Season 3, Episode 44
In this episode, we have an inspiring success story featuring Kari Viola-Brooke, the Executive Director of Child Enrichment in Augusta, Georgia. Join us as Kari shares her journey from facing doubts following a discouraging feasibility study to raising a remarkable $6.3 million for their much-needed new facility.
Discover the strategies and lessons learned, including the power of asking for advice, building strong support teams, and reframing your perspective on fundraising. Whether you’re embarking on a capital campaign or seeking insights into effective fundraising, this episode is packed with valuable takeaways.
To see if a DIY capital campaign is right for you, download this free eBook – The Fundraiser’s Guide to Do-It-Yourself Capital Campaigns – It includes a checklist for deciding if DIY is right for you.
Today you are in for a real treat because I have one of our fundraising client superstars here with me, Kari Viola-Brooke, the Executive Director of Child Enrichment. And I am so excited to have Kari tell you her amazing success story today.
So welcome, Kari. Thank you for joining us.
Thanks for having me. I’m so excited to talk about my experience and then just how much you guys have helped us.
Child Enrichment’s Mission and Reasons for a Capital Campaign
Thank you. So, why don’t we start a little bit with your mission? Why don’t you talk about what you do and then get into what prompted a campaign?
Sure. So, I am the Director of Child Enrichment. It is a nonprofit in Augusta, Georgia. And we’re an umbrella agency, so we have a child advocacy center and a CASA program, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. So, there’s child advocacy centers and there’s CASA programs all over the country. Here in Augusta, they’re under one organization.
So, what we do is we provide a voice and a path forward for children and families that have experienced abuse, neglect, or child sex trafficking. And I have been at Child Enrichment since 2011. In 2011 we were talking about needing a new building. So, it has been a long overdue project of just seeing a huge increase in the number of kids that we are serving.
And we just didn’t have the space or the capacity to get them in, to train volunteers. Kids had a long wait time. So the need had been there before I inherited this job, and we’re just really excited to be where we are today.
The Need for a New Facility
Yeah. Okay, so there was a lot of need, a lot of pressure building up in terms of demand for services, and just the ability or the lack of ability to serve the population. So, talk about the genesis of the campaign and the idea for a new facility.
So before I took the role as the executive director, I had been one of the program directors here at Child Enrichment. So, we had started discussions about doing a campaign and really needing this building. At the time, my former boss, the former executive director, had worked so hard on trying to get this started.
We had hired a [campaign] consultant to do a feasibility study. And at the time, our project was about $3 million, and they said that they didn’t think we could raise more than a million. So my old boss got that news and then shortly after that, he had had some health issues and he retired. So me and the other program director were like:
“Oh my gosh, we need to move forward. We need to have progress on this. The kids that we’re serving are at a disservice because of our space.”
So, I had applied for the executive director job. And in my job interview I had asked them, “What would it look like in a year if I’m doing a good job?” And they said that we will have movement on a capital campaign. So, I started this job knowing this is what I would be doing.
Yes, okay. And of course, it’s so disappointing when an organization gets feasibility study results that are disappointing. Of course, Child Enrichment did it with more of a traditional consultant who does the interviews for you. That’s not our model here at Capital Campaign Pro, as you probably know. But of course, the feasibility study wasn’t done with us. But you got disappointing results, but you were determined anyways.
A $6.3 Million Success – More than Double the Campaign Goal
So, let’s provide a little spoiler before we get in some of the details. So of course, I’m talking to you and you’re sitting in your brand-new building now which I can see the gorgeous walls. You’d mentioned a $3 million goal and of course, feasibility study that said you could probably only raise a million dollars or so. Tell us how much you raised.
Yeah. So, we raised $6.3 million.
$6.3 million. Let’s just take a minute to celebrate that. I’m going to ring my bell. I have a campaign bell.
