Find capital campaign success with the right fundraising firm fit

Solving the puzzle of team chemistry presents a challenge for sports franchises and business CEOs alike. The most talented team does not always take home the championship or rake in Fortune 500 revenue. Even if the puzzle appears whole, the pieces may not fit just right.

Finding the right fit is paramount in hiring a fundraising consultant. Any outside help will likely lead to additional funds raised, but, to maximize your organization’s fundraising potential, it is important to find the right fit with the right firm and the right campaign manager.

Sometimes a change in firms to a better fit can dramatically alter the course of your fundraising program.

That was the case for St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. After raising $80 million over 12 years, fundraising for a new abbey had slowed. That left the community $40 million short of its $120 million goal.

All the pieces appeared to be in place – a great case for support, a strong major-gift donor base, 327 beautiful acres already secured – and, yet, after years of fundraising with another firm, St. Michael’s campaign puzzle wasn’t complete.

Hired in May 2016, chief advancement officer R. Shane Giblin identified the need to reset the campaign’s focus.

“We had seen tremendous success and support from our main benefactors during the first phase of our campaign,” Giblin said. “But we had
reached an impasse. We were short of goal and needed a new path to success.”

Switching fundraising firms during a transformational capital campaign is not an easy choice. But abbey leadership knew what was at stake for its community. St. Michael’s partnered with the Steier Group on a campaign assessment and hired the firm to rejuvenate The Campaign for St. Michael’s Abbey.

For the Norbertine Fathers, the Steier Group proved to be the missing piece of the fundraising puzzle.

“The Steier Group, especially our onsite campaign director, provided just the spark we needed,” Giblin said. “The situation was different from a typical capital campaign. The Steier team came in and became what we needed to reach our goal.”

The advancement team at St. Michael’s Abbey is lean but experienced. MacGarret Becker, the Steier Group campaign manager assigned to the project, needed to play a utility role. In addition to the usual capital campaign services offered by the firm, Becker aided the abbey team in launching a new annual giving platform — the Abbot’s Circle — to better support the community’s operations.

The successful launch of the Abbot’s Circle provided momentum to the capital campaign as well. The annual giving program expanded the abbey’s donor database. In addition, the campaign assessment uncovered more than $10 million in support and several donors willing to make a planned gift to support the abbey.

“I have worked with the Steier Group on multiple projects, and each time they exceeded my expectations,” Giblin said. “They understand the Catholic Church and, more importantly, they understand that no two Catholic organizations are the same. They worked with us to leverage our strengths and meet our very ambitious fundraising goals. The Steier Group recognized that by customizing their fundraising model to fit what would help us most.”

Based on the Steier Group’s findings, the campaign’s efforts refocused on potential major donors. The abbey reapproached donors who had already given and provided new opportunities such as a $4 million challenge gift and naming rights. In addition, donors of a certain level were offered burial plots in the new abbey cemetery. All of this helped spur campaign donations.

“Reapproaching donors can be intimidating for an organization,” Becker said. “You don’t want to appear ungrateful for the sacrifice the benefactor has already made. At the same time, this was a transformational fundraising effort. The abbey’s benefactors truly believe in the mission of the Norbertines and the impacts made on Southern California and beyond. This made it easier to ask for additional support.”

The campaign had another motivating factor in its corner – the effort was ahead of schedule and a final push to goal would allow for construction to begin sooner than expected. Donors appreciate seeing the fruits of their labor, and to have these gifts bear fruit so quickly was exciting.

After a dozen years of fundraising, the Abbey raised $40 million in one year with the help of the Steier Group. That led to a groundbreaking ceremony in March 2018.

“After all these years of fundraising, it is exciting to break ground,” said the Very Rev. Chrysostom Baer, O. Praem., prior of St. Michael’s Abbey. “We have been honored with the support we received across the country. Partnering with the Steier Group helped move us toward our goal and make our long-time dream a reality.”