Let’s Get Down to Fundraising

What does it take to successfully run a capital campaign? Six organizations tell us.

When University of Evansville President Christopher Pietruszkiewicz was interviewing for the job in early 2018, he saw potential areas for growth and improvement. He asked Vice President for University Advancement Abigail Werling when UE would start its next capital campaign.

It’s a crowded space. Capital campaigns across the city include UE’s Forward, Evansville Rescue Mission’s Safe & Sound, the Koch Family Children’s Museum of Evansville’s Play it Forward, Easterseals Rehabilitation Center’s Ensuring the Future, and SWIRCA & More and Bedford Collab.

Photo of the University of Evansville’s renovated softball field provided by the University of Evansville

“As our city gets better, so does our university. As our university gets better, so does our city,” Pietruszkiewicz says.

UE’s last campaign, UEnvision2010 — with an $80 million goal — raised $82.5 million. In 2018, UE began Forward’s first phase by outlining campaign objectives, determining financial goals, and getting support from key stakeholders. At UE, faculty, students, and staff contributions helped focus the campaign.

As of Dec. 31, Forward had crossed $92 million of its $125 million, seven-year goal and had seen two of the three highest fundraising years in university history. UE has relied on a fundraising steering committee made up of alumni and board trustees. Already, funds have added to UE’s endowments, made upgrades to Wheeler Concert Hall, built a Mental Health and Wellness Clinic, and renovated UE’s baseball and softball fields.

Photo of the University of Evansville’s Mental Health and Wellness Clinic, including the Emily M. Young Assessment Center, provided by the University of Evansville

“Campaigns are complex, so there are challenges that arise, but none more memorable than conducting the leadership phase of a campaign during a pandemic,” Werling says. “Without the ability to travel and visit people in person, it made it hugely difficult to connect with people the way we believe is important when having conversations about significant levels of philanthropy.”

Once the pandemic eased, cMoe and SWIRCA launched feasibility studies, traditionally conducted by a firm to assess an organization’s readiness to embark on a capital campaign
and review its viability and need.

Photo of planned renovations to Children’s Museum of Evansville exhibit provided by the Children’s Museum of Evansville

cMoe has received funding from the Lilly Endowment, Explore Evansville, and Toyota to assist with exhibit enhancements, expansion, and new exhibit additions. But officials say two or three exhibits need to be completely overhauled. The museum, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, contracted Indianapolis-based Maxwell Planning LLC for strategic planning and developed initial renderings and cost estimates that the board approved just before the pandemic started. It’s the museum’s first major fundraising endeavor since it moved from Washington Square Mall — and was then called Hands On Discovery Children’s Museum — to the old Central Library in Downtown in 2006.

“(When) COVID-19 hit, we had to pause the entire process,” says Will Cartwright, cMoe’s board president.

cMoe hired Greenwood, Indiana-based Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates to reach out to past major donors and key stakeholders as part of the nine-month feasibility study. To date, the campaign cabinet has raised approximately $5.1 million of its $6.5 million goal.

“To go out into the community, have those interviews with some key stake-holders in the museum, and say, ‘Hey, we’re potentially going to do a capital campaign. What are your thoughts?’ helped us set our goal,” says Play it Forward campaign chair Brian Hicks.

Some organizations turn to a full-time campaign manager to run these large projects. Evansville Rescue Mission is renovating a 42,600-square-foot building at 1400 Professional Blvd. that will house the Susan H. Snyder Center for Women and Children, Evansville’s first facility dedicated to programming for women and children. Campaign funding will sustain the center through 2027.

Rendering of Susan H. Snyder Center for Women and Children provided by Evansville Rescue Mission

ERM hired Katrinka Rynder in November 2022 to manage the campaign full-time and says it has been important to articulate the organization’s mission to potential donors.

“Just because people can give does not mean their heart is in it,” Rynder says. “It’s about addressing needs while finding people who are passionate about the cause.”

So far, ERM has raised two-thirds of its $9 million goal.

“When Evansville hears about a project, they get behind it quickly,” says Kyle Gorman, ERM’s executive director of advancement.

What builds momentum is the “silent phase,” where organizations cultivate and solicit their largest gifts by engaging with major to mid-level prospective donors and key stakeholders. Consultants typically advise that 60 to 80 percent of an agency’s goal should be achieved
in this stage.

Federal funds cannot go toward capital campaigns, but organizations can put public and private grants to use. cMoe received $580,000 from Indiana’s READI grants. Lilly Endowment funds also have contributed to UE’s Forward campaign.

It can take months, even years, to launch a capital campaign. ERM dedicated five years of pre-planning and visiting sister programs across the U.S. before pressing that button. Likewise, SWIRCA & More planned its first capital campaign for building renovations and an addition in 2019 and waited until 2021 for a feasibility study conducted by Indianapolis-based consulting firm Vitruvian LLC.

