Opening Windows of Opportunity
Youth Services of Tulsa, Inc. (YST) has been in existence since 1969. In 1974, YST began providing short-term, crisis counseling to youth and their families. By 1977, the agency responded to the need for an adolescent emergency shelter. With funding from the Department of Human Services, YST opened a 24-hour shelter for youth needing a home away from home. Common reasons for shelter stay include runaway situations, children awaiting permanent placement from foster care, severe family conflicts, and an alternative to juvenile detention.
The Windows of Opportunity campaign was a product of years of discussion and deliberation. In the end, the decision was less a choice than a necessity. From 1980, the Department of Human Services had leased the shelter to YST for $1.00 a year, including maintenance and utility expenses. When DHS asked YST to find a new location for the shelter due to DHS need for increased space, the seeds of a campaign were sown. The job, however, would prove to be a much bigger deal than anyone imagined. It would take unexpected twists, cost more, and involve an enormous amount of hard work and manpower. It would also prove to be an exceptional opportunity for the organization.
Executive Director of YST for 10 years, Sharon Terry explained, In 1985 the Department of Human Services said they needed their building back. YST started looking, but it was not going to be easy. A big issue for us was the money. We were moving from free rent and utilities to a location that would cost millions. Tulsa has extremely strict zoning laws. We were working with regulations on how close social services can be to businesses and residential; but we still needed to be in central Tulsa. If we went too far in any direction, we had the potential of losing constituents from other parts of the city. We looked around for years. In 1990, DHS said we could have some more time. They understood the difficulty of finding an appropriate facility for the shelter. Then in 1995, they asked the Board to proceed in good faith and find a new site within a reasonable time.
YST knew what it was like to need a place to go and to have very few alternatives. In fact, that was the business they were – giving shelter to kids who had very few options. We had never attempted a capital campaign before. We had never gone to the community for substantial amounts of money. We had asked for a thousand dollars here and there, but never for millions. Someone came in to help us search for a place to move. We found one building where the zoning would work, but it had no parking. In the meantime, we needed to begin raising money.
A corporation agreed to pay for a campaign feasibility study. YST began the silent phase of the campaign in 1997 and made its public announcement in December 1998. The feasibility study conducted by Hartsook and Associates in March of 1996, had confirmed that the community understood the need for the capital campaign. The study suggested an initial capacity to raise $2.4 million; but the agency realized fairly quickly that it would need more to meet all the regulations necessary to build a shelter for kids. The Board agreed to a $3 million goal and hired Hartsook and a local fund raiser as consultants for the campaign. We had the best of both worlds. Bob Hartsook came in on a regular basis, and our local consultant was on the trail everyday, said Terry.
We did not have a campaign chairperson to get things started. A board member went to someone in the community – someone without a history with YST – and this person not only agreed to serve as chair, but made the lead gift. Our board members opened doors for YST in Tulsa. It was absolutely a team effort. I’ve never seen a board so organized.
In 1997, YST received its first major gift. A philanthropist in Tulsa, whom we did not know, agreed to meet with us and listen to our story. Our expectation was that he might offer to introduce us to another Tulsa philanthropist who we felt would be interested in YSTs work. We told him everything we did and what we hoped to do, and when we finished he asked, What would you like for me to do? We would like for you to introduce us to so and so, we answered. Yes, but what would you like for me to do? We were obviously missing his point and he finally had to spell it out for us. I would be willing to give you this amount of money. The idea that he wanted to do more than make an introduction had escaped us. His gift gave us as much of a boost in confidence as it did a financial lift. We felt from that point on that we undoubtedly had an important story to tell.
The process of finding a piece of land for the building was a huge undertaking. It was difficult to find a location that could be zoned for a shelter, and when YST finally found land in the right location, the price was much higher than expected. The property had been on the market for 10 years, so the Board made an offer. The owner did not respond. Eventually, YST made an offer close enough for the owner to consider negotiation, but shortly after negotiations began, the owner died. This made it even more difficult to get a transaction completed. During this time, a board member involved in real estate development looked into petitioning the city to close a street adjacent to the property. This agreement gave YST an additional third of an acre and helped solidify the deal. The two and one-third acre piece of land finally cost YST $240,000. Since that time, the surrounding area has been designated for urban redevelopment, turning a long ordeal into a great deal.
