After the first few weeks, people were encouraged to get outside. “You couldn’t gather but you could get outside safely, so we saw people coming to Dodge,” Sanders says. “We were seeing new people on our trails, and we had great attendance at our online “lunch and learns” with our naturalists. Our mission was right in line with what people needed. We knew we had a responsibility to protect our ability to do that, which meant pressing on with the campaign.”

Increased attendance was proof of Dodge’s value to the community, while the organization also had data from the feasibility study that confirmed the great level of commitment of their donors.

“When the team considered whether to delay or to lower the goal, we had the data,” Muszynski says. “We kept showing the numbers and our fundraising pipeline. With that assessment we could move forward confidently, knowing that our ask was not tone deaf and that donors would prioritize Dodge.”

While Covid-19 forced shifts in operations, the fundraising program was able to continue largely as planned because the campaign was so clearly connected to the larger vision for Dodge. Not every organization is in that position, and that uncertainty can make planning difficult.

“The best solution we can offer for that is scenario planning,” says Johnson. “We work with clients to think through their long-term plans and to consider what they would do if there is no vaccine, or if a completely new disruption were to hit. When we imagine how we would handle major disruptions, we are able to be nimble, no matter what comes at us. And we account for those possibilities as we approach our strategic plans and feasibility studies.”

Support the Development Team

The launch of the public phase of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature was slated for Sept. 17. It became an online event rather than a live gala, with videos, remarks from Sanders and other campaign leaders, and an online auction. As planning progressed, Dodge’s Development Director moved to another organization. Fundraising veteran Tony Grundhauser had recently joined CFA and stepped into the vacant seat on an interim basis. “He had a great background in environmental work and was a natural fit for Dodge,” Muszynski says. “He really reenergized the campaign from the inside during its quiet phase.”

The CFA team was able to lead launch efforts so seamlessly because of the close alignment it had with the campaign from the beginning. Also helpful was having in-house design capabilities and writers.

Ensure Top-Notch Execution for Public Phase

While Grundhauser worked with Sanders to call donors and secure large gifts, Muszynski focused on leading the planning for the public launch. He scripted and oversaw videos, arranged for the online auction, and coordinated design and web production along with CFA Creative Services Director Sara Johnson. “My primary focus was that we were going to be able to announce a very successful campaign,” Muszynski says.

The public launch of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature took place, as scheduled, on Sept. 17, 2020, with its virtual gala and online auction. Remarkably, nearly 75% of the campaign was already secured, while the gala raised another $150,000 for Dodge (See the campaign collateral).

Executive Director Sanders is immensely pleased with the results of the campaign, for the funds it has raised so far and for the sense of focus the team has developed in the process. “We know who we are and what mission we’re serving,” Sanders explains. “Now we can look at our decisions more firmly through the lens of why we exist and how we protect our ability to give people access to nature.”

Dodge Nature Center kicked off its largest-ever fundraising campaign in September 2020. This was as the United States was six months into the global pandemic and people throughout the country were feeling great economic pain.

And yet, this environmental education center headquartered in a small suburb of St. Paul launched the public phase of a $40 million campaign, with nearly 75% of the funding already secured. How did they do it? According to Dodge Executive Director Jason Sanders, the key was listening to the right people.

“Our initial intention was to raise $15 million for a new property in Cottage Grove, Minn., in order to build a new preschool facility there and make improvements to our main property,” Sanders explains. “After listening to our most committed donors, board members, staff, and expert campaign counsel, we realized we could and should do far more than we ever thought possible. The vision for the campaign significantly expanded from modest capital improvements to securing funds to ensure this 52-year old institution would be vital for another 50 years and beyond.”

Sanders and his team partnered with Creative Fundraising Advisors throughout the development and launch of the campaign called Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature. Given that much of the campaign was developed pre-pandemic, Dodge’s experience pivoting its plan and adjusting to a virtual environment for prospect cultivation and solicitation can be a case study for organizations considering a major campaign.

