Best Practice: Securing major donors.
Nonprofit: Community of Hope.
Type of work: Services and housing for homeless and low-income people.
Area location: Northwest Washington headquarters and six other locations.
Number of staff: 110 full-time, 15 part-time.
Annual budget: $11.5 million.
Two years ago, when Kelly McShane sat at her kitchen table and crafted an e-mail to one of Washington’s biggest financiers, she didn’t expect much in return.
Her charity, Community of Hope, was at a pivotal point. The nonprofit needed more money to create a job-training program and build a health care facility.
She thought it was a shot in the dark, but maybe Carlyle Group co-founder Bill Conway would consider the organization. After all, he and his wife, Joanne, had just announced plans to give $1 billion to local nonprofits.
“I saw it and thought ‘Hmm, I don’t know if our projects are big enough to get that kind of attention,’” McShane recounted.
But she sent the e-mail anyway, and within months, found herself at the Carlyle Group’s downtown office at 8 o’clock in the morning pitching her idea to Conway. Four months later came a $70,000 check.
But that was just the beginning.
In January, nearly one year later, Conway pledged an additional $1.75 million to the nonprofit group, it’s largest gift since its creation in 1980.
Securing a major donor can often involve a bit of serendipity.
“It can be the hardest thing and the easiest thing,” said Jaye Lopez Van Soest, former president of the D.C. chapter of the Association for Fundraising Professionals.
“It’s extraordinarily difficult to get in front of folks with high capacity because they get asked by a lot of people,” Lopez Van Soest said. But if a charity is prepared when the opportunity presents itself, a long-term partnership can result.
At one time, the Community of Hope might not have been so prepared.
Before 2009, the group’s biggest gift was $20,000 and the average major gift was $5,000, which would come once or twice each year. Most of its funding came from local government and foundations.
In 2010, the senior staff drafted a three-year strategic plan that included a new job-training program for disadvantaged people to enter the health care field and a new health and resource center for low-income residents in Ward 8.
They hired a consultant, conducted a feasibility study and discovered that their new ambitions demanded more individual donors and bigger checks.
To ramp up its efforts, the team hired two more fundraisers, designed communication materials and assembled an advisory committee. McShane began to schedule multiple lunches each month with potential donors.
Within three years, the charity lined up two new donors pledging $100,000 and 15 others who promised $10,000 or more.
When the Conways decided to use $1 billion to help people in the District get jobs, he heard about Community of Hope through his chief financial officer, Adena Friedman, whose husband volunteers with the charity.
“All these people were talking about how wonderful it was,” Conway said. “I saw that it combined a place where people could get health care in Ward 8 and also they were creating jobs. It all tied together.”
Conway said he wasn’t looking for a flashy presentation when he invited McShane to pitch the charity.
“I don’t think it’s about the presentation, at least with me it’s not,” he said. “It’s about the cause … and the ability of the organization to implement it.” He added that the organization’s track record makes a difference.
When he provided the initial $70,000 in April 2012, McShane didn’t cease communication. She sent him invitations to events, progress reports and updates on the new building and job-training program.
Fundraising professionals agree that staying in contact with a donor is key.
“The biggest mistake nonprofits might make is treating the gift as if it’s transactional and not the cultivation of a long-term relationship,” Van Soest said.
Eight months later, Conway’s assistant called the charity to announce the second donation.
For Conway, that time allowed him to see “the crystallization of everything coming together,” he said. “I saw that 40 or 50 people will have jobs, including the people building the building.”
A portion of Conway’s gift includes matching donations that requires Community of Hope to raise $500,000.
“This really makes us dream bigger,” McShane said. “And now we feel like we can knock it out the park.”