However, in 1998 YST experienced an expensive disappointment. A group of volunteers who also sat on a number of national boards traveled to make a presentation to the Kresge foundation. YST really thought they had a good chance at receiving this grant; but not only did they leave empty handed, it cost them money to hear, No. We were disappointed, but one lesson I learned through the process of the campaign was to keep as many balls in the air as possible. We did not have a choice except to keep working — the key word is work. The clock was ticking and we had to move. Fortunately, we have board members, who for forty different reasons, are deeply committed to kids. They gave the best they had in heart and hard work.
In September of 1998, YST started the four-step process (synopsis, full report, visitation, and presentation) in applying for a grant from the Donald W. Reynold Foundation. After moving through the process, YST was invited to make a presentation in June 1999. YST made the presentation, but did not receive the grant. Instead, YST received enough money from the Foundation to return and conduct more research and planning. The Donald W. Reynold Foundation is very demanding. They never crossed the line by telling us what we should do. They just provided us with the opportunity to make our best case. They really were a delight to work with and the whole process was capacity building. After our first presentation, the Foundation thought we had been too cautious. They felt we needed something more forward thinking, more technologically advanced, and longer-life materials in the building. They said we could return if we made the necessary upgrades and did the research.
During the process of seeking a grant from the Foundation, an organization is required to keep the process confidential. One main reason is that if prospects hear an organization is in the process with this Foundation, it can kill the campaign. Grants from the Donald W. Reynold Foundation are so significant, that prospects may turn their financial attention toward an organization that needs the money.
The money, however, was still far from locked up. We spent the whole year following through on their suggestions. Our board members spoke with people and traveled to programs that were considered exemplary. We had consultants go through our long-range plans. We did a great deal of work and spent more than the Foundation gave us for planning. We took their advice seriously. Our board president probably worked 20 hours a week on this campaign. We went back to the Foundation and made our new pitch in July 2000. We spoke with them on Wednesday the 26th and by Friday the 28th, we had an acceptance letter in hand. Out of 12 applicants, the Foundation funded seven.
At same time, we were working to have the Oklahoma State Legislature allocate bond money. Our board members made several trips a week for a year to the capitol, made telephone calls, wrote Sunday editorials and lobbied hard for YST. The bond decision was supposed to be made in 1999, but it was not completed on schedule. When we told another group that the money was on the way they offered a gift, but predicated it on YST getting the bond money within 90 days. We went to the donors for a pledge just in case the bond money did not come through. DHS gave us a pledge letter. The pledge was underwritten, the additional gift given, and then we received the bond money on top of it all.
The State gave 1.5 million, but when the Foundation grant came through, the bond money was, in essence, duplicated by the grant. We intend to give the 1.5 million back to the Legislature. We went to them with an emergency situation and once we received the Foundation grant, there was no longer an emergency. We want to behave in a way that demonstrates we recognize there are other needs out there besides our own. Giving the money back is the right thing to do. Tulsa is a very philanthropic community and we understand what it is like to be in need.
Ground breaking, scheduled for October 2000, will be an elaborate affair. A woman who had no direct connection with the organization volunteered to take on the ground breaking ceremony and make it a class act, said Terry. Construction begins in January and will take an estimated 12 months.
The $6,340,000 million Reynolds grant entails more than a gift of money. The Foundation will have someone on site periodically during the entire construction process. The grant requires that an additional 20 percent be allocated for endowment. After raising substantially more than the original goal, YST needed to identify over one million for endowment. Some donors were not interested in transferring gifts from capital to endowment. This meant more fund raising and more work. Of course, when offered a $6 million gift, YST would never let more work stand in its way.
The Windows of Opportunity total was around 10 million (not including the Legislatures returned money). The feasibility study showed that they were well thought of in the community and that Tulsa appreciated their work. Normally an organization does not start a campaign until they have a location in mind. YST was an exceptional campaign. They went through about half the campaign without a fixed location, offered Bob Hartsook. Sharon Terry and local consultant, Janis Walker, did a superb job with the campaign. Janis had been a Youth Services executive director, so she had a solid history with the organization and Sharon had a natural gift for fund raising. YST board members gave strong support. Their financial gifts were, on average, better than normal for campaign boards.
There are some basic rules in fund raising: you don’t start a campaign without a location, you don’t start a campaign in Tulsa without a big corporate connection, and you certainly don’t give money back once it has been raised. Trading the exceptions for the exceptional, YST did it all and made it work.