renewing a school

Embarking upon an ambitious capital campaign can be intimidating. Especially when you get most of the way through fundraising, and discover you need significantly more money to finish the project. Executive Directors often don't know what to do next or where to turn.

Walt, the Head of School for an independent school, had to raise $20 million, even though the school had never raised more than $1 million in its entire 30 year history.  The waiting list for enrollment was growing, and the school needed both an update and expansion, as it was constructed with temporary buildings in 1976, designed to hold only half of the current student population. 

Walt also realized that he had only 300 prospects – the parents – so he had to hit home runs with at least 50% of them to raise the necessary $20 million to build the new school.  He needed help.


The trustees brought in Steve Marshall to lead the fundraising effort and provide support.  His planning study indicated the potential for a dozen $1-$2 million + gifts could be achieved with a well-thought and conducted capital campaign.  In the year the campaign was launched, the potential became reality and the campaign crested $15 million (in 3 year pledges) within that year. The campaign then moved into the realm of the second and third tier gifts and achieved $20 million within a further 6 months of campaigning. Construction of the new school commenced.


Part way into the project, the design and construction teams hit some serious snags and delays, plus increased cost of materials.  Solutions were few; the school had borrowed short-term, for the life of the pledges, to pay for the construction and could borrow no more. The sale of a piece of property that school owned free and clear was considered, but upon appraisal, it was worth less than $800,000; not enough to put a serious dent in the $7 million gap. The goal would have to be increased to $27 million to achieve the full breadth for the design of the new school.


When the $7 million gap was identified, Steve found an elegant, yet simple solution; he recommended that the Campaign Chair and select members of the Campaign Committee issue a 2:1 challenge to the remaining prospects to raise the balance of the funds. Four members of the Campaign Committee each pledged an additional $1 million challenge which was matched and met by the remaining prospects.


At the victory celebration for the campaign, the campaign committee chair was pleased to report that the $27 million goal had been reached and that the construction could continue to completion. The new school opened one year later.