Season 3, Episode 32
In this episode, Amy Eisenstein is joined by Jodi Pink, the Development Director at Friends Academy, an independent day school serving students in Early Childhood through Grade 8, on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts. Jodi has a BA from Hamilton College and an MA from Teachers College at Columbia University. At Friends Academy, Jodi has primary responsibility for their capital campaign, major giving, fundraising events, annual giving, and all community engagement and stewardship; she has been there for 16 years.
Jodi shares her incredible journey of raising funds for the school’s capital campaign, exceeding their goal, and getting their middle school renovation done in record time.
Discover how they tackled challenges, the power of a compelling case for support, and how guided feasibility studies played a pivotal role in their success. Jodi’s experiences will inspire you and provide valuable insights for your own capital campaign journey. Tune in to learn from the best and get inspired to achieve your campaign goals.
Today you are in for a real treat because we have one of our star clients, Jodi Pink at Friends Academy, who’s here to talk about lessons learned from her campaign.
Hi, I’m Amy Eisenstein. I am here today without my colleague Andrea Kihlstedt, but instead we have a very special guest, Jodi Pink, who is the development director at Friends Academy, and she is here to tell us all about her campaign and some of her lessons learned.
Welcome, Jodi. Thanks for joining us.
Hi, how are you?
About the Friends Academy Capital Campaign
I’m great. Would you start out by telling people a little bit about your campaign, what you’re raising money for at the Friends Academy, what your working goal is and how it’s going so far?
Sure, happy to. We began our campaign in early 2022. I think we began working with you guys in December of 2021. Our campaign it was born out of our strategic plan, which had gotten a little put on hold during the COVID years, and then we revisited it in the winter of 2021.
We had three main focuses coming out of our strategic plan:
- One was to work on our academic program and our curriculum.
- [Another] was to figure out ways we could bolster our faculty and staff compensation and support.
- And one was to deal with a facility that needed some help, and that was our middle school building, which was really in need of some updating.
It had been about 35 years since the building was constructed. And the building was actually constructed to be a lower school, but the middle school has existed in that space ever since it was built. It still had toilets for kindergartners, not for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. It had some fundamental flaws that we needed to address.
Those were our three issues.
We were able to internally address the programmatic portion of our strategic plan, and then we really needed to turn to things that required funding. And those were what were we going to do about faculty and stock compensation, and could we raise money to renovate the middle school?
We were able to renovate our lower school 13 years ago, and it’s really served us well and is mission aligned. It made a radical difference. And it was time for the middle school to get that same sort of update. That’s what we started at. We did simultaneously fundraising for a faculty and staff compensation endowment while also raising money for the middle school.
Our middle school project, I remember when we first talked about it with you guys; we had a very intensive timeline, which broke every campaign rule, but we were going for it. So we did it sort of fast tracked and almost all of our energy went to that middle school project when we began working with you guys doing pre-campaign planning, really, in January of 2022.
Project Completed in 18 Months
Great. Okay, so excellent. So it’s been just about two years. Right? Two years or three years?
No, it’s less than that. Maybe I’m getting my dates wrong. We started feasibility in May of ’22.
Okay. All right, so it’s been a year and a half.
It’s been a year and a half. It’s only been a year and a half and the project’s done.
Wow. That is amazing. All right, so that’s why you’re one of our star clients, right?
The Friends Academy Campaign Working Goal
Tell us about the working goal and how it’s going so far.
Okay. Our working goal was approximately 2.5 million to renovate the middle school. The building itself was a great footprint of space and had plenty of space; it just needed to be reconfigured. We have kids that the middle school inhabits that space.
We really had a very short window. So we needed to raise all that money so that we could renovate the building over the summer. We didn’t have a timeline that had any flexibility. If we didn’t have enough money raised to begin construction in June, we were going to have to wait for a full other year, which we didn’t want to do.
And have you done it?
Yeah, yeah. It’s done. It’s over.
Oh my gosh. So, of course, listeners want to know, not that I recommend fast-tracking a campaign for most organizations, but you did have existing relationships. These were parents and grandparents and families of the school. So it’s not like you were going out and searching for completely new donors. The relationships existed, which of course helps in a situation like this.
What Made their Capital Campaign So Successful
Why don’t you share one or two factors that you think made this campaign so successful?
That’s a great question. I think there were a couple of things that really helped us.
One, I think the case for support was compelling. During our feasibility study, we started taking people at the end of our interviews on tours of the building. And when they actually got in to see the building, it sort of made the case itself. I can remember I sat in feasibility with someone who said:
“The building is not important. It’s the people in the building.”