Rendering of SWIRCA & More’s new building provided by SWIRCA & More

Monica Spencer, SWIRCA’s development director, says 62 people were interviewed in 10 days for the feasibility study, which took four months to complete. Spencer also spoke with local and state nonprofit fundraisers before reaching out to donors.

“A big part of fundraising is building relationships and sharing your organization’s mission,” Spencer says. “It’s extremely rewarding to be an advancement professional and nonprofit fundraiser. I have the great privilege of sharing our organization’s story with others so that SWIRCA may continue to serve and make a difference in the lives of others.”

SWIRCA is 71 percent of the way to its $5 million campaign goal. Among public money received is $300,000 from Vanderburgh County and $500,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act. The money will fund renovations at the agency’s facility at 16 W. Virginia St. ARC Construction Co. Inc. has been tapped to build a 16,000-square-foot LA+D-designed facility next door.

Pushing a campaign to its final lap means taking it public for smaller donations. cMoe’s public phase began in September 2023, SWIRCA launched its in December 2023, and UE’s Forward went public in April 2022. ERM has yet to begin the public phase of Safe & Sound.

Easterseals’ Ensuring the Future campaign seeks to provide psychological services to people at every income level. This means sustaining and growing those services as the organization sees increased need.

Photo of Easterseals Rehabilitation Center’s Ensuring the Future campaign public announcement at Mickey’s Kingdom provided by Easterseals Rehabilitation Center

“We knew we could not provide that underwriting by just raising more money the traditional way,” President and CEO Kelly Schneider told Evansville Business in September 2023. “We decided we needed a campaign to raise restricted funds that will support mental health expansion exclusively, so we’re not detracting from other core services.”

The public phase kicked off in August 2023. Schneider says so far, Easterseals is closing in on 90 percent of its $5 million goal and plans to reach that goal by March.

“The last part is always the hardest to raise,” Schneider said in 2023, “but we’re blessed with some really good benefactors, and we are counting on more support to help us achieve this goal.”

Bedford Collab, meanwhile, took a different approach to its capital campaign for a shared commercial kitchen in Evansville’s Tepe Park neighborhood. The campaign prioritized reaching out to community members over larger donors and foundations.

“We believe in grassroots projects and … getting the people involved who are on the ground (and) who need it most,” says co-founder and COO DeAndre Wilson.

Photo of DeAndre Willson and Merrick Korach by Zach Straw

Grants from Republic Services and CenterPoint Energy enabled Bedford Collab to purchase and renovate the former Bedford Tavern at 1201 S. Bedford Ave. in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Then, Wilson and co-founder and CEO Merrick Korach reverse-engineered how to build their organization and reach their goal of a shared commercial kitchen, which will be leased out to food partners who have signed up with Bedford Collab to host their services.

“Merrick and I had to make a hard decision because Bedford Collab is a for-profit entity, and it cannot take on nonprofit grants,” Wilson says. “What we decided to do was get real creative and real scrappy, as entrepreneurs tend to do, and create a whole new organization.”

That organization is Impact Evansville, a nonprofit that owns the property and hosts the capital campaign.

“Our innovative means was to create a 501(c)(3) whose main goal is to support dis- invested founders making a difference in underserved communities,” Wilson says.

Next came a campaign on Patronicity — a self-styled “crowdgranting” website for community projects — in June 2022 that sought $50,000 to help finish renovations. Wilson credits former Vectren CEO Carl Chapman with helping the Bedford Collab group develop its Patronicity campaign, which includes naming rights for top donors. The Indiana Housing & Community Development Authority awarded a matching $50,000 grant.

Photo of renovations at the former Bedford Tavern location, what will become Bedford Collab, by Zach Straw

The campaign raised $53,595 before ending Aug. 23, 2022. Donors included Pangea Holdings LLC ($1,000); Heritage Federal Credit Union ($5,000); Preston Family Foundation ($5,000); Field & Main Bank ($5,000); Old National Bank ($1,000); Chapman Foundation ($5,000); Ivy Tech Community College ($2,000); Tepe Park Neighborhood Association ($5,000); Azzip Pizza ($1,000); and Memorial Community Development Corp. ($1,000). Impact Evansville continues to receive donations and grants, including from Deaconess Health Systems and the City of Evansville. The goal is to reach $1.1 million by summer 2024.

“When you are going to raise money, it’s all about relationships. I want them to get to know us first and the more people on the ground that are supporting us are going to advocate for us. So, that even makes the asks easier,” Wilson says.

After the final phase, that’s when construction, programming, and initiatives come to fruition. But the community rally to reach the finish line often is the sweetest part.

“My favorites are the $1 to $2 checks. To me, that is the most blessed giving,” Rynder of the Evansville Rescue Mission says. “Giving to charity is such a personal goal. It is strictly from your heart.”

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Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti joined Tucker Publishing Group in September 2022 as a staff writer. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2020 with a bachelors degree in English. A Connecticut native, Maggie has ridden horses for 15 years and has hunt seat competition experience on the East Coast.

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