And we celebrate. That is totally amazing and you should feel so good about that. So, let’s go backward. Now that we did the spoiler, everybody knows the end of the story. But talk about some of your biggest worries and concerns at the beginning of the campaign. And maybe which of them materialized, because sometimes our worries don’t materialize. And then maybe the ones that did, how you overcame them.
Initial Concerns about the Capital Campaign
So start with, what were you concerned about at the beginning of the campaign?
Yeah, so one, I was concerned that this [campaign] feasibility study, which we paid an unfortunately large amount of money for, was true, and that we wouldn’t be able to do it. And honestly, being someone who worked in the trenches with kids that had been abused and worked with the staff and knew how desperately we needed this service, just that fear of failure, I looked at it as failure wasn’t an option.
We needed a new building. We could not do the work we were doing. It’s not because we wanted a fancier, prettier place, we simply just didn’t have the space to provide the services that we were saying we were doing. So, that was the biggest one, was just like:
“Oh my gosh, what if we fail?”
And I’ll say that that had been a concern probably every day until the ribbon cutting. But I only let it be a little bit of a concern, because I just knew that no matter what, we had to figure out a solution.
I would say the other big concern I had was just failing my coworkers. I think I took a lot of the responsibility and a lot of the stress on about it. And I just really wanted to succeed, not just for the clients we serve, but I work with some of the most amazing human beings in the world that do really, really, really hard work. And I knew we needed to succeed for them. So, a lot of those concerns.
And then the big thing, anybody listening to this that’s doing a capital campaign, the concern was, where do I find the money? Where does this money come from? So that was another big concern. And I would say all of those concerns probably ebbed and flowed throughout. We would go through cycles where we would get a huge gift that we had no idea about. But then I was like, “Oh, my gosh.”
I remember breaking a million and we got to a million. I was so excited about it, and I think I was on one of the calls with Andre or something. And then in the back of my head, I was like:
“Oh my gosh, but where are we going to find five more million?”
Yes, I remember when you broke a million. We were all cheering for you. So, it’s so interesting. There’s always this sort of give and take in a capital campaign. We don’t want people to do magical thinking, and we do want people to trust the feasibility study results. Of course, sometimes they’re done well and sometimes they’re done less well, let’s say.
Child Enrichment’s Capital Campaign Process
But we want people to be realistic and aspirational. And so, how do you think you sort of wrapped your brain around, where’d you find that first million dollars or maybe the second million dollars? Why don’t you take people through a little bit of the process that you went through to both identify and cultivate some of those donors? Because you really did it successfully.
Well, I think, Amy, it goes back to, you were right. We did not do a feasibility study with you guys. And I think the way you all teach to do a feasibility study is the most brilliant way. Because I inherited this document that was neatly bound and it was really, really, really thick. And it had a lot of information in it, but it was also not information that I had gotten.
So I spent a lot of time just combing through that, looking at it and seeing like, “Hey, we have this volunteer that she comes here every week. And she gives us a decent amount of money.” And I didn’t know what she said to the feasibility consultants because I wasn’t privileged to that information, but she was the first person I kind of talked to.
And she had said, “I don’t know these people. So I told them a random number.” So she had said she didn’t even like that idea and she was our first gift. I remember she had come in my office and she had said, “How’s the capital campaign going?” And I said, “What capital campaign? We literally haven’t done anything.” And she said, “I wish I could give a million dollars, but how about 500,000?” And I thought it was a joke, but I think that was such a key thing for me to learn because she was one of the people on this feasibility study. She ended up giving us close to 800,000, but she wasn’t willing to tell these, as she called it, random people.
Chipping Away a Bit at a Time
So I think that was just really key and made me realize, “Okay, let me go back to the original feasibility study people and just have some follow-up conversations with them. And just get some guidance from them on what they thought that process was like and then kind of what they had told those people.”
So I had started there and then right around there is when I got involved with you guys. And then we just started looking at the gift table and figuring out, “Okay, who’s going to be these people? Who are going to be these people?”, and just started chipping away at it. But I think in the beginning I was like, “What do I even do?” And then I just took one little bite at a time.
