A Fire and Found Money: How Kansas State Reinvented Their Fundraising Strategy

2018 was a big year for the Kansas State Foundation. The thing is, no one saw it coming, including the staff of the Kansas State Foundation. But in the wake of a wild year, they find themselves going into 2019 with a whole new approach in two major areas of the organization.

How did they get here? Two completely unexpected events forced the team to act quickly and creatively to deal with the challenges in front of them. Without realizing it, they were actually changing their long-term fundraising strategy as they did so.

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AN UNFORTUNATE FIRE

Last May everything was moving along as normal for the Kansas State Foundation. Annual Fund goals were in place. The usual progress was being made. The year was approaching its halfway point and there certainly weren’t any signs that their entire approach to fundraising would be completely upended before it was over.

Then everything changed.

A fire broke out on the roof of Hale Library, leading to severe smoke and water damage throughout the building.

After assessing the damage it was clear an extensive renovation was needed. A campus needs a library this restoration was going to need a serious influx of cash. The advancement team had to come up with a new plan. In a hurry.

New Goal. New Strategy. Sorta.

Despite the severity of the situation, the vast majority of alumni would be understandably unaware of what had happened on campus. The team decided the best thing to do was just make people aware of the fire.

Three days after the incident, an informative email went out with no specific solicitation request. Similar messaging was posted on the school’s social channels. The outpouring of support was staggering to most of the team.

The team quickly realized something: A sizeable group of alums had essentially just raised their hands and indicated they were interested in the fallout of the fire. Kansas State didn’t want to waste time. They needed to act while they had people’s attention. A giving page through EverTrue was set up along with a hashtag for social: #HelpForHale.

Then they used EverTrue to identify everyone who had interacted with any of the relevant posts on social. They quickly created a group with all those interested and sent out an email with links to a blog post about the library along with instructions for giving online. More social posts were pushed live. It was the first time the team had launched a campaign with the online giving system, but there wasn’t a lot of time for their traditional methods.

To call it a whirlwind would be an understatement. The team was already in the midst of an Annual Giving campaign and those goals weren’t going to be pushed aside because of the fire. They didn’t realize they were reinventing the whole organization’s approach to fundraising strategy in the manner of a few short and wild weeks. They just knew they had to take advantage of the tools available. It wasn’t a time for second guessing. They could ask questions later.

Rapid Results

Within the first two weeks, Kansas State had raised $50,000 dollars from 400 donors. To date, they’ve raised $59,900 from 467 donors.

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FOUND MONEY

Kansas State understood they had an affordability problem. Which is not a unique problem or realization among colleges and universities these days.

But the Kansas State Foundation knew that what they were actually facing was two problems. First, they needed more privately-funded scholarships. Second, they needed more major gift donors. It felt like a circuitous issue and with no clear solution in sight.

What Have We Here?

And all of a sudden an undocumented estate gift of $650,000 appeared on their doorstep, with the caveat that it be used for educational purposes. As the solution to both of the problems facing the foundation, the gift would prove exponentially valuable.

It was no secret to anyone in the department that scholarships were the #1 interest for donors at all levels. With the sizable mystery donation in hand, they saw a unique opportunity to provide alumni with a clear opportunity to donate directly to a scholarship while also bringing new donors into the fold.

The Plan

The Kansas State Foundation would use the $650,000 gift to match donations. But the match would only be available to those who were not yet considered major gift donors (lifetime giving under $25,000). The minimum donation for match was set for $30,000.

To remove another barrier to giving, donors would be given the option to space their donation out over the course of five years.

With their donation being doubled thanks to the university, a major gift became far more enticing to those who had the means to donate at this level but had yet to take the plunge.

The Results

Like any pilot program, no one was sure exactly what to expect. An answer wouldn’t take long.

All 20 spots were claimed in less than 6 weeks.  

The rapid success didn’t just catch the eye of those considering major gifts either. The immediate success of the program inspired two separate Kansas State families to pledge $1 million each for additional seed money. That created 60 more opportunities for brand-new major gift donors to fund scholarships.

What the Kansas State Foundation perhaps hadn’t anticipated was desire of existing major gift donors to help the establish the next generation of major gift donors and keep the giving tradition at Kansas State strong.

So what’s the ripple effect from the original $650,000? 145 new major gift donors, 145 new scholarships and most importantly, $9.5 million available to Kansas State students, available in perpetuity.

THE NEW NORMAL

When 2018 started, the Kansas State Foundation had no intention on reinventing their fundraising strategy around Annual Fund and Major Gifts. But thanks to two unforeseen developments and some creative thinking, they’ve started 2019 with two entirely new approaches.

Despite working quickly through tough circumstances, the Kansas State Foundation was convinced: Continued engagement on social would be the foundation of prospect research going forward.

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