Great Empires Aren’t Built in a Day
Magic Empire Girl Scout Council’s Case in Point
When the Magic Empire Council of Girl Scouts first began to realize their increasing need for capital funds, they knew the fundraising task rising before them could not be taken lightly. Great empires aren’t built in a day. The Council had never undertaken a major fundraising campaign. Still, Magic Empire’s senior management knew for their organization to continue to succeed in accomplishing its mission, a great deal of planning and preparation would have to precede any major fundraising effort.
The Magic Empire Council of Girl Scouts is one of 331 councils chartered by the Girl Scouts of the USA and is charged with administering the Girl Scout program in the seven counties in northeastern Oklahoma. It is the largest Girl Scout council in the State of Oklahoma.
The Need Was Evident
Because of tremendous growth within the Council, the need for a new troop camping site became the primary catalyst in what would become the Campaign for Growth, a $3.4 million capital and endowment campaign. From 1989 to 1994, the number of campers attending summer resident camp at Tallchief, the Council’s main over-night camp site, grew 94 percent.
“The Girl Scout Council in Tulsa had been extremely successful,” explains Ruth Richards, Director of Development for the Council during the campaign, now the Nature Conservancy in Oklahoma “so the Council had been talking about the dream of a new troop camp for some time. When I came on board, in 1989, we were serving 4,500 girls. By the time I left, in 1997, the Council was serving 7,200 girls. Girls were having to wait three years to get a reservation at camp!”
Concern About Asking For Money From The Community
Although the Council had committed to a concerted effort to raise funds for a new camp in 1989, beginning a campaign was put on hold until things were put in order. “Back in 1990, we began really looking at our group to see where weak spots might be as far as perceptions were concerned,” says Bonnie Brewster, Executive Director during the campaign. “As a result of looking at ourselves, we took very important steps to educate our Board about a capital campaign and how it should be done right, or not at all.”
Since this was the first time the Council would be asking the community for major dollars, they took some deliberate steps to prepare the community for the campaign, including organizing a women’s support group and planning a yearly fundraising event. Those two actions drew in professional women from all over the community, provided a high-profile event at the existing main camp, and began making the first strides toward a capital campaign.
Good preparation was at the heart of the Campaign for Growth. Magic Empire realized the essential importance of taking the time to build a good foundation for their campaign. “You can’t just go out and raise $3.4 million,” says Brewster. “There are years of preparation.” The campaign officially began quietly with a lead gift of $1 million in July of 1994. During the Assessment process, a major foundation in Tulsa with Board members in common with the Girl Scouts indicated a significant six-figure gift would be forthcoming. As the campaign began to unfold, that foundation’s leadership suggested the Girl Scouts consider an endowment supporting the long-term maintenance of the camp and the service facility. To encourage that strategy, the foundation increased its gift to $1 million. The Kinetic firm was retained to do an assessment study and as ongoing counsel throughout the campaign.
With a 30-year service record in the Girl Scouts, and 23 years as the Executive Director of Magic Empire Girl Scout Council, Brewster’s commitment to the campaign cause was rock solid. Her commitment and that of her staff and the volunteer campaign cabinet played a major role in the momentum of the campaign. The campaign cabinet met every two weeks for an hour and a half, for at least a year. “There was an excitement in the air that was contagious,” says Brewster. “Ruth Richards’ commitment to supporting the structure of the campaign was absolutely critical to our success.”
“A lot of spirit and community was established through those meetings,” stated Richards.
An incredible leadership team who knew the foundation and corporate power structure within the Tulsa community was established in Honorary Chair Jack Zink, a community philanthropist, and Foundation Division Chair Steve Jatras, a retired corporate CEO.
According to Jack Zink, the needs of the Council were concrete enough to demand public attention. “We had a marvelous cause that was evident. Our campaign slogan stated our mission beautifully: For over eighty years the Girl Scout movement has sparked the imagination of small girls and young women and given them a vision for their future: being competent, self-confident adults at ease in an evermore complex world. It is a future that every parent wishes for their daughter.”
“With such a sincere goal at the heart of the campaign, it was an easy sell to the community,” says Zink. The Zink family historically had been active leaders for youth development in the Tulsa area. One of the Zink Foundations, for which Jack Zink and Jill Tarbel, his sister, serve as Trustees, provided the land for the Girl Scout’s campgrounds. Jack is involved in a number of businesses in the Tulsa area and has been active politically statewide. Certainly, he was a recognized commodity to provide leadership in this campaign.
Jack Zink served as an Honorary Co-Chair with his sister, Jill Tarbel, co-trustee with Jack of the Zink Foundation. Also serving as Honorary Chair was the Mayor of Tulsa, Clydella Hentschell, another civic volunteer. The Campaign Co-Chairs were Janet Zink and Ann Graves, two former Girl Scouts who are prominent Tulsa civic leaders.
The campaign was challenged by two national foundations. The Mabee Foundation of Tulsa, which distributes grants in several states to capital projects, found the Girl Scout campaign attractive because of the comprehensive nature of their plan: to renovate their camps while adding to their service center. The Mabee Foundation gift was $500,000 contingent upon the Girl Scouts’ achieving their goal.
Midway through the campaign, upon the firm’s recommendation, Magic Empire visited the Kresge Foundation. “We were very excited when we solicited the Kresge Foundation, having no idea of what their response would be,” recalls Brewster. “To then receive a challenge grant for $350,000 from them was a wonderful statement to the community about the importance of this campaign.”
