Twenty-five years ago, I took a leap of faith in starting the Steier Group.
I’d spent time as a journalist, working as an alum in the institutional advancement office of my Catholic high school and then running capital campaigns for a small Omaha-based family fundraising firm. After five years there, I knew it was time to make the next step in my career. In the back of my mind, going out on my own seemed like a promising opportunity but also a big risk with a two-year-old son and newborn at home.
Then my best friend, who I grew up on the same street with as a child, died in a car accident, leaving behind his wife and small child. This brought home just how short life can be. With that in mind, I chose to start the Steier Group.
That leap of faith has more than paid off. Now the Steier Group is an international fundraising firm, working with nonprofits across North America. We’ve helped our partners raise more than $2.6 billion to construct new churches and schools, serve the struggling in their communities, build museums and parish halls, upgrade facilities, boost endowments and reduce debt.
Early on in a company’s life, you try to be all things to all people, maybe to your own detriment. Eventually we took a step back and realized we don’t have to do that. Let’s focus on where we can do the best work – comprehensive campaign planning studies and capital campaigns. And we are the best in the country when someone wants a firm to lead them in a campaign.
It hasn’t always been easy. As a firm, we’ve weathered the Great Recession and, more recently, the global pandemic. We grew from our family attic to a firm with campaign managers located across the country. We’ve had incredibly successful campaigns and ones that have struggled for one reason or another. But we’ve learned along the way the keys to success not only as a firm but for our partners.
After 25 years of serving nonprofits, here are three indispensable ingredients to a successful campaign:
- Goals people understand and are willing to support: Donors are more likely to support campaigns and other fundraising efforts focused on needs, not wants. And goals that make sense and are attainable.
- Healthy audience of potential donors: No matter the strength of the goals or the fundraising firm leading the effort, a campaign can only be as successful as its donor database will allow. If you are preparing for an upcoming capital campaign, make sure to update your database and maintain it.
- Strong internal leadership: We’ve found the campaigns that struggle the most often have poor leadership. If we can get leadership to collaborate with us, the campaign will almost always be a home run. We average 132% of goal for our campaigns. If we can get everyone rowing together, it is going to be a successful fundraising effort.
As our firm celebrates our 25th anniversary this month and all year long, I want to thank you. We would not be the firm we are today without the organizations that we have partnered with along the way. I am blessed to lead a company full of amazing employees and to partner with wonderful organizations across the United States and Canada.