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January 9, 2013

Of Money, Magic and Motivation

When I asked Susan Levy and Blair Young how they raised more than a million dollars for Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center, they said, “it was magic.”  Of course they were kidding.  The truth is, they worked their buns off.

Campaigns are hard work.  And they tend to fall on the shoulders of a very few people.

Even with a good campaign chair and steering committee in place, the executive director and development director bear much of the burden for keeping things moving through the ups and downs of a campaign.

In the case of Women’s Health, the challenge of a campaign was compounded by a fledging development program. The organization had never held any kind of major donor campaign.  Indeed, when Susan started as executive director 11 years ago, there wasn’t even a donor database.

Yet, everyone at Women’s Health felt they had no choice but to get the organization ready for a sustainable future in new healthcare landscape.

This is where a little magic did come in.  The sheer motivation of the team made the campaign possible. 

“It was so clear that this was the right thing for us to do,” says Susan, Women’s Health Executive Director.  “We had a strong strategic plan, a clear vision and a well-defined project.”

“The campaign fit right in with our effort to bring the infrastructure and facilities up to the same high level of care that we provide here,” says Blair, former Development Director.  “We felt ready and eager to present a more professional face to the community, including in our fundraising.”

The way Women’s Health achieved its campaign goal was fairly traditional.  They approached the lead donors first, secured important naming gifts, looked to a mix of individuals, corporations, foundations and government sources, and engaged a pool of dedicated and loyal volunteers.

What stands out as a key element of their success is the concept not only of teamwork but teamcare

Susan says, “There were times when the last thing I wanted to do was pick up the phone and make yet another campaign call.  Especially when the recession hit.  When you’re working so hard to raise the money, it’s difficult not to take it personally when someone doesn’t give as much as you’d hoped.”

To stay focused, Blair and Susan provided each other with a candid sounding board.  “It’s important to be honest about how you’re feeling.  Honest with each other.  We had to help each other decide when to take a break from asking, when to ease up on a donor, and when to push.”

They, and the entire Women’s Health team, celebrated small wins as well as large.

In Susan’s office is the “Wall of Motivation,” a testament to the vigor with which the team stood behind her and helped push her across the finish line.  There are handwritten notes, a clumsily drawn thermometer, and even a photo of Ryan Gosling with the caption, “Hey girl, it’s time to bring the capital campaign home ‘cause I’ve got two tickets to paradise just for us.”

Every campaign has a unique personality that characterizes it when we look back on it.  In the case of Women’s Health, that personality is one of valuing not only the clients and the donors, but also the staff. 

Today, on the verge of its 40th anniversary, Women’s Health has a sophisticated donor development program, is a debt-free organization ready to face whatever the future brings, has a broader and deeper reach into the community, and the facilities and technology to meet its clients needs.

OK, I guess that could be called magic after all!


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