And of course that is true. And they were like, “We don’t support this kind of capital improvement.” And then on the way out I was like, “Oh, let’s just take a quick walkthrough.” And we walked through the building, and as we exited, that same person said to me, “I would like to change my answer to that question. That facility is not okay.” And they, in fact, made a major gift to that construction project. Even our brochure and our working draft statement that we handed them, that wasn’t going to do it. They needed to physically be in this space.
That was actually the first time I walked someone through, and everyone thereafter got walked through that facility after feasibility if their timing allowed. It really did make the case. I mean, the building had no insulation. The toilets froze in the winter. There were fundamental problems people could really wrap their heads around, so that certainly helped.
So a strong case, right? A strong case.
We had a very strong case, right. We were not trying to do something that would be nice, but wasn’t needed. It was really needed.
We also have a program for students with language-based learning differences, which is an integral part of our academic experience. It’s completely mission aligned. Almost every grade is always on a wait list. There’s a massive need for the program.
One of the big things that we needed to address was that our middle school building was one classroom shy to have all of those students in that facility, and that was a huge case for support. I mean, any parent whose child, or past parent whose child went through that program, who during the middle school years had to be outside of the middle school building, wanted to make sure that that problem was fixed. So that was a key selling point too.
Now I forgot even what the question was that you asked me.
Well, that’s all right. I think you answered it. You mentioned feasibility study, and let’s segue there.
A Different Kind of Feasibility Study
As you know, and as some of our listeners may know, our feasibility study model is different than many other consultants in that we have you, the leaders of the organization, doing the interviews. Now, we prepare you, we teach you, we train you, we help you select interviewees and identify the questions and collect the data and make recommendations. So we do everything else that most consultants do — but the one key difference is that you are in the room interviewing your donors. So I’m curious how that went for you and why you selected our model, if you can remember.
I am confident that that money we spent on the feasibility study was the most important thing that we did for our entire campaign. There is nothing that comes close to us making that decision to do guided feasibility. That was the number one key thing in helping us have success in this campaign. I have no doubt about that.
Amazing. Tell us why.
I went to probably 95% of the feasibility interviews, and I took the notes. I was not supposed to speak at the meetings because I had all the relationships with people. I was supposed to take notes. And me not speaking is a challenge, but I sort of succeeded, sort of did it.
The questions that were read were done by either our board chair or the head of school. I think having the board chair and the head of school for us at those meetings was critical to the success of the campaign because I think it meant a lot to the donors. And I think it was also very informative for them and for how they moved forward.
So the board chair and the head of school, I think it was equally important for both groupings. And then my role there I was there for the good humor and the keeping it light and moving along.
Okay. Great. I love that.
That was one thing. Number two, we met with our consultant weekly I believe during that portion, and it really kept us moving. It was sort of like, you have these goals, it must happen, or you’re going to have this phone call and you’re going to have to be like, “Oh, I didn’t get my homework done.” Which is embarrassing in and of itself.
We started feasibility… our first one was May of 2022, and we were pretty much done by July of 2022, and I think we did something like 23 interviews. I know if there are some organizations that do a ton more, but we did about 23, give or take.
Right. But for the size of your organization and the size of your campaign, that’s perfectly appropriate.
We did them in an eight-week window, and then we presented to the board in August. The report we presented was amazing. Again, our consultant was fantastic and helped put the presentation together. I was away. I was actually at my in-laws over the summer in Wisconsin, and we were on Zoom working on this presentation that was going to be given to the board in August of 2022 to see if we were going to move forward.
So in August, we presented to the board, and in June the construction started. Everything from the questions we asked to how we were going to ask the questions, to the data we collected, I cannot imagine doing it another way.
I also think we work with limited resources and limited staffing here, and while we’re not in feasibility right now, the lessons we learned from meeting with those people during that study have informed practice moving forward just for good stewardship and major gift giving always. The answer is, we loved it.
Yes, I didn’t even tee that up. Honestly, Jodi, that’s what we find with client after client after client. You’re such an amazing example of it. But truthfully, that’s what the feasibility study model that we’re using does. It gets the leaders in the room with their potential donors. It tees up the ask.
That is why you were able to successfully raise the money so quickly, because you were doing cultivation effectively in the feasibility study process. You were having pre-ask conversations during feasibility as opposed to having an outside consultant in the room. Your board chair, your head of school, learned so much, and then were able to go out and make those asks in the next few months in the near future.
So thank you. I’m so thrilled that you had such amazing results.
Their Biggest Challenge of the Capital Campaign
I’m curious, what was a big challenge that you faced during your campaign, because everybody faces challenges, and how did you overcome it?
