Our Clients: Children’s Center Campus

Kansas City, Missouri


An Integrated Approach to Fundraising Works for Three Established Organizations Starting Anew

Social service agencies increase in number every day making duplication of services a major source of concern for both the non-profits and those who support them. Three Kansas City agencies, however, found a way to take the best each had to offer, combine their efforts, and more fully address the needs of their constituents.

Administrators for the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired (CCVI)-an organization that provides specialized education for blind and visually impaired youngsters between the ages of zero and seven, and Children’s Therapeutic Learning Center (TLC)-an association which offers individualized education and therapy plans for children ages zero to six, agreed that there were often overlaps in the services they provided. With competition increasing among non-profits, these two agencies agreed that they did not want to aggravate the problem-but rather join forces in an effort to solve it. While each entity wanted to remain autonomous, the issue of sharing space and services seemed highly practical.

CCVI and Children’s TLC felt obligated to meet another need as well. Many of the children they served had siblings with no disabilities. For parents of these children, that meant dropping off and picking up kids at two different locations-oftentimes clear across town. They also wanted to provide opportunities for their students to interact with other children with disabilities, as well as children without disabilities. After coming to terms with their wants and needs, CCVI and Children’s TLC began looking in earnest for a third partner to provide quality child-care services.

“We wanted to have a daycare in place which would provide peer models of typically developing kids,” says Mary Lynne Dolembo, executive director of CCVI. “We felt the interaction among all the kids would be very beneficial.”

The YWCA of Kansas City, which became the first center-based child care provider in 1975, was their partner of choice. All three agencies would share a facility while remaining separate in their administrative and financial functions. Through the collaboration, the Children’s Center Campus (CCC) was born.

Though the partnership of the agencies would solve many problems, it would create a few as well. Of the three organizations, none had enough space to provide a permanent home for CCC. A new campus would have to be constructed. Plans called for a 50,000 square-foot building. Shared space would include a therapeutic pool, gymnasiums, cafeteria and kitchen, reception and waiting areas, and meeting, conference and staff rooms. Each agency would design its own classrooms, therapy rooms and offices.

A new building meant that a substantial amount of money would have to be raised. While administrators were prepared to launch a capital campaign, they soon learned that there were some concerns about creating yet another organization which would require community support.

“Several major donors insisted that they would not be supportive if creating CCC meant that they would have to feed another nonprofit,” says CCC fundraising counsel Robert F. Hartsook, JD, EdD, president of Hartsook and Associates, the consulting firm called in to oversee the project. Hartsook recommended an Integrated Fundraising Campaign™ which would cover the costs of construction, endowments and annual funding. This would get the organization off to a solid start.

Utilizing three board members from each agency, CCC established its own board of directors to oversee the fund-raising, building and management of the combined facility. After completing a thorough assessment of the plans, the consulting firm recommend a goal of $11 million.

“We started with another consulting firm. The first study recommended a goal of $5 million,” explains Shirley Patterson, Ph.D., executive director of Children’s TLC. “When we got the new figures, we were concerned. But it quickly became evident that $5 million would not even scratch the surface. While it was more than double the initial assessment, we realized that this second goal was much more realistic.”

One aspect of the campaign which complicated the entire process was the fact that the three agencies were not equally vested. CCVI and Children’s TLC had each pledged their endowments toward meeting the $11 million goal. That left them with a more vested interest than the YWCA.
“For the YWCA, this is just one little part of their overall program,” says Dolembo. “Their administrative offices would not be moving to the new facility. CCVI and Children’s TLC, however, were both moving their administrative offices.”

They looked to counsel for advice. “Hartsook helped us to establish a strategic alliance agreement in order to protect our endowment money,” says Dolembo. “If we did not need to use it, we would get it back. We developed guidelines, prepared lease agreements, and essentially covered all the bases legally.”

Though Dolembo says it was not a conscious decision, CCC never went public with their campaign. The $11 million dollars they received came from a small base of just 190 donors. This was a real plus.

“This non-public campaign meant that each agency could continue to solicit their own donors for the ongoing operational support necessary each year,” says Hartsook. “Without that support, the agencies have a great building, but no operating funds.”

The success of the campaign, say organizers, stemmed from the hard work of the volunteers and the loyalty of patrons who had been served by one of the three agencies in the past. Certain large gifts were key.
“Several major gifts came from families who have been impacted by one of the agency’s work and others came from long-time board members,” notes Hartsook. “Cultivation was critical.”

