Capital campaigns can be daunting, but large and small Friends organizations have met the challenge. Developing a fundraising plan, stating the case for your fundraising goal and identifying initial donors are key steps.

Friends of Maine Seabird Islands used a $5,000 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant to develop a strategy to raise $1 million over five years. The grant paid for a book of conceptual sketches for each space in the new Rockland Visitor Center. The sketches will be shared with potential donors, who will be asked to consider funding additional rooms or areas, such as an outdoor playground with a simulated island. With the help of a “Hard Hat Gala,” the Friends collected enough funds to finish one classroom and an art gallery.

Stephanie Martin is a board member recently hired part–time by the Friends to raise funds and help develop the visitor center. Before any donations are requested for such a major undertaking, says Martin, it’s important for “Friends and refuge staff to be on the same page about what you want people to take away from their visit to the refuge ... The Rockland Visitor Center is in a town away from the refuge, so we must devise innovative ways to connect people to our islands.” And then the Friends must connect with donors.

Engaging Big Donors

Metropolitan Group, consultants for social change organizations, uses a fundraising pyramid (pdf 64 kb) to visualize a campaign. Four or five prospective donors must be identified for each one who will actually give, especially at the highest levels. Major campaigns generally require asking some people for very large gifts—whether board members or their friends and contacts. Big donors could also be community development or conservation organizations, foundations, and local and national businesses or corporations.

It is also advisable to raise a significant amount of money before the campaign is announced publicly. This “quiet phase allows you to test donors’ receptiveness to the idea of the campaign, learn what questions they have, train your volunteers and get some donors who may help you reach others,” explained Kim Klein in the Grassroots Fundraising Journal.

Appealing to Small Donors

Chincoteague Natural History Association used broken glass from the Assateague Lighthouse to create 1,000 sun catcher medallions, each selling 
for $50
Chincoteague Natural History Association used broken glass from the Assateague Lighthouse to create 1,000 sun catcher medallions, each selling for $50.
Credit: USFWS

Engaging donors at more affordable levels may include extended pledge periods of a year or more (giving $10 to $50 a month for example), opportunities for naming bricks, tiles or murals, appeals to youth (Pennies for the Refuge) or even giving donors a piece of history, as the Chincoteaque Natural History Association (CNHA) is doing. The Association is raising $1.5 million to restore the Assateague Lighthouse on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and create a maintenance endowment. Work is proceeding as funds are being raised. The largest single source of funding is visitor admissions. Because the lighthouse is still an active aid to navigation, CNHA also won two grants from the Virginia Department of Transportation, one for $465,000.

The most creative fundraising tool, says CNHA executive director Beth Hanback, is the sale of lighthouse medallions. After old glass was removed from the lighthouse’s lantern room, intact panes were preserved. Broken panes were crushed and taken to artisans in Jamestown, VA, who created medallions imprinted with the lighthouse and the year of its construction in 1867. One thousand medallions, each with a velvet bag and a certificate of authenticity, are being sold for $50 each, with all proceeds going to the restoration fund. “We are within sight of our goal,” says Hanback, “by taking one bite at a time.”