Start with a Solid Vision

In the fall of 2018, Sanders and the board were considering plans for Dodge’s Shepard Farm property. Since receiving the property in 2013, they had been maintaining it and making small upgrades. However, they knew it could be more closely aligned with the other properties, and they started contemplating a capital campaign.

“We were getting real momentum internally for the idea of building a preschool there,” says Sanders. “Our West St. Paul preschool is hugely popular, and it was appealing to replicate that program at Shepard Farm.” Sanders and the board asked CFA to help explore the idea. “CFA was knowledgeable about conservation and education, but they had enough distance from our normal operations that they were able to challenge assumptions, to bring perspective, and to ask hard questions.’’

“It’s really important to get boards and leadership teams aligned before kicking off a big campaign,” says CFA Vice President Jake Muszynski, who led the work with Dodge. “In order to do that, we stepped back from the campaign idea and held a workshop to help all the major stakeholders come into agreement around the future of Dodge. And what we found was, opening a new preschool in another community was not central to their shared vision.”

“The vision workshop was really enlightening,” Sanders says. “We did a lot of small group work to be sure that everyone’s voice was heard. Collectively, our priorities are to expand and impact the lives of thousands more visitors, to preserve and protect the original vision of our founder, Olivia Irvine Dodge, and to be a significant force in educating future generations about environmental education. A new preschool in a new community might be a priority at some point, but we realized it wasn’t where we wanted to start.”

Sanders worked with his board and leadership team to expand on the vision they had established in the workshop. Based on those discussions and recommendations from CFA, Dodge decided to test a $15 million campaign focused on growing Dodge’s endowment, investing in capital improvements, and supporting the annual fund.

“We were focused on the endowment because we know we don’t need big buildings,” Sanders says. “We exist to get people outside, and we don’t want to devote big dollars to buildings and drywall. Because we knew our ‘Why,’ our priorities for the campaign were clear.”

Validate Your Case with Donors

Sanders then asked CFA to conduct a feasibility study, which included conversations with top donors to see if the goals of the campaign were compelling. “Feasibility studies are all about fact-finding, understanding potential investors’ support for the vision of the campaign, and positioning the organization for success,” Muszynski says. “Organizations discover how motivated their donors are, and sometimes they find out that they won’t attract major gifts.”

For the study, Muszynski and CFA President Paul Johnson crafted a summary of the case for the campaign, screening and interviewing potential donors. It soon became clear that the board’s vision and campaign goals were right on track.

The feasibility study had another powerful outcome: a $22 million lead gift from a long-time supporter. This gift changed the entire dynamic of the project and led Dodge to increase the scope of the campaign to $40 million.

“We really appreciated CFA leading us through that feasibility study,” Sanders says. “We knew we wanted to talk to our nearest friends, and it was incredible to find out that we could secure a lead gift that was larger than the initial scope of the campaign. Because of the study, we knew we could ask for enough to protect our endowment, to secure our annual fund, and to invest in capital improvements as dictated by our strategic planning, not limited to a specific site. This all will help us ensure that Dodge is healthy and able to serve the community for at least 50 more years.”

“A rigorous feasibility study is absolutely critical for a successful campaign,” says Johnson. “You get rich input from your supporters, uncover unrecognized needs and opportunities, and sometimes you learn enough to know you’re not really ready to go forward.”

Ask for Major Gifts

By mid-2019, with an ambitious plan developed and a significant lead gift secured, Dodge was ready to move into the quiet phase of its campaign.

After the lead donor, the first significant gift conversation was with Minnesota philanthropists Si and Vicki Ford. Vicki is the niece of founder Olivia Irvine Dodge, and in 2000, the Fords had established the preschool in West St. Paul. They had been part of the feasibility study and had expressed interest in contributing to the campaign. “But when we went back to them with our vision and showed them our path to $40 million, they became even more inspired,” Muszynski recalled.

