Launching a Successful First Capital Campaign: A Rural Economic Development Case Study

How does a rural community Economic Development Organization (EDO), which has never run a capital campaign in the past, launch a major fundraising initiative? How does this EDO generate full buy-in from a business community that had never been presented with an “ask” of this nature? These are just some of the obstacles Convergent helped one rural EDO overcome…

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The Situation

Phelps County, Nebraska, a rural agricultural region located close to Interstate 80, is known for fantastic quality of life and for offering significant advantages to businesses looking for a convenient location and a qualified workforce.

Despite its many positive attributes, the region has historically dealt with “brain drain,” especially among many of the county’s young adults. To combat this, the Phelps County Development Corporation (PCDC), the county’s primary economic development engine, had a series of ideas to keep younger workers and families in the region and to recruit more well-paid manufacturing jobs.

“Phelps County is a wonderful place to live and work,” said Monica Boyken, Executive Director, PCDC. “Not surprisingly for a rural community, many young workers choose to leave for larger, more urban environments at some point. However, we find that many families realize what they are missing and eventually express a desire to move back. Our goal is to make moving back—or staying in the first place—a more attractive option by creating even more high paying and stable jobs.”

PCDC had never run a capital campaign in the past, but its leadership decided that a major focus on fundraising was necessary to promote economic development in the region. Most notably, PCDC set out to tackle two large undertakings: secure a large tract of land to encourage businesses to locate in the region and implement a scholarship program to encourage young workers to stay home after graduation.

With these goals in mind, PCDC engaged Convergent to implement its first ever capital campaign.

Project Goals

  • Total campaign commitments of $1,000,000
  • Educate the board of directors about the need for a capital campaign and the need to engage professional fundraising consultants
  • Generate buy-in from a business community that had never been presented with a campaign of this nature

The Convergent Approach

One of Convergent’s main differentiators is our ability to manage an entire campaign start to finish, from conducting a feasibility study and gaining a full understanding of our clients’ marketplace, to setting the campaign goal and ultimately, to making the “ask.”

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Money raised during the capital campaign allowed PCDC to offer scholarships to individuals so they could receive the training needed to secure local, high-­demand jobs.

Part of this approach includes having a full-time Convergent consultant living and working in the community during the campaign. In the case of Phelps County, Convergent immediately understood how important this would be.

The feasibility study, which included interviewing several key regional business leaders—and genuinely soliciting their input—led to Convergent’s realization that educating potential investors would be critical to the success of the campaign. The absolute need for job creation and talent retention was pointed to as a key to the future viability of the region.

While PCDC had never run a capital campaign in the past, this approach proved to be extremely effective in a business community that understood the need to act aggressively. Nearly two-thirds of the prospects receiving a formal presentation pledged.

Results

  • Total campaign commitments of $1,349,400
  • PCDC was able to purchase 134 acres of land to attract business and industry
  • PCDC implemented a scholarship program to encourage individuals to remain in Phelps County; to date, 13 scholarships have been awarded

Client Feedback

Monica Boyken, Executive Director, PCDC

As a result of the success of this campaign, every decision we make as an organization is made with confidence due to our budgetary stability, rather than speculation. The campaign set us up for years to come.”

Our Convergent consultant was able to insert himself into our unique community in a way that I’ve never seen before. Taking the time to really understand our region—especially our business community—paid obvious dividends.”

Convergent’s approach was professional and sophisticated. The ROI message was extremely well-received and has stood the test of time. Our retention rate for multi-year pledges has been amazing.”

Related Works

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