“We can do it ourselves.”
“We don’t need to pay anyone else to help us raise money.”
“Hiring someone to help sounds expensive.”
These are probably some of the most common excuses raised when any group is considering hiring outside professionals to assist them in their capital campaigns.
But these short-sighted views tend to ignore the facts and countless success stories of those who do go with industry-leading experts like Pennington & Company to assist them. These real-world examples show just how wide the gap is between an in-house effort and a professional one.
Just how wide is that gap? For the Delta Tau Delta Chapter at Oklahoma State, it came in at the staggering tune of an over 1,000% increase.
Here’s how we did it.
The story of the Delta Tau Delta Chapter at Oklahoma State University is like a lot of fraternity house corporations across the country. Built in 1963, the chapter house had always been one of the best on-campus and had been the focal point for the success and brotherhood of hundreds of men who passed through its halls.
But about 10 years ago, a figurative arms race began on campus. Pretty soon, the Delts found themselves in the precarious position of either addressing their aging chapter house or being left behind.
“That got us to talking about what the future held for our fraternity,” says Campaign Chairman Stephen Reel. “We had conversations about whether we refurbish or do a complete upgrade and we trended towards a complete upgrade because these new houses in Stillwater were just amazing.”
But, like many other fraternities, there was tension over which course to take. Older alumni were very fond of the current home and attached to the memories it held while younger alumni were interested in building a new chapter house that would better serve today’s students.
The anecdotal feedback from students reinforced the latter. While students routinely commented on how nice the chapter house was, due to several refurbishments over the years, they were no longer coming from homes where they shared a bedroom or even experienced group showers at all while growing up.
The alumni wanted to be diligent and thorough in their decision-making, so they decided to take an initial step with a Pennington & Company feasibility study. That feasibility study produced several welcome surprises. The first was that 89% of those interviewed said they wanted a new chapter house. The second welcome surprise was that the study revealed a financial ability of $4 million for the capital campaign.
But why go with paid professional experts? Stephen’s previous service on the house corporation helped explain this. “Back in the mid 80’s we had a small campaign that was run internally, and we had no idea what we were doing,” he says. “I think we raised about $35,000 and that project was about $300,000. Then about 10-15 years ago, we had another internal remodeling campaign and that one probably raised about $600,000 internally.”
Those numbers stood in stark contrast to the financial ability that Pennington’s feasibility study discovered.
Furthermore, Stephen had quite a bit of experience working with capital campaigns in a volunteer role and knew the benefit that professionals brought to the table.
“I’ve been involved with several campaigns, whether it be with the fraternity or my church. Every time someone mentions hiring a professional, the inevitable response is ‘Why can’t we do this ourselves and save some money?’ People can talk all they want, but I’ve been down that road several times and I’ll always argue for the professional help.”
In Stephen’s experience, the reasoning is rock solid.
For starters, Pennington has access to extensive data and tools to make the most out of that data that is typically not available to volunteers. These specialized tools can efficiently collect data, organize it, attach attributes to donors and potential donors, and can also quickly provide the critical insights needed to make agile decisions during the campaign.
Stephen also notes the invaluable benefit of having professional help that doesn’t get burned out.
“A campaign of this sort is lengthy. Ours is about at the four- or five-year mark. Most people doing it themselves would run out of steam or lose focus over that length of time. On the other hand, Pennington brought a team of professional staff to our project and there was never any let-up from Pennington’s team from day one.”
And then there were the various pieces of a capital campaign that benefit the campaign and long-term alumni engagement.
“The newsletters that Pennington produced were top-notch, professional, and full of great content,” says Reel.
But one of the most important benefits of going with Pennington’s team of professionals was the credibility that they carried.
“From the get-go, we had two major donors commit to the campaign. They had been approached during our previous campaign but said no. I absolutely believe that the credibility the Pennington team brought to our campaign moved the needle there.”
These cumulative benefits have resulted, thus far, in a capital campaign that has generated over $5.5 million in donations, 225 donors, 114 personal solicitations between volunteers and the Pennington team, and 10 commitments of over $100,000.
To say the campaign has been an astounding success would be an understatement.
As they say in sports, the scoreboard doesn’t lie. Professionals like the experts at Pennington do make a difference. How much of a difference? About $5.2 million.