They found the vision so compelling that they committed $5 million to the campaign, and Vicki signed on as a campaign co-chair. “The size and scope of our campaign, and our ability to show how we would get to the $40 million, really drove their interest and their level of commitment,” Muszynski says.

Plan For Anything

When the U.S. started feeling the effects of the pandemic earlier this year, there was significant concern about moving forward with the campaign. In March, as schools and businesses shut down, the team stopped soliciting major gifts.

After the first few weeks, people were encouraged to get outside. “You couldn’t gather but you could get outside safely, so we saw people coming to Dodge,” Sanders says. “We were seeing new people on our trails, and we had great attendance at our online “lunch and learns” with our naturalists. Our mission was right in line with what people needed. We knew we had a responsibility to protect our ability to do that, which meant pressing on with the campaign.”

Increased attendance was proof of Dodge’s value to the community, while the organization also had data from the feasibility study that confirmed the great level of commitment of their donors.

“When the team considered whether to delay or to lower the goal, we had the data,” Muszynski says. “We kept showing the numbers and our fundraising pipeline. With that assessment we could move forward confidently, knowing that our ask was not tone deaf and that donors would prioritize Dodge.”

While Covid-19 forced shifts in operations, the fundraising program was able to continue largely as planned because the campaign was so clearly connected to the larger vision for Dodge. Not every organization is in that position, and that uncertainty can make planning difficult.

“The best solution we can offer for that is scenario planning,” says Johnson. “We work with clients to think through their long-term plans and to consider what they would do if there is no vaccine, or if a completely new disruption were to hit. When we imagine how we would handle major disruptions, we are able to be nimble, no matter what comes at us. And we account for those possibilities as we approach our strategic plans and feasibility studies.”

Support the Development Team

The launch of the public phase of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature was slated for Sept. 17. It became an online event rather than a live gala, with videos, remarks from Sanders and other campaign leaders, and an online auction. As planning progressed, Dodge’s Development Director moved to another organization. Fundraising veteran Tony Grundhauser had recently joined CFA and stepped into the vacant seat on an interim basis. “He had a great background in environmental work and was a natural fit for Dodge,” Muszynski says. “He really reenergized the campaign from the inside during its quiet phase.”

The CFA team was able to lead launch efforts so seamlessly because of the close alignment it had with the campaign from the beginning. Also helpful was having in-house design capabilities and writers.

Ensure Top-Notch Execution for Public Phase

While Grundhauser worked with Sanders to call donors and secure large gifts, Muszynski focused on leading the planning for the public launch. He scripted and oversaw videos, arranged for the online auction, and coordinated design and web production along with CFA Creative Services Director Sara Johnson. “My primary focus was that we were going to be able to announce a very successful campaign,” Muszynski says.

The public launch of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature took place, as scheduled, on Sept. 17, 2020, with its virtual gala and online auction. Remarkably, nearly 75% of the campaign was already secured, while the gala raised another $150,000 for Dodge (See the campaign collateral).

Executive Director Sanders is immensely pleased with the results of the campaign, for the funds it has raised so far and for the sense of focus the team has developed in the process. “We know who we are and what mission we’re serving,” Sanders explains. “Now we can look at our decisions more firmly through the lens of why we exist and how we protect our ability to give people access to nature.”

Dodge Nature Center kicked off its largest-ever fundraising campaign in September 2020. This was as the United States was six months into the global pandemic and people throughout the country were feeling great economic pain.

And yet, this environmental education center headquartered in a small suburb of St. Paul launched the public phase of a $40 million campaign, with nearly 75% of the funding already secured. How did they do it? According to Dodge Executive Director Jason Sanders, the key was listening to the right people.

“Our initial intention was to raise $15 million for a new property in Cottage Grove, Minn., in order to build a new preschool facility there and make improvements to our main property,” Sanders explains. “After listening to our most committed donors, board members, staff, and expert campaign counsel, we realized we could and should do far more than we ever thought possible. The vision for the campaign significantly expanded from modest capital improvements to securing funds to ensure this 52-year old institution would be vital for another 50 years and beyond.”