Right. I just want to highlight some of the things that you said ’cause I think there’s so many lessons for listeners. One is, one of the things that traditional campaign consultants tell organizations, and one of the reasons that they want to do feasibility studies in what we consider the old model of going in confidentially to interview an organization’s donors, is that donors will open up to them and talk to them, if the interviews are confidential. And we don’t believe that to be true. And what you just said sort of proves that point.
We really believe that executive directors and nonprofit leaders should be having these strategic, thoughtful, planful conversations with their own donors. With support and guidance of experts, making sure that you ask the right questions, that you’re collecting the right data, that you’re talking about the case and doing good listening.
And so, we sort of promote a hybrid model where we guide and coach you through the process. But you, the leaders, not you specifically, but the leaders of the organization do those interviews.
So, what a great anecdote. Just one example of a donor who didn’t want to talk to an outside consultant. So, one thing.
How Child Enrichment Chose Capital Campaign Pro
But I had love for you to share a little bit about how you decided to work with us, because we are different than most campaign consultants. One of the ways is how we approach feasibility studies. But we offer a variety of services. You took us up on something we call our Do-It-Yourself Essential Service for leaders who really don’t feel the need for a full service or traditional consultant. So, talk a little bit about how you decided to use us and what was helpful.
Yeah. So, I am only new to capital campaigns. I was new to being an executive director, I was new to philanthropy. My background is in interviewing children that have been abused. So I was like, “Oh gosh, what am I going to do?”
So, I had literally just started Googling capital campaign consultants and just things like that. And I knew we didn’t want to do another feasibility study. We had paid, I think $40,000 for that. And our board was like, “No.” I think originally our board was like, “We’re not hiring a consultant.” And I was sort of like, “I don’t know how to do this, so I need some sort of help.” So, then I made a proposal to them.
After I had connected with you guys, I think you had connected me with some former clients of yours, and I had just spoken to them. And then I had some information and I presented it to our board of like, “Hey, listen. I know that you guys are really frustrated because we spent all this money.” And they felt like they had wasted this money that they had just spent. So I had to kind of sell them on, “Hey, let’s do this.”
One of the things that was really appealing to them that we had signed up, I think we ended up doing a whole year ’cause it was like a discount. But it wasn’t this astronomical amount of money. So if I could go back now, I probably would’ve done a little bit of a higher level ’cause I would’ve had less gray hair I think, at the end of it. But that’s kind of what I could get them to agree to.
So I think you guys just had models that were available to anybody, at all different price points. And for us, it was kind of convincing them, I needed this support and you guys were going to be able to provide it.
And I have a really great board, but at the time, none of them were really stepping up. I know that was some conversations we all have had of, who’s going to take the lead? And I was like, “Nobody is. I guess it’s me.” But that was another thing that I wish we would’ve done differently. But I knew that I needed some support, and so we got the board’s buy-in that way.
But it was just kind of Google. I found you guys, and it was one of the best things that I have found, because not only did I learn a lot of stuff related to capital campaigns, but just fundraising and philanthropy, and just donor stewardship has carried over.
So I have to say one of the things that we, at the Capital Campaign Pro team, talk about you in terms of we admire you so much for your persistence and just determination and grit. And we host these weekly group coaching calls, we call them our Peer Support Calls. And you came every week for a year or longer, probably two years. And just come back week after week after week with such thoughtful and real questions like:
“I can’t get this donor to call me back. What should I do?”
And our staff loved hearing that and cheering you on, and hearing an update every week. Okay, you followed up this way or you followed up that way, or you left him another message or you sent him an email. Talk about what that experience was like, coming on those group calls and just being persistent and determined.
