How This Hospital Foundation Leaned on Outside Agencies to Meet Its Fundraising Goal

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By Philip Salerno III

Just prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Children’s Specialized Hospital Foundation faced the challenge of funding the hospital’s $89 million strategic plan. This was a target significantly higher than that of any campaign in our 40-year history. Add in a pinch of global pandemic and a dash of national economic uncertainty, and we were suddenly facing a perfect storm of philanthropic challenges.

I quickly realized that such a large undertaking was beyond the scope of our small staff and would require assembling a team of experts. We needed trusted partners to offer bold strategy ideas, innovative solutions and the extra hands necessary to be successful.

Tackling a large capital campaign initiative is daunting under any circumstances. But if you can find strategic partners that understand philanthropy, your mission and your unique circumstances, leveraging their expertise and folding them into your processes can make even seemingly insurmountable goals achievable.

It’s important to take a step back and invite in fresh perspectives, but you must also balance the solutions from outside agencies and consultants to avoid straying from your mission and core values that keep your donors’ loyalty. Your chances of success are far greater if you have a clear understanding of the situation, align your allies and, perhaps most importantly, trust the process.

With the help of our strategic partners, we developed a progressive strategy for our endowment that would redirect the investment income to support the foundation’s operating expenses — meaning that 100% of every donor gift goes directly to the hospital. Using the investment income to fund our expenses also meant that we could give more money to the hospital each year, making that $89 million funding challenge more feasible. Here is a look at how we did it.

Define the Situation

It’s important to define the full scope of the situation, including strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. For us, the heart of the issue was determining how to best meet the needs of the hospital in the timeframe set forth and concurrently preserve the sustainability of our asset base for future generations of children.

When faced with any large task, it’s always best to break it down into smaller, more manageable components. Some key questions to ask are:

  • What are your guiding principles?
  • Where can your processes benefit from innovation?
  • Where are opportunities for collaboration?
  • Where is your team deficient and in need of assistance?

Once you have a 360-degree view of the situation, use that information to guide all decision-making throughout the process.

Align Your Allies

Our situational analysis led us to the conclusion that we would greatly benefit from hiring the right outside agencies and consultants. We needed creative, collaborative partners with a high degree of integrity. So we assembled a team that included our board of trustees, philanthropy consultants, strategic planning experts and our long-time investment adviser.

Keeping your board informed, engaged and part of the process will lead to greater support and acceptance of the strategies, and fresh perspectives that your agency partners put forward. Having buy-in from our board allowed us to partner with philanthropy consultants who could conduct a feasibility assessment to determine our fundraising potential. The data they provided helped us set a realistic fundraising goal of $45 million.

While we now had a goal, there was still $44 million left on the table and we needed to figure out how to make up the difference. We were introduced to a nonprofit consulting firm specializing in strategic planning who brought us a new vision. The firm reviewed our available resources, projections from the philanthropic feasibility study, and collaborated with our team, hospital leadership and the board to develop the progressive solution of maximizing the use of our endowment. This led us to drawing in a third partner in planning — our investment manager. Their analysis of the stock market, long-term projections and analysis of our work validated our plan.

Trust the Process

Bringing in outside agencies and consultants can be stressful. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself asking questions like: How can I be sure I’m selecting the right partner? Will the result justify the expense? How do I make sure that everyone works together and within our value system? But you must trust your partners and the process. It is your strength in leadership and stewardship that will unite all of your key stakeholders and keep everyone working together toward the common goal.

If you have clearly defined the situation, aligned the right people, and developed a practical strategy, you must then trust the process and avoid the temptation to pull back in fear of the unknown. Ask questions, acknowledge what you don’t know, communicate well and often, and be open to new ideas and solutions — but don’t lose faith in the work you’ve done to get to where you are.

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