Sanders and his team partnered with Creative Fundraising Advisors throughout the development and launch of the campaign called Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature. Given that much of the campaign was developed pre-pandemic, Dodge’s experience pivoting its plan and adjusting to a virtual environment for prospect cultivation and solicitation can be a case study for organizations considering a major campaign.

Start with a Solid Vision

In the fall of 2018, Sanders and the board were considering plans for Dodge’s Shepard Farm property. Since receiving the property in 2013, they had been maintaining it and making small upgrades. However, they knew it could be more closely aligned with the other properties, and they started contemplating a capital campaign.

“We were getting real momentum internally for the idea of building a preschool there,” says Sanders. “Our West St. Paul preschool is hugely popular, and it was appealing to replicate that program at Shepard Farm.” Sanders and the board asked CFA to help explore the idea. “CFA was knowledgeable about conservation and education, but they had enough distance from our normal operations that they were able to challenge assumptions, to bring perspective, and to ask hard questions.’’

“It’s really important to get boards and leadership teams aligned before kicking off a big campaign,” says CFA Vice President Jake Muszynski, who led the work with Dodge. “In order to do that, we stepped back from the campaign idea and held a workshop to help all the major stakeholders come into agreement around the future of Dodge. And what we found was, opening a new preschool in another community was not central to their shared vision.”

“The vision workshop was really enlightening,” Sanders says. “We did a lot of small group work to be sure that everyone’s voice was heard. Collectively, our priorities are to expand and impact the lives of thousands more visitors, to preserve and protect the original vision of our founder, Olivia Irvine Dodge, and to be a significant force in educating future generations about environmental education. A new preschool in a new community might be a priority at some point, but we realized it wasn’t where we wanted to start.”

Sanders worked with his board and leadership team to expand on the vision they had established in the workshop. Based on those discussions and recommendations from CFA, Dodge decided to test a $15 million campaign focused on growing Dodge’s endowment, investing in capital improvements, and supporting the annual fund.

“We were focused on the endowment because we know we don’t need big buildings,” Sanders says. “We exist to get people outside, and we don’t want to devote big dollars to buildings and drywall. Because we knew our ‘Why,’ our priorities for the campaign were clear.”

Validate Your Case with Donors

Sanders then asked CFA to conduct a feasibility study, which included conversations with top donors to see if the goals of the campaign were compelling. “Feasibility studies are all about fact-finding, understanding potential investors’ support for the vision of the campaign, and positioning the organization for success,” Muszynski says. “Organizations discover how motivated their donors are, and sometimes they find out that they won’t attract major gifts.”

For the study, Muszynski and CFA President Paul Johnson crafted a summary of the case for the campaign, screening and interviewing potential donors. It soon became clear that the board’s vision and campaign goals were right on track.

The feasibility study had another powerful outcome: a $22 million lead gift from a long-time supporter. This gift changed the entire dynamic of the project and led Dodge to increase the scope of the campaign to $40 million.

“We really appreciated CFA leading us through that feasibility study,” Sanders says. “We knew we wanted to talk to our nearest friends, and it was incredible to find out that we could secure a lead gift that was larger than the initial scope of the campaign. Because of the study, we knew we could ask for enough to protect our endowment, to secure our annual fund, and to invest in capital improvements as dictated by our strategic planning, not limited to a specific site. This all will help us ensure that Dodge is healthy and able to serve the community for at least 50 more years.”

“A rigorous feasibility study is absolutely critical for a successful campaign,” says Johnson. “You get rich input from your supporters, uncover unrecognized needs and opportunities, and sometimes you learn enough to know you’re not really ready to go forward.”

Ask for Major Gifts

By mid-2019, with an ambitious plan developed and a significant lead gift secured, Dodge was ready to move into the quiet phase of its campaign.

