In the fall of 2017, our team members Aggie Sweeney and Kate Roosevelt co-authored a list of 10 campaign best practices. These time-tested recommendations represent the wisdom of four decades of service to the Northwest region.
Since then, we’ve recorded a series of six podcasts with leaders from Northwest organizations that exemplified these best practices in their current or recent breakthrough campaigns. Each conversation reveals successes, pain points, and practical advice.
Our first podcast in the series features Aggie Sweeney speaking with Michelle McDaniel, Chief Development Officer of FareStart. Look out for a new episode each Tuesday at 7am CT.
(Note: Megan Karch stepped down as CEO of FