Click here to read on NonProfitPRO.
In many ways, it feels like the time before the world closed down in March 2020 and we entered into this global pandemic could be labeled as “the before times.” Like all of us in the nonprofit world, my organization Healing Transitions has experienced ways large and small that the pandemic has affected our work, our teams, our impact and our ability to serve our community.
However, for our team, “the before times” started four years ago in June 2018 when our staff was stretched to the limit and trying to provide services to individuals in our community struggling with homelessness and addiction, regardless of their ability to pay.
Since opening our doors more than 20 years ago, we have experienced a 142% increase in the number of individuals served annually through our detox space, overnight shelter and long-term recovery program. By January 2020, we averaged 348 people per night. We were maxed out and facing the threat of compromising our guiding principle of providing services on demand.
It wasn’t just Healing Transitions that was facing some difficult decisions. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, emergency department visits for opioid overdoses increased 23% from 2019 to 2020, and the U.S. reached a grim statistic of 100,000 drug overdose deaths for the first time. We knew we needed to do something significant to tackle these challenges.
A feasibility study for expansion suggested we might be able to raise $7 to $9 million. So, in June 2018, we set a lofty goal — an $11.75 million capital campaign to provide partial expansion of the men’s campus and full expansion of the women’s campus for our Recovery Can’t Wait capital campaign.
Despite numerous setbacks, including facing an unexpected global pandemic that nearly shut us down, we closed the largest capital campaign in our history at the end of 2021 with $23.8 million raised — more than double our goal.
As I reflect on the successes of our campaign — my first as Healing Transitions’ executive director and the organization’s third in its history — I’d like to share several lessons I learned that may help you as you consider leading your organization into a major fundraising campaign.
1. Don’t Do It Alone
There’s no doubt about it — a capital campaign takes a tremendous amount of effort. How do we do that when we’re still trying to care for individuals in our programs, maintain our operating budget and keep the lights on?
When I took over the leadership position at Healing Transitions, we had a disengaged board of directors and board of trustees. One of the first things we did was invite them to contribute with specific campaign goals to motivate them. Having an active, engaged board was critical for supporting a first-time executive director. We were able to utilize their leadership experience, community network and financial support to build a strong foundation for the beginning of the campaign.
We also audited our team’s internal capacity to lead a campaign like this and discovered three areas where we needed additional external support: campaign strategy and planning, digital marketing and public relations. Our external consultants were so important to help us bridge the skills gaps we had internally. If you can only afford to hire one support person, I’d recommend finding a skilled and trusted capital campaign consultant to lead you through the process. Our consultants were invaluable to us; I’m confident we wouldn’t have reached our goals without them.
Finally, we engaged our volunteers. Alumni, community volunteers and local business partners were eager to work with us on the campaign once we outlined the immense needs and our big goal. Our alumni and volunteer network brings passion, enthusiasm and a service-oriented attitude to our campuses every day. Bringing them into the capital campaign was an easy sell.
2. Focus on the Effort, Not the Results
We’ve all heard this before, but it couldn’t be more appropriate for a capital campaign like this. When we initially set our $11.75 million goal, we thought that was a big goal, but, as we started planning and when the silent phase of the campaign was underway, we realized that our community was eager to get involved and support this work. We quickly adjusted our goal – and then adjusted it again – as we saw those early major donations coming in.
Keep in mind – this was early in my tenure as executive director. There was a lot on the line for Healing Transitions, and I was nervous about whether or not this campaign was achievable. However, engaging our boards early on was critical. Members kept saying, “We will find a way.” They believed we could do it, even when I wasn’t sure. That was so encouraging to me.
We also realized that we needed to take advantage of the momentum the campaign was building in our community. Instead of splitting up the campaign over several years, or attempting to do a campaign now, and then trying to gear up for another campaign in a few years, we agreed that we needed to go big now and, hopefully, bring in enough financial resources to grow where we needed to in order to continue serving our community for decades to come.
3. Use Your Network
Once we built our campaign team, we started to realize we had an incredible network right in front of us. Our staff understood the internal needs, our volunteers and alumni were uniquely positioned to help connect us to community resources, and our external consultants helped bring in the experience we didn’t have in key campaign areas to grow.
In addition to our campaign team, the ultimate success of this campaign was built, in part, on the local relationships we’d developed over the years with community leaders, local and state politicians, funding organizations, and fellow nonprofit leaders and partners.
There was one meeting that particularly underscores the value of these relationships. Before meeting with a local board where I was planning to request a significant amount of money, a local advocate familiar with this particular committee texted me. That person encouraged me to add an additional $1 million to our proposal. We ended up getting that additional funding, and I would never have thought to push that request further without the encouragement of that local leader.
4. Stay Flexible
This was a big learning curve for us as we walked through the campaign and the COVID-19 pandemic almost simultaneously. As global supply chain issues began affecting materials and labor costs, we saw the prices of almost everything in our campus expansion plans start to grow significantly. We were constantly adjusting and readjusting our plans, based on the initial campaign goals. Once we realized we needed to increase our campaign goals, we worked with our team to assess whether or not we could meet that new goal — or if we needed to cut back on some of the expansion goals at both of our campuses. Ultimately, we felt we could go for it, and we are so grateful we did.
In my role, my job is to make people feel like there is space for them here at Healing Transitions, whether they’re an overnight shelter guest, a participant in our long-term recovery program or the governor of North Carolina visiting our campuses. Everyone is welcome here. This was a particularly helpful perspective with the campaign. I wanted to find a way to invite people into the process. Instead of saying, “I can do this. I know what to do. I have a plan,” I needed to do what those we serve have done; ask for help. I encouraged and valued our network to join us in this work. They are what makes us great, and I’m grateful to them for the hard work done by so many to help us meet this incredible goal.Return to Insights & Events