After the lead donor, the first significant gift conversation was with Minnesota philanthropists Si and Vicki Ford. Vicki is the niece of founder Olivia Irvine Dodge, and in 2000, the Fords had established the preschool in West St. Paul. They had been part of the feasibility study and had expressed interest in contributing to the campaign. “But when we went back to them with our vision and showed them our path to $40 million, they became even more inspired,” Muszynski recalled.

They found the vision so compelling that they committed $5 million to the campaign, and Vicki signed on as a campaign co-chair. “The size and scope of our campaign, and our ability to show how we would get to the $40 million, really drove their interest and their level of commitment,” Muszynski says.

Plan For Anything

When the U.S. started feeling the effects of the pandemic earlier this year, there was significant concern about moving forward with the campaign. In March, as schools and businesses shut down, the team stopped soliciting major gifts.

After the first few weeks, people were encouraged to get outside. “You couldn’t gather but you could get outside safely, so we saw people coming to Dodge,” Sanders says. “We were seeing new people on our trails, and we had great attendance at our online “lunch and learns” with our naturalists. Our mission was right in line with what people needed. We knew we had a responsibility to protect our ability to do that, which meant pressing on with the campaign.”

Increased attendance was proof of Dodge’s value to the community, while the organization also had data from the feasibility study that confirmed the great level of commitment of their donors.

“When the team considered whether to delay or to lower the goal, we had the data,” Muszynski says. “We kept showing the numbers and our fundraising pipeline. With that assessment we could move forward confidently, knowing that our ask was not tone deaf and that donors would prioritize Dodge.”

While Covid-19 forced shifts in operations, the fundraising program was able to continue largely as planned because the campaign was so clearly connected to the larger vision for Dodge. Not every organization is in that position, and that uncertainty can make planning difficult.

“The best solution we can offer for that is scenario planning,” says Johnson. “We work with clients to think through their long-term plans and to consider what they would do if there is no vaccine, or if a completely new disruption were to hit. When we imagine how we would handle major disruptions, we are able to be nimble, no matter what comes at us. And we account for those possibilities as we approach our strategic plans and feasibility studies.”

Support the Development Team

The launch of the public phase of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature was slated for Sept. 17. It became an online event rather than a live gala, with videos, remarks from Sanders and other campaign leaders, and an online auction. As planning progressed, Dodge’s Development Director moved to another organization. Fundraising veteran Tony Grundhauser had recently joined CFA and stepped into the vacant seat on an interim basis. “He had a great background in environmental work and was a natural fit for Dodge,” Muszynski says. “He really reenergized the campaign from the inside during its quiet phase.”

The CFA team was able to lead launch efforts so seamlessly because of the close alignment it had with the campaign from the beginning. Also helpful was having in-house design capabilities and writers.

Ensure Top-Notch Execution for Public Phase

While Grundhauser worked with Sanders to call donors and secure large gifts, Muszynski focused on leading the planning for the public launch. He scripted and oversaw videos, arranged for the online auction, and coordinated design and web production along with CFA Creative Services Director Sara Johnson. “My primary focus was that we were going to be able to announce a very successful campaign,” Muszynski says.

The public launch of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature took place, as scheduled, on Sept. 17, 2020, with its virtual gala and online auction. Remarkably, nearly 75% of the campaign was already secured, while the gala raised another $150,000 for Dodge (See the campaign collateral).

Executive Director Sanders is immensely pleased with the results of the campaign, for the funds it has raised so far and for the sense of focus the team has developed in the process. “We know who we are and what mission we’re serving,” Sanders explains. “Now we can look at our decisions more firmly through the lens of why we exist and how we protect our ability to give people access to nature.”

Dodge Nature Center kicked off its largest-ever fundraising campaign in September 2020. This was as the United States was six months into the global pandemic and people throughout the country were feeling great economic pain.

And yet, this environmental education center headquartered in a small suburb of St. Paul launched the public phase of a $40 million campaign, with nearly 75% of the funding already secured. How did they do it? According to Dodge Executive Director Jason Sanders, the key was listening to the right people.