Making the trip to the Kresge office to receive the grant was one of the highlights of the campaign for campaign leaders. “We were treated so wonderfully by the Kresge people, it really made an impact on me, ” says Jatras, “especially since we were not sure we would receive anything from them.”
“One thing that was very unusual for us is that we were required, by the Kresge office, to increase our goal,” adds Jatras. “One of their caveats was that a certain amount of funds should be earmarked for ongoing support. We increased our goal, and were able not only to meet that goal, but exceed it and come away with even greater results than we had hoped for originally.”
The campaign also received a challenge grant of $500,000 from the Mabee Foundation, a regional foundation which funds many building projects.
Volunteer and Staff Support
Although Magic Empire did not have a board that could easily provide the campaign funds through their own private gifts, the campaign received 100 percent board and staff participation. “The Girl Scout staff was incredible. I was astonished by the amount some of our staff contributed to the campaign, considering their limited incomes,” relates Richards, “but that was how important the campaign was to them. They, like everyone involved in the campaign, were giving everything they could for the girls.”
Volunteer involvement played an important role in the campaign as the girls’ parents and even the girls themselves, raised funds for the campaign. Troop parents raised $50,000. The girls got into the act and raised just under $50,000 with a project called “Coins for Camping”. Every troop picked a thon (dance-a-thon, bowl-a-thon, walk-a-thon, etc.) and received pledges from neighbors, friends and family. “There was a real sense of ownership in the project, because the girls knew they were helping to build their camp,” recalls Brewster.
Key to Girl Scouting is volunteerism. The Magic Empire Council of Girl Scouts has enjoyed a long tradition of encouraging volunteerism among community activists, parents and friends of Girl Scouting. Frequently, parents serve as Scout leaders. Virtually all of the Campaign Cabinet had been volunteers to Girl Scouts or had served on a United Way committee assessing the Magic Empire Council of Girl Scouts in previous years.
The success of the girls’ campaign is all the more impressive considering the time the event took place. The events were held on their scheduled day, the Saturday after the Oklahoma City bombing. “It was raining horribly and people all over the state were still in shock,” recalls Richards, “but the girls still went out and did their best. One troop that held a bounce-a-thon took turns bouncing and making sandwiches for the rescue workers. I think the girls’ commitment illustrated how valuable Girl Scouting is to shaping a girl’s attitude toward community service.”
The Council also solicited and welcomed volunteer input into what the new facilities would look like, how they would be used, etc., bringing a real sense of unity to the campaign. “Our volunteers are our life-line in scouting,” explains Brewster, “asking them to contribute their ideas made them feel like they were an essential part of the process, even if they couldn’t contribute financially.”
While much of the structure of the Campaign for Growth, Richards says she “got out of the book,” she readily admits she would not have wanted to do the campaign without outside counsel. “The advantage of outside counsel is that of bringing a voice of wisdom into the campaign which carries greater weight than your own. Our counsel served as an enforcer and enthusiast in a way no one else could. Without Kinetic, we would not have gone for the Kresge grant,” Richards adds. “We achieved the $3.4 million level because of his involvement.”
Bonnie Brewster also gives credit for the campaign success to help from outside counsel. “I believe one of the major reasons we were successful was because of our relationship with outside counsel. Kinetic guided us from the formation of the cabinet and establishing an honorary chair, to how to have cabinet meetings,” says Brewster. “Our consultant played a major role in sitting down with our Development Director and strategizing. His input not only increased our credibility, but carried a sense of security through the whole campaign.”
Completion On Time & On Budget
The Campaign for Growth wrapped up in just two years with fruits aplenty. The new troop camping site includes a lodge, tent group, tree house, log cabin, covered wagon group, frontier village, central bath houses, storm shelters and site work. Other projects covered under the $3.4 million umbrella included the Tulsa Service Center Conference Wing, safety and program improvements, renovation to existing Tulsa Service Center, and outreach programs in Tulsa’s Public Housing Communities.
While new facilities and programs clearly testify to the success of the campaign, the intangible rewards of the effort will serve to strengthen and stabilize the Council for years to come. “The Campaign for Growth has given Magic Empire Council of Girl Scouts confidence,” says Richards. “It has allowed them to become much stronger advocates for girls and girl programs, not merely within the confines of scouting, but within the community.”
Fundraising Was Fun
One of the best perks of working on Magic Empire’s Campaign for Growth was the sense of “fun” carried throughout the entire effort. It’s an element that can only be present when solid preparation, exceptional goals, and an Integrated Campaign™ approach is present.
“We had a great case, great team, great counsel, and a lot of fun,” insists Richards. “It all made for a great experience. Even our big fundraisers and campaign chairs told us how much fun they had during the campaign and that’s not a usual occurrence!”
“I have a tremendously good feeling about the campaign,” concurs Brewster. “We had an opportunity to make something great and we did it well.”
Magic Empire Council of Girl Scouts identified several important lessons to closing gifts.
- The role of the early gift in giving the project credibility. The million-dollar pledge sent a message to Tulsa that this was an important effort.
- Women as philanthropists. This project highlighted giving not only for women, but more importantly, by women.
- Leadership perks. The insight and excitement of the Kresge visit will never be forgotten by the campaign leaders (and also major donors).