Using Every Resource Available to Make the Campaign a Success
Yeah. I mean, as you’re saying that, I think of, I talked about one donor for a long time. And he never ended up giving to the campaign, which was fine because we got our goal anyway. But I feel like we talked about one, just accountability. And I think anybody can sign up to do anything. And I was like, “If I’m going to sign up to do this, I know I need to succeed at this, so I’m going to use every resource available.” So, I made it a priority to be on these calls.
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the other people that were on the calls. Some of us still even talk to each other now of just updates on things. Honestly, I was really sad when the capital campaign fundraising part was done, because I got so used to these weekly calls. And then I was like, “Wait, is there another option? Can there just be ED calls that I could just come on every week because I am going to miss this community?” So, it was just really, really great.
And I think one of the things that I really enjoyed that you guys had done was, we had different call leaders. So I got to experience different point of views, different suggestions, and obviously I heard peer suggestions too. But we would hear from different consultants on some different ideas. But the accountability was definitely there of like, “Okay, so once I speak it into existence…”
And I think that’s the hardest part sometimes for new people and fundraising is like, “Oh my gosh, I just need to pick up the phone and press send. And I don’t want to do it.” But I knew that, “Okay, I said on the call I’m going to do it. And next Wednesday they’re going to ask me, ‘What happened when you called that person?'” So, I had to do it.
That’s awesome. And I have to say, since you’ve graduated and successfully finished your campaign, we’ve actually added monthly CEO roundtables — probably from one of your suggestions. So come back, do your next campaign. We can’t wait to have you back.
Biggest Lessons Learned Conducting Such a Successful Capital Campaign
All right. So, I’d love for you to share some of your biggest lessons learned. What advice would you give listeners who are heading into a campaign or thinking about this big goal that they’re approaching? What are your key takeaways and lessons learned, or what do you wish you knew that now?
Ask Donors for Advice
Yeah. So the biggest lesson I think I learned was, ask for advice. And I don’t mean just from peers on the call or from you guys in Capital Campaign Pro. Just asking donors for advice was the number one thing that helped me so much. It was so much easier for me to ask this person for advice for, “How are we going to get this?”, as opposed to saying, “Would you give us a million dollars?” Because once I was asking them for advice, it kind of made them feel invested in it too. And these donors wanted it to succeed ’cause they were a part of the solution. And that was so key.
So even when I’d have somebody that I’m like, “Oh man, we’re trying to get this person to get involved with our campaign.”, I would think of some realm that they were an expert in that I could start by asking their advice on it. And it was genuine.
I genuinely would find things that I needed help on, but that was so key. And everybody likes to get asked for advice, so it wasn’t anything scary that I had to think of either like, “Hey, I’m going to ask this person about their expertise.” So, I still use that today. I try to think of like, “Oh man, who in my contact list is an expert in this? Let me just give them a call and ask for their help on this.” So, that was something really big.
Not Every Donor Has to Say Yes
Another thing was, it’s okay for people to say no. I think in the beginning, I was like, “Oh my gosh, we have to come up with all this money. Everybody has to say yes to this.” And I think I learned a lot from the people that weren’t willing to give or to donate, and just asking that follow-up question in a respectful way.
I live in Augusta where we have so many nonprofits and there’s so many really, really great places that, that’s okay. I’m glad you’re giving money to nonprofits, but what is it that’s stopping you from supporting this campaign? And maybe it’s just like, “Hey, I don’t support this.” But getting some feedback on that was really key.
And I think not taking it personally. I remember I sat down with a donor and I’d given them their stuff and they tore it apart. They were like, “This is not…” They sat down, they had another ask right before mine with a different person. And they brought theirs and they’re like, “This is good.” And I was like, “Okay. ” But I think instead of taking it really personal, I was like, “Okay, great.” And I followed up with them and was like, “We made all the changes. I’d love your feedback on what you think of it now.” And then they ended up giving us a lot of money. So I think, just —
Pause for a minute, Kari. I want everybody to soak that in for a minute because that is such an amazing story. You met with them, you were doing your best. They sort of knocked you down a peg or two, but you got back up on your horse. You made the changes, you took their feedback, you went back to them, they were receptive, and they gave a gift. I mean, that is magical. That’s the magic of campaigns, honestly.