“Our initial intention was to raise $15 million for a new property in Cottage Grove, Minn., in order to build a new preschool facility there and make improvements to our main property,” Sanders explains. “After listening to our most committed donors, board members, staff, and expert campaign counsel, we realized we could and should do far more than we ever thought possible. The vision for the campaign significantly expanded from modest capital improvements to securing funds to ensure this 52-year old institution would be vital for another 50 years and beyond.”

Sanders and his team partnered with Creative Fundraising Advisors throughout the development and launch of the campaign called Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature. Given that much of the campaign was developed pre-pandemic, Dodge’s experience pivoting its plan and adjusting to a virtual environment for prospect cultivation and solicitation can be a case study for organizations considering a major campaign.

Start with a Solid Vision

In the fall of 2018, Sanders and the board were considering plans for Dodge’s Shepard Farm property. Since receiving the property in 2013, they had been maintaining it and making small upgrades. However, they knew it could be more closely aligned with the other properties, and they started contemplating a capital campaign.

“We were getting real momentum internally for the idea of building a preschool there,” says Sanders. “Our West St. Paul preschool is hugely popular, and it was appealing to replicate that program at Shepard Farm.” Sanders and the board asked CFA to help explore the idea. “CFA was knowledgeable about conservation and education, but they had enough distance from our normal operations that they were able to challenge assumptions, to bring perspective, and to ask hard questions.’’

“It’s really important to get boards and leadership teams aligned before kicking off a big campaign,” says CFA Vice President Jake Muszynski, who led the work with Dodge. “In order to do that, we stepped back from the campaign idea and held a workshop to help all the major stakeholders come into agreement around the future of Dodge. And what we found was, opening a new preschool in another community was not central to their shared vision.”

“The vision workshop was really enlightening,” Sanders says. “We did a lot of small group work to be sure that everyone’s voice was heard. Collectively, our priorities are to expand and impact the lives of thousands more visitors, to preserve and protect the original vision of our founder, Olivia Irvine Dodge, and to be a significant force in educating future generations about environmental education. A new preschool in a new community might be a priority at some point, but we realized it wasn’t where we wanted to start.”

Sanders worked with his board and leadership team to expand on the vision they had established in the workshop. Based on those discussions and recommendations from CFA, Dodge decided to test a $15 million campaign focused on growing Dodge’s endowment, investing in capital improvements, and supporting the annual fund.

“We were focused on the endowment because we know we don’t need big buildings,” Sanders says. “We exist to get people outside, and we don’t want to devote big dollars to buildings and drywall. Because we knew our ‘Why,’ our priorities for the campaign were clear.”

Validate Your Case with Donors

Sanders then asked CFA to conduct a feasibility study, which included conversations with top donors to see if the goals of the campaign were compelling. “Feasibility studies are all about fact-finding, understanding potential investors’ support for the vision of the campaign, and positioning the organization for success,” Muszynski says. “Organizations discover how motivated their donors are, and sometimes they find out that they won’t attract major gifts.”

For the study, Muszynski and CFA President Paul Johnson crafted a summary of the case for the campaign, screening and interviewing potential donors. It soon became clear that the board’s vision and campaign goals were right on track.

The feasibility study had another powerful outcome: a $22 million lead gift from a long-time supporter. This gift changed the entire dynamic of the project and led Dodge to increase the scope of the campaign to $40 million.

“We really appreciated CFA leading us through that feasibility study,” Sanders says. “We knew we wanted to talk to our nearest friends, and it was incredible to find out that we could secure a lead gift that was larger than the initial scope of the campaign. Because of the study, we knew we could ask for enough to protect our endowment, to secure our annual fund, and to invest in capital improvements as dictated by our strategic planning, not limited to a specific site. This all will help us ensure that Dodge is healthy and able to serve the community for at least 50 more years.”