I think the biggest challenge was that we did not “staff up” for this campaign. It was:
“Okay, Jodi, you’re going to do your regular job that you do every year and then you’re going to do this on top of your regular job, and we need it done in 10 months.”
I think that was the biggest challenge.
But in hindsight, it really wasn’t just me. I worked so closely with the head of school and the board chair for the whole way through. I was always the one making all the appointments and shepherding it along, but without full commitment, it would not have happened. But the hardest thing was doing my regular job on top of this.
Meeting the Challenges of a Tight Campaign Schedule
Did you have any strategies? What did you do? How did you make that happen? Did you just work twice as many hours? What happened?
I did not work twice as many hours.
No, I did not. I think that we just booked important time blocks into everyone’s schedule. I was very fortunate. We really need to take a moment for the board chair as well, who was obviously not an employee of the school, but was here as much as any other employee of the school, and she really did her part to make this campaign happen.
So on her calendar and on the head of school’s calendar, I would typically block four hours a week where they weren’t going to make any other appointments. And I could make feasibility appointments then, or we could sit down and talk about strategies for the coming week and what the asks were going to be. And if I didn’t need that time, I would just remove it from their calendars. But it was blocked off, sort of do not commit to anything else during this time.
In fact, now I actually miss that because now that we’re done with this portion of the campaign, it’s back to being harder to do some of that. But during the campaign, I did have their full attention, which helped.
Wow, four hours a week. I love that. And it just completely blocked sacred time; this is for campaign work. Excellent!
So while you didn’t staff up, it sounds like you did have a full-time volunteer working on the campaign in your board chair. I think to me, the lesson learned for listeners is that you do need to staff up in some way. The role could be filled by a volunteer. In your case, it was. But you do need more hands-on-deck for a campaign, and you were lucky to have that amazing board chair fill that role.
And of course, if we could have afforded… I can easily make the case why getting extra help would’ve helped our situation. That just wasn’t a feasible option for us.
Right. Okay. All right. Excellent.
Lessons Learned from their Capital Campaign
I’m wondering if you can identify one lesson learned that you would share with listeners from early in the phase, or early in the campaign I should say, or something you wish you knew early on that you know now.
I have a couple of things, and I might be a little disjointed here. Every time I felt really down about how it was going or we’re never going to make this goal that we need to by this date, something would pop up unexpected. And it was like:
“Oh, this was the pleasant surprise we needed.”
We had certain benchmarks we had a hit to be able to keep the fundraising train going and the architect and contracting train. We wanted to have 80% of our goal raised by December of 2022. So if we had 80% of the money pledged by December of ’22, we were still moving forward.
I can remember. I look back at it. We go on break December the 16th. I think my youngest son got bar mitzvahed on December the 17th, to throw a little extra in for me. It was touch and go. And then in that week prior, we ended up at 86% of the goal raised by December of 2022, and at the beginning of December, I would’ve said that was impossible.
So every time I felt sort of down, there was always a pleasant surprise. I think that was one thing. Number two, I had something I really just wanted to say, and I totally forgot what it was.
Magical Luck or Strong Campaign Planning?
Well, let me ask you about those pleasant surprises, and maybe it’ll come back to you. Do you think it was just magical luck, or can you pinpoint things that had happened to make those pleasant surprises a reality?
But I don’t want you to forget your thought again, so go ahead.
Just say, “researcher,” and we can circle back.
We had a lot of people in feasibility who were reluctant to necessarily qualify what their gift was going to be. So if I circle back to feasibility, I had a lot of people who literally made their pledge at the end of the feasibility study. They were like, “We’re going to give this.” So I had that. Or people were like, “We’re going to think about it,” but were reluctant to go to the chart that we had made, and we did the ballpark. So they weren’t even willing to put a stake in the ground in a range, forget a number.
So they were certainly people that we had been stewarding and working with, and I had a sense of what they could do, but they had not necessarily given us an indication. A couple of them came in on the higher end of what I was most hoping for.
Excellent. That’s because the case was so compelling.
The case was so compelling, yes.
And probably because you had done such a thorough job in feasibility cultivating them.
Now, I do want to clarify for listeners. You said that some people at the end of the feasibility study interviews were ready to pledge or made their pledges. Now, I just want to make sure that everybody is very clear. You were not asking for gifts or pledges in the feasibility study interviews, but as it happens, some people are just so excited that they go ahead and do that anyway, right?
Yes, I think that might be just a sort of quirk to where we are and who we are. And I think it made some of our donors feel more comfortable just to make that commitment now, and some people we circled back to because there were other conversations we could be having with them, and that wasn’t very common.
