Partners for the Future
What do Girl Scouting and participation in a capital campaign have in common? The opportunity to accomplish something lasting and important … as well as the potential of having a great time in the process.
Can fun and fund raising really go hand in hand? Patricia Romines, Co-Chair for the Bluestem Girl Scout Council capital campaign, Partners for the Future, made an interesting discovery, “I personally received a lot of enjoyment from participating in this campaign. It was rewarding to be part of something very important–something that would help so many girls. Raising funds for a great organization can actually be fun I found. It is one of the most satisfying things you can do. I began the process with less positive feelings about fund raising, but with guidance and support from our campaign consultant, my confidence increased and I had a great time helping advance Bluestem Council’s mission.”
The Girl Scout Mission is “to inspire girls, with the highest ideals of character, patriotism, and service so that they may become happy and resourceful citizens.” Since its founding in 1941, Bluestem Council has inspired more than 70,000 girls with the life building opportunities of Girl Scouting. The Council area includes counties in northeastern Oklahoma and southeastern Kansas, including some of the poorest per capita in that state.
While remaining true to the traditional values represented by Girl Scouting, the Council made substantial efforts to adapt its program to meet the changing needs of today’s girls. “I have great respect for the Bluestem Council. They have learned how to retain the interest of young girls, adapting to the changing times, without forfeiting their commitment to the values and principles that make Girl Scout so special.” (Ellen Barczak, former board member)
The Council wanted to deliver the positive effects of Girl Scouting to a greater number of girls, especially those with little access to the program–girls in after-school settings and in poorer communities. Strategic efforts were successful and from 1992 to the present, Bluestem Girl Scout Council membership grew more than 100 percent.
Success has its rewards and its challenges. The growing number of Girls Scouts created a corresponding dilemma. Facilities owned and operated by the Bluestem Council were stretched to capacity. Administrative functions required more space in the Kiwanis Park program center, limiting availability and effectiveness of programming.
A gift of land east of the program center became a cornerstone for the Partners for the Future campaign. In addition to the expansion and renovation of the program center, the campaign included a new facility in Ponca City, and much needed additions at the Council’s 524-acre Camp Wah-Shah-She in Osage County.
An original campaign goal only targeted $625,000 for expanding the program center and making the improvements at camp. Half way to goal, the development director married and moved away and the original campaign chair was transferred to another city. It was a temptation to quit, but the need had only increased. One thing became obvious–a need for professional guidance, if the campaign was to proceed. Bluestem Council heard about a consulting firm at a fund-raising seminar. The firm had recently completed a capital campaign for the Magic Empire Girl Scout Council with solid results.
Bluestem Council contacted the firm for an interview and retained their services immediately. According to Co-Chair Patricia Romines, “It turned out to be an extraordinary collaboration and money well spent. The real benefit was accountability and encouragement. Hartsook also helped us to see the campaign in a new light. Initially, we were only going to raise enough to get by. Our consultant advised us to determine what was actually needed before we went to the community with our story. The goal increased to $1.2 million and included programming–particularly programs that helped reach underserved populations.
Early in the campaign, Co-Chair Romines suggested a fund raising approach that was not only effective, but also momentum building. “My husband and I made a financial commitment to the campaign and then we approached several other couples about making a gift to help lay the ‘cornerstones’ of the campaign. We approached seven couples and four of them agreed to join us. Each time a couple gave a cornerstone gift, they not only joined us in giving, but they helped with the next solicitation.”
Over the course of the campaign, gifts came in the form of hard-earned wins, as well as unexpected windfalls. Romines explained, “We worked hard on the Mabee gift. We had already raised $660,000, which left $520,000 to raise over the rest of the year in order to receive the $150,000 matching gift. This gave us a very specific target. We were able to not only meet, but exceed the goal. At the same time, a single mother involved in Girl Scouting with her daughter, was put in charge of overseeing the charitable remainder trust of an estate. The benefactor was a woman who had lived modestly all her life and accumulated significant wealth. The trustee already knew a lot about the Girl Scout program and had a strong belief in the benefits. In the name of her benefactor, she made a $100,000 gift to the campaign. She was confident that the woman would have felt very good about this choice. Coincidentally, the benefactor lived her whole life one block from the Girl Scout program center. This was a truly meaningful gift for all of us.”
Other gifts included a $20,000 matching gift from Girl Scouts of the USA for new membership programming, and a $180,000 gift from the AmeriCorp program. “The Bluestem Council campaign had a very good mix of individual, corporate, foundation, and trust gifts,” said the campaign counsel. “They were very successful at stretch gifts. They helped people see the benefits of philanthropy. In fact, several donors made their single largest gift ever to this campaign.”
One target of the campaign was improvements to the satellite office in Ponca City. Over the previous eight years, Girl Scout membership had tripled in Ponca City. A $50,000 matching challenge grant, contributed by the D. I. Kelly Trust, matched 50 cents on the dollar for all donations made to this effort. A significant gift for Ponca City came from an elderly woman in that community. Her $75,000 gift gave the Ponca City piece a big boost. “You’re always struck by the importance of relationships in a campaign. We realized that several people on the Board knew the man administering the trust. It was the value of the Girl Scout program that persuaded the woman to donate, but having a personal inroad to someone she trusted certainly helped move things along,” said Romines.
An extraordinary gift came in to top off the campaign. One of the board members spoke with someone in the area about the campaign. The family owned a building used as a medical facility. They were considering donating the building to a worthy cause and the Girls Scouts happened to come along just at the right moment.
“One of the important aspects of a campaign is that it gives an organization a chance to tell its story to the community. The Ponca City building was the result of a board member telling our story to the right person at the right time,” Romines offered.
Said the campaign consultant, “I believe the strength of this campaign was the Board and steering committee’s willingness to learn the fund raising process–which they did handily–as well as their incredible dedication to the organization.” “There’s no question,” said Romines, “that we derived a huge value in the consulting we received. It was a ‘real knowledge’ transfer. I called the consultant our coach, because that’s the role he played. He knew when to press and when to back off. He helped us recognize the value of telling our story–the Bluestem Council Girl Scout story.”
“We have a powerful volunteer base,” added Romines, “but volunteer base and donor base are quite different. Partners for the Future allowed us to develop and expand our donor base, which strengthens the organization and therefore, helps us reach and serve a greater number of girls.”
“The other Co-Chair, Ann Mills, and I partnered together for solicitations. I would recommend this to other campaigns. It was beneficial to have someone to plan strategies with prior to an appointment and to evaluate things after the visit. It also added to the ‘fun factor,'” said Romines. Even without previous campaign experience, Bluestem Girl Scout Council was not only successful, it was pleasurable. “This campaign was an absolute joy,” said the campaign consultant.
Who says fun and fund raising are not compatible? Certainly not the Bluestem Council, nor the thousands of girls and Girl Scout volunteers who benefit from Bluestem’s Partners for the Future capital campaign.