Make Donors Part of the Solution — Involve Them in the Process
I want to go back to something you said earlier. You asked donors for advice genuinely and authentically, before even considering asking for a gift. You made them part of the solution. Those were your words. They were part of the solution. And I think if everybody can get into that mindset of really, forget the gift, don’t worry about the gift right now. Find 20 people that have the ability, the financial capacity, the wherewithal to be part of the solution that you’re trying to solve the problem you’re trying to solve. And engage them and ask their advice.
Figure out, what are they an expert in? Maybe they’re an expert in capital campaigns because they’ve been on the board of the hospital while they did a campaign or the board of the library while they did a campaign. And go to them early on and say, “Listen, we’re thinking about a campaign. What advice would you give me?”
So, you don’t need to ask them about money or even about your campaign at first, while you’re figuring out the plans. Or you can say, “We’re figuring out the plans. How should we think about it? Who should we talk to? What steps would we take?”
So I mean, you did all the right things. I absolutely love that. Great. Go ahead.
Capital Campaign Pro’s Advice: “Trust the Process”
Yeah. And I just need to say, I didn’t magically know to do those things. Those came through calls. So on our calls, I just remember so many of the conversations we had about those things. And I think in the beginning, I was just so scared that we were going to fail. And I just remember Andrea being like… I’m not a patient person to begin with. It’s probably one of my weakest downfalls.
And capital campaigns, you have to have a lot of patience. And her just saying, “Okay, trust the process. Or you got to build relationships and be authentically yourself.” And that’s something that she really helped me with of, if you joke and that’s something that’s authentic to you, just be yourself.
And I think that was what’s really weird about capital campaigns, is so much of it is like relationship building not even related to what you’re asking about. Which goes back to what we talked about in the beginning, is like, I don’t understand how the old way worked, where you brought in somebody. And how the new feasibility study way that you guys are teaching just starts that process so much sooner. It’s all about relationships and keeping those relationships and being authentic with them.
Yep. I love that!
So listeners, if you want to learn more about what Carrie’s talking about, what our model is, what about these mystery calls that were so amazing for her, go head on over to the Capital Campaign Pro site. You can look at our DIY program support system that Kari used so successfully. Or look at our feasibility study model to get you started in the right direction.
Final Words of Wisdom for Those Heading into a Capital Campaign
All right, final words of wisdom, Kari, for those heading into a campaign. What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
Don’t Go it Alone
I wish I knew, don’t try to do it alone. Really, the Capital Campaign Pro, they have a lot of documents on building committees, building teams, building that support. I wish that we spent more time on that because it was a lot, and I wish I had more support for it. So I think really try to build that foundation of having really strong support that is really educated on what you’re trying to do ’cause it will make it hopefully not as lonely and not as scary.
Get Comfortable with Asking
But I think the other thing too is just get really comfortable with asking, just asking things in general. And all of us are raising money for causes we believe so important about and so deeply for.
So I think just knowing, it’s not like I’m saying, “Hey, give me money so I can buy a new Porsche.” I’m saying, “Give me money to help kids that have been abused. Come on.” So I think really, I would reframe that before I would get nervous or anything of just saying, “Who doesn’t want to help the work we’re doing?”
Yes. Strong mission, strong vision, and then flipping that thinking from, “They won’t want to support us.”, to, “Who wouldn’t want to support us?”
I love that. Kari, congratulations on being in your new building. I’m so excited to see you sitting from your brand new office, having raised $6 million from your original $3 million goal. That is just outstanding.
So congratulations, and thank you for being here and sharing your story and all the lessons you learned. Keep up the good work, and I can’t wait to see you again soon for your next campaign.