It does happen. It happens in the Guided Feasibility Study. Nobody’s asking for gifts, and yet sometimes people are so excited we do find early commitments and early gifts coming in.
In addition to that, it’s also not unusual for people not to want to give gift indications, as you shared. That’s perfectly normal too. We do encourage people to give us their ballpark range, as you said, in the $100,000 range or the $1 million range or whatever the ranges are. Sometimes there are smaller ranges than that. Anyways… all right, great.
On Using a Researcher for the Campaign
Now you wanted to talk about researcher.
We had never used a researcher before. I do have a sort of donor wealth screening tool in my database, but I had never used a researcher before, and we got on that a little bit late. We are not typically making major gift asks in the $100,000 range. That is not something that we do on an annual basis.
I found a lot of comfort in the knowledge the researcher gave us so that if I was asking someone to consider partnering with us and making a gift of $100,000, $50,000, at least I knew that was in the realm of possibility. And they had every right to say no or we can’t do that. But I found, for me personally, it sort of brought my own stress level down in that the number wasn’t necessarily just picked from the sky or based on conjecture on what we thought someone could do; it was based on some research.
So we are actually continuing to utilize the researcher moving forward just because it was so helpful to us in practice. And I wish we had done that earlier. I wish I’d been doing that for years.
Excellent. Oh my gosh, that is so helpful to know. That’s great. I’m sure that is super-helpful for our listeners.
Capital Campaign Pro’s Weekly Peer Support Calls
All right, I have another question. At Capital Campaign Pro, one of the supports that we provide to clients is a weekly group peer support type of call, and I know you came to some of those. Can you talk a little bit about why you showed up? What those did for you? Were they helpful and why?
Yeah. When we were in the heat of the campaign and the stress was really there, it was definitely helpful to hear other people’s stories and what some of their challenges were and successes were. The campaign’s range, we are definitely on the smaller side of a campaign for what I think people often are using you guys for. And I always felt a little bit like, “Oh, our campaign goal is tiny,” but for us, our campaign goal was huge. And so it is relative.
It’s not our 2.5 million was going to be a real stretch for us to get there. And it was just nice to have a group of people every week who were going through the same things. I think when we started, we were all at the same point of most of us were in pre-campaign planning. And then we went on steroids fast.
Yes. Well, that’s interesting. But did you find that the challenges that people were facing, whether they were raising $10 million or $2 million or $50 million, that most of the challenges that everybody was facing were more or less the same?
Yeah. Give or take, yes. It’s all proportional. But absolutely, the same problems come up and it’s nice to have people give you ideas. Later on in the year, there were more schools on the call. And schools are definitely an interesting sort of subset of fundraising just because most of us know our current parents so well or whatnot. That was also really nice to hear people with the same types of challenges come up every week.
I went almost weekly during the very intensive portion of our fundraising, which was really from May, start of feasibility to spring break, to March. May to March was when we really did it.
Right, for just about a year. Just under a year.
Yeah. That’s great. Yeah.
So for people who aren’t familiar with our services, of course you met one-on-one with your campaign advisor, your campaign consultant, but also we provide these weekly group peer support calls. What I find is that people learn from other people’s questions. They didn’t even know to ask the questions, and that’s where the learning really happens.
Other people call them their fundraising therapy. [They] come check in. Understand that you’re not the only one in this situation. So I’m glad that was a good experience for you as well.
All right, any final thoughts that you would share with listeners about lessons learned or advice that you have in terms of their campaign and preparing for a campaign?
I really thought our campaign couldn’t be done. So while I didn’t say that necessarily publicly, I was like, “There is no possible way we can raise $2.5 million in 10 months.” We didn’t even have an architect hired until October. I never publicly stated that, but I certainly said that at my dinner table at home. But it can be done.
I think you have to know your organization, know your donors, know that some of the campaign rules… Your organization might be a little different. You have to really figure it out. It’s all guidelines and you have to figure out how to make it work for you.
Our advisor was so great and helped us figure out what sort of points we could skip over and what we really needed to spend some time digging into, and helped us work with who we were and the time constraints that we had. But you need people to have real buy-in at the top. There’s no way I could have done it alone. I only could do it because of our board chair and the head of school putting the time in that needed to be put in to make it happen.
Yeah. Great. I love that.
Well, Jodi, thank you so much for spending time with me today. I think there’s so many great lessons learned that you shared. And congratulations on an amazingly successful campaign. I am so thrilled that Capital Campaign Pro could play a small part in helping you guys be successful.
So thank you again for joining us. I really appreciate it.