By Ret Boney
After 90 years of operation, and on the brink of a new century, Camp Wood YMCA was in need of renovation and expansion.
By launching a capital campaign, the camp in Elmdale, Kan., not only has exceeded its initial goal and begun its makeover, but also has found a host of new supporters and a booster shot of self-esteem.
“The challenge for this organization was less about raising money than about understanding they could raise money,” says Robert Swanson, president of Hartsook Companies, the Wichita-based fundraising consulting firm assisting Camp Wood.
To date, the camp has raised $3.9 million, exceeding its original goal of $3.7 million, and has revised its goal to $5.8 million.
Serving primarily the eastern half of Kansas and the western edge of Missouri, the camp hosts about 3,700 people a year, including about 1,000 children in the summer, says Ken Wold, the camp’s executive director.
To provide more children with traditional camping activities, including horseback riding, swimming, a ropes course, archery, hiking, and arts and crafts, Wold wanted to double the size of the camp over the next two decades.
But with only four year-round staffers, none of them fundraisers, and a budget of about $450,000, a multi-million-dollar capital campaign sounded daunting.
“In a small camp setting, you’re just not going to get an executive director that has that experience,” says Wold. “And I didn’t have it.”
Wold hired Hartsook Companies to help with the process, and one of Swanson’s first recommendations was for the camp to hire an additional full-time staffer so Wold could focus on fundraising.
“You couldn’t sit with Ken and not hear and see his commitment and passion,” says Swanson. “That’s hard to put a value on. You hear it in his voice and you see it in his eye.”
Planning for the campaign began in the fall of 2002 and a critical early decision for the team was positioning.
Given that Camp Wood is Kansas’ only overnight YMCA camp, the group decided to make the campaign, called “Great Kids, Great Futures,” a statewide endeavor.
“As they put a leadership team together, we encouraged it to be statewide, making the state the foundation for their campaign,” Swanson says.
The Campaign Leadership Committee now includes 15 people from across Kansas and two from Missouri, and is co-chaired by two board members, one of whom is a former camper and the other of whom sent his children to Camp Wood.
To develop and solidify relationships with current and potential donors, the team launched a monthly memo, sent to about 1,000 annual fund contributors, former campers, friends, and friends of friends.
The memo includes updates on camp activities, profiles of campers and board members, campaign progress reports and updates on facilities.
“If they didn’t know us before, by the end of a few months, they knew,” says Wold. “It increased our annual fund drive for the last three years; that was a nice side effect.”
In December 2002, the campaign was jump-started by a $300,000 challenge grant from a local family that required the grant be matched dollar for dollar by the camp’s 26 board members, with 100 percent participation.
The board met the challenge within a month, Wold says, and to date has given more than $650,000 to the campaign.
“You’ve got to have a board that believes the same thing heart and soul and is willing to take part like they have,” he says. “If they’re not willing to take part, you’re not going to get anywhere with anybody else.”
That passion and commitment translated into success in donor cultivation, says Swanson.
Wold works with his campaign leadership team to identify prospects, understand their interests, determine if they are a match for the camp, and decide if the relationship needs to be developed further prior to asking for support.
“They bought into the philosophy that there is no one template for making a case for support,” he says of Wold and his volunteers. “Their ability to treat everybody individually maximized what they were able to receive from individual donors.”
In fact, the number of individual donors to the camp has more than doubled, Wold says, and contributors to the annual fund are up about a third.
To date, Camp Wood has raised about $1.7 million from individuals, $2.2 million from foundations and about $120,000 from corporations, all of which has funded a new horse pavilion, health center, adventure course, amphitheater and renovations to the bath house and main lodge.
While the camp’s effort was relatively small in a universe in which capital campaigns can top $1 billion, Swanson says the principles of good fundraising hold true regardless of the size of an organization.
“Every campaign is the same and every campaign is different,” he says. “The size of the organization is not as important as its history of service. The older an institution is, the older the prospect pool is and the larger the opportunity for large gifts.”
With construction well underway, Wold hopes to raise the remaining $1.9 million over the next 18 months and is considering a smaller campaign in the future to finance additional cabins and equipment for camp programs.
“The most important thing to remember is it’s not about raising money, it’s about letting people know what you’re doing,” says Wold. “And remember, you’re doing it so you can serve more.”