4.5 Raising Funds for an Unspecified Property

Hi, Kim,

Do you have any strategies for how to structure a fundraising campaign for a new property if the property hasn’t been identified?  Particularly how to “sell” major donors on the vision if you don’t know exactly what it will look like or where it will be?   Or perhaps approaches for requesting planning monies to launch a capital effort?

We are a small museum and have been looking for a new facility for years with no luck.  We have even been on a few properties but not gotten them. We have increased urgency today because the building where we rent was recently sold. We have about 3 years before we will be out of a home. Our board is motivated, but donors keep saying, let us know when you have something firm… and you know it’s hard to have something firm without money.)

~Circle of Need

Dear Circle:

Yours is a much more common dilemma than you might think.  What you have to focus on, and get your prospective donors to focus on, is that you actually have everything in place except the PLACE.  You know how much space you need, you know how you will use the space, you know how to run a museum because you have been running one for some years.  You seem to know how much you are prepared to pay since you have bid on other properties.  You may even have (or want to get) some kind of architect’s rendering of the ideal new space so you have a visual to share with donors.  You are actually in quite a firm position and need to lead with that.   

What you must do is go to your most loyal donors and say something like this, “We have to raise $X to be able to move quickly when the appropriate space becomes available.  Would you consider giving us $Y toward that goal when we find the property that works?”   If the donor says, “Yes, I will help you with $Y when you have a property,” then you explain that you need to have the money in hand or very close by to be able to be seen as a viable bidder.  Ask the donor if they would consider giving you the money now to be held in an account for the property (in other words, you could not use it for anything else.)  If yes, that’s great.  Ask donors who  hesitate to transfer the funds before you have an actual address if they would be willing to sign a legally binding pledge that they will give you the money when you have zeroed in on a property.  Until then, they keep the money.   

I have done several capital campaigns with a number of pledges ready to be paid when we found the right location.  When a donor doesn’t want to sign a pledge even as they seem to support the capital campaign, you need to explore what else is going on, which may be unrelated to the capital campaign.

Focus on what you do have in place and go to donors who will be pleased with that. 

Good luck!

~Kim Klein