Fundraising is challenging enough, but it’s even more difficult during an economic recession. So how have Doug Armstrong and his team raised more than $11 million since 2007 to renovate a camp in Pinckney for seriously ill children?
It’s all about crafting the right message.
“It wasn’t easy, especially when we raised $1,200 in the first year, $25,000 in 2008, and $25,000 in 2009,” says Armstrong, CEO and executive director of North Star Reach, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. “Potential donors were interested, but they said, ‘Come back when you’re further along.’ It’s the old Catch-22; no one wanted to make the lead gift because they were concerned the project wouldn’t happen.”
To get past the apprehension, Armstrong changed his pitch in 2010. In addition to touting the fact that the organization had raised $51,200, he worked with the University of Michigan Health System to attach a value to land it had donated. The school also provided an initial planning staff, produced design services, and tore down some outdated buildings that had previously housed a summer camp.
“The U-M gift was valued at $4.1 million, which really changed our message and provided us with the wind behind our sails,” Armstrong says. “I can tell you our potential donors were more impressed.”
Armed with the new message, North Star raised $300,000 in 2010. Last year, another $700,000 was donated. And so far in 2012, $5.5 million has been received, including a $5 million gift from the Ted and Jane Von Voigtlander Foundation. (The late Ted Von Voigtlander was co-owner of Discount Tire Co.)
The new camp, which will have room for 120 children, is on pace to open in 2014. The facility will include medical equipment, a gymnasium and theater, a nature center, a fishing pier, and numerous other amenities.
“So often, seriously ill children go to one of three places — home, school, or the hospital,” Armstrong says. “It’s incredibly disruptive. The camp will give the children a sense of normalcy. They’ll be just like all the other kids that attend camp.” db b— R.J. King