Hallmark Cards, Inc. was the first to contribute. Their gift of $865,000 would purchase the new site. The Hall Family Foundation gave an additional gift of $2.5 million which included $365,000 to acquire the property adjacent to the site.

The Halls were behind the campaign in others ways as well. Don and Adele Hall served as Honorary Co-Chairs of the campaign, and David Hall had already been a member of the Board of CCVI for the past seven years.

“The endorsement of the Hall family is rather like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval in Kansas City,” noted William Dunn, Sr., who co-chaired the capital campaign with Barbara Nelson.

Another prominent Kansas City family whose lives were touched came to the aid of CCC as well. Crosby Kemper, whose granddaughter, Cynthia Kemper Dietrich is a graduate of the Children’s TLC program, donated $1 million.

Upon announcing their intent to purchase Boatmen’s Banks, Nations Bank was eager to make a strong statement regarding their commitment to the community. On the same day the new NationsBank signs were erected, Bill Nelson, president of NationsBank, Kansas City Region announced a gift of $1 million to CCC.

Trustees of the Carolyn Doughty Fund decided to make CCC the recipient of their final gift. The $465,000 went to establish the Carolyn Doughty Recreational Center featuring a heated pool and playground.
Volunteers played an important role in this cooperative effort, and their leadership and initiative was crucial to the success.

“We had a high caliber of volunteers,” says Dolembo. “Our Campaign CO-Chairs, Barbara Nelson and Bill Dunn, Sr., almost single-handedly raised the funds because they were so tied to the community. The co-chairs worked with the Steering Committee who were also an integral part of the process. In fact, one member of the steering committee, Mrs. Louis Ward, wrote a check for $1 million.”

While CCC saw funds roll in without going public, they did run into a small hurdle near the end of the campaign.

“We were naive going into this goal,” admits Dolembo. “There were things we did not allow for in the budget. Some of the items we forgot to include were furnishings, a security system, telephone systems and moving expenses.

“Our consultant took us through a process and had us identify what we now knew we should have included, and estimated the cost,” she continues. “We found that we needed in excess of $650,000 in addition to what still remained on our campaign goal. Combined, those figures left us with a little more than $1 million to raise. But there were also some places where we had saved money. We had not used all the interest we had budgeted, and our fundraising costs were not as high as our budget estimates. Once all of those numbers were reworked, we were left with only $835,000 yet to raise.”

The final dollars came in, and Children’s Center Campus became a reality on January 4, 1999. More than 300 children will call CCC their second home. Patterson credits their success to the fact that all three agencies were already established in the community.

“I’ve received calls from people saying, ‘Why haven’t you asked me for money?'” says Patterson. “Our history really helped us. The community knew us. We have all done good work over the years, and people know that we are credible. The fact that we were continually presenting ourselves as a threesome was positive. People saw that we were united.”

Though the goal was easily reached in less than a year, organizers concede that the collaboration itself was not easy. Having an outside consultant who was so familiar with the fundraising process-and who was able to offer an unbiased perspective throughout-was crucial to keeping everyone on track.

“There were some differences of opinion,” admits Patterson. “They were primarily operational and philosophical-obviously not of the magnitude to stop the project.”

“We knew the last dollars would be the hardest,” says Dolembo. “But our confidence grew as the large gifts came in. It has been very exciting. Our consultant really kept our enthusiasm up and guided us when we were unsure.”

Dolembo says the consultant often played Devil’s advocate as well. “He brought us down to reality. We all thought that we had a really good chance at the Kresge Foundation grant, but he cautioned us not to get our hopes up. He has a lot of knowledge and expertise about the foundation community and knew the requirements of the various foundations. He directed us towards the Mabee Foundation which resulted in a $1,250,000 capital grant.”

In turn, the consultant gives kudos to the boards of the three agencies for their part, and adds that the 100 percent participation from each of the three boards sent a positive message to prospects.

“We offered to give the YWCA the option to pass on board support, but they stepped up to the table,” says Hartsook. “This was really a team effort.”

What We Learned:

The Children’s Center Campaign offered some unique challenges and highlights some important lessons.

  1. Consider and address concerns head on. Prospective donors were concerned that establishing CCC would create another organization which would require their support, when, in essence, the culmination of the three agencies actually eliminated duplication in services and reduced overhead.
  2. Provide for the future. The Integrated™ approach provided not only capital funds, but offered the organization a secure future through endowments and annual funding.
  3. Use your organization’s history as an asset. Call on those who know and respect your work in the community.
  4. Enlist the best. Top-notch volunteers who really tackle the task of fundraising and have strong ties to the community may prove to be your biggest asset.