How WXXI Reached and Exceeded a $17 M Capital Campaign Goal

WXXI successfully completed its Go Public Campaign. Learn how the station prepared for the campaign and has kept the momentum going strong ever since.

Tia Graham, Sr. Director of Philanthropy, recently sat down with Kathy Reed, Assistant Vice President, Major and Planned Giving at WXXI to learn how the station launched and completed its most recent capital campaign – Go Public. Kathy is a member of a dynamic development team lead by Norm Silverstein, President & CEO, and Laura Garrison, Vice President, Development. Here’s part 1 of our 2 part interview focused on the pre-work of the campaign:

Setting the Goal

1. Congratulations on the success of the “Go Public” Campaign! What was the financial goal of the campaign

Answer: The original goal was to raise $17 million over five years to ensure that WXXI and the Little Theatre can continue to meet the needs of our community for generations to come.

2. How did station leadership go about setting the goal for the campaign?

Answer: The campaign was structured as a comprehensive campaign: $5 million for programming, $5 million for capital and $5 million for endowment. The program fund was created to support news, arts & culture, education and health. We later added $2 million to support The Little Theatre. All in all, the goal was to raise $17 million – we raised $18.4 million.

Years earlier, the station had completed a $12 million campaign. Norm [Silverstein, CEO] and our campaign committee had a vision and everyone was confident we could not only meet but also exceed the previous campaign goal.

Resource Needs

3. Did you have a consultant? If so, could you explain the scope of the work?

Answer: Our consultant was local and well respected. Instead of conducting a full feasibility study, the consultant conducted private interviews with 12 major donors. These interviews helped confirm the interest and the capacity of our constituents. She then helped us build and refine the case for support – we had a number of moving parts. The consultant also conducted board training focused on the arc of the donor conversation as it relates to campaign solicitations.

4. What staffing resources were needed to launch and operate the campaign?

Answer: We hired one additional staff member but that person was involved in membership and technical aspects of the campaign, not solicitation. Our key solicitors consisted of Norm (CEO), Laura (Vice President of Development) and myself. Our board chairs and campaign chairs also supported our cultivation and solicitation efforts. I should also note that we ended the campaign with 100% board participation.

5. Congratulations! We know that Norm is an active and extraordinary fundraiser. What was his role in the campaign?

Answer: Norm and his wife were critical to the success of the campaign. They spent a number of evenings working with donors and building relationships. Norm would make calls, take people to lunch, lead tours and facilitate introductions with our board members. Norm was our leader from beginning to end.

Campaign Readiness and Strategy

6. How did the station determine it was ready for the Go Public Campaign?

Answer: Well, we did not undergo a feasibility study. The success of the previous campaign (which far exceeded the prediction of a feasibility study) gave Norm confidence that we could achieve our financial goal for the Go Public Campaign. We have been fortunate to have developed a strong base of loyal major donors over the years. The idea of a capital campaign was not a stretch for them. I also worked closely with Norm and introduced him to individuals who we believed were ready to support our mission in a bigger way. Our typical major gift donor is not the CEO type or obvious millionaire. We have a number of retired educators and scientists who believe in our mission and have confidence in what we do. Norm took the time to meet these supporters and build lasting relationships. These relationships were the foundation of our successful campaign and ongoing major gifts program.

7. What was the strategy for raising the $17 million?

Answer: We worked with our consultant to construct a gift range chart. This gift range chart helped us figure out how many gifts were needed at various levels to efficiently reach the $17 million goal. Once we figured the levels, we then identified prospective donors and placed their names in the chart. The gift range chart helped us get organized and stay on track.

We were also very fortunate because we had the lead donor from the previous campaign step up and help us again. In the earlier campaign, he gave $2 million to name our television production center. This donor helped us successfully close the Go Public Campaign with a $2 million gift to make critical updates to the facility that bears his name. This was suggested by a board member and it was a very successful strategy.

8. How long was the station in the silent phase of the campaign?

Answer: We stayed in the silent phase for about two years. We raised approximately 78% of our campaign goal before going public. We then engaged the larger community to help us reach and exceed the campaign goal with direct mail, telemarketing and on-air promotion.

9. What was the role of planned giving in the campaign?

Answer: We solicited planned gifts to support the growth of our endowment fund. When appropriate, we asked donors who made outright gifts to the campaign to also consider a planned gift to increase their impact. A number of donors found this approach aligned with their personal goals. For a time, we also used a telemarketing company to help us raise awareness about planned giving and to help us to discover unknown bequest intentions. By including planned giving in the campaign, we were able to offer multiple ways for our loyal supporters to be involved in the campaign.

10. So, when is the next campaign?

Answer: Norm has high aspirations for the station. We are ready and so are our donors.

We thank Kathy for taking the time to share her station’s success. Here are the takeaways:

Takeaway #1: Involvement from the GM at every stage of the campaign is critical to success. Transformational gifts happen when leadership is out front making the case for support.

Takeaway #2: Readiness is key! Build strong philanthropic relationships with your constituents before you launch a capital campaign. If you do, the news of the campaign won’t fell like a stretch or appear unreasonable.

Takeaway #3: Design the campaign so that more people can be involved. The planned giving component of the campaign allowed people who care about the station to give now or later and, in some cases, a little of both.

Has your station recently completed a capital campaign? If so, we encourage you to share your success in the comments section or contact PBS Development Services. A number of stations are contemplating a capital campaign and would appreciate hearing about your experiences.

Be on the look out for the second part of our interview with Kathy Reed. In the meantime, you can read our interview with Andrea Kihlstedt, nationally recognized Capital Campaign expert and friend of public media.