“A rigorous feasibility study is absolutely critical for a successful campaign,” says Johnson. “You get rich input from your supporters, uncover unrecognized needs and opportunities, and sometimes you learn enough to know you’re not really ready to go forward.”

Ask for Major Gifts

By mid-2019, with an ambitious plan developed and a significant lead gift secured, Dodge was ready to move into the quiet phase of its campaign.

After the lead donor, the first significant gift conversation was with Minnesota philanthropists Si and Vicki Ford. Vicki is the niece of founder Olivia Irvine Dodge, and in 2000, the Fords had established the preschool in West St. Paul. They had been part of the feasibility study and had expressed interest in contributing to the campaign. “But when we went back to them with our vision and showed them our path to $40 million, they became even more inspired,” Muszynski recalled.

They found the vision so compelling that they committed $5 million to the campaign, and Vicki signed on as a campaign co-chair. “The size and scope of our campaign, and our ability to show how we would get to the $40 million, really drove their interest and their level of commitment,” Muszynski says.

Plan For Anything

When the U.S. started feeling the effects of the pandemic earlier this year, there was significant concern about moving forward with the campaign. In March, as schools and businesses shut down, the team stopped soliciting major gifts.

After the first few weeks, people were encouraged to get outside. “You couldn’t gather but you could get outside safely, so we saw people coming to Dodge,” Sanders says. “We were seeing new people on our trails, and we had great attendance at our online “lunch and learns” with our naturalists. Our mission was right in line with what people needed. We knew we had a responsibility to protect our ability to do that, which meant pressing on with the campaign.”

Increased attendance was proof of Dodge’s value to the community, while the organization also had data from the feasibility study that confirmed the great level of commitment of their donors.

“When the team considered whether to delay or to lower the goal, we had the data,” Muszynski says. “We kept showing the numbers and our fundraising pipeline. With that assessment we could move forward confidently, knowing that our ask was not tone deaf and that donors would prioritize Dodge.”

While Covid-19 forced shifts in operations, the fundraising program was able to continue largely as planned because the campaign was so clearly connected to the larger vision for Dodge. Not every organization is in that position, and that uncertainty can make planning difficult.

“The best solution we can offer for that is scenario planning,” says Johnson. “We work with clients to think through their long-term plans and to consider what they would do if there is no vaccine, or if a completely new disruption were to hit. When we imagine how we would handle major disruptions, we are able to be nimble, no matter what comes at us. And we account for those possibilities as we approach our strategic plans and feasibility studies.”

Support the Development Team

The launch of the public phase of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature was slated for Sept. 17. It became an online event rather than a live gala, with videos, remarks from Sanders and other campaign leaders, and an online auction. As planning progressed, Dodge’s Development Director moved to another organization. Fundraising veteran Tony Grundhauser had recently joined CFA and stepped into the vacant seat on an interim basis. “He had a great background in environmental work and was a natural fit for Dodge,” Muszynski says. “He really reenergized the campaign from the inside during its quiet phase.”

The CFA team was able to lead launch efforts so seamlessly because of the close alignment it had with the campaign from the beginning. Also helpful was having in-house design capabilities and writers.

Ensure Top-Notch Execution for Public Phase

While Grundhauser worked with Sanders to call donors and secure large gifts, Muszynski focused on leading the planning for the public launch. He scripted and oversaw videos, arranged for the online auction, and coordinated design and web production along with CFA Creative Services Director Sara Johnson. “My primary focus was that we were going to be able to announce a very successful campaign,” Muszynski says.

The public launch of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature took place, as scheduled, on Sept. 17, 2020, with its virtual gala and online auction. Remarkably, nearly 75% of the campaign was already secured, while the gala raised another $150,000 for Dodge (See the campaign collateral).

Executive Director Sanders is immensely pleased with the results of the campaign, for the funds it has raised so far and for the sense of focus the team has developed in the process. “We know who we are and what mission we’re serving,” Sanders explains. “Now we can look at our decisions more firmly through the lens of why we exist and how we protect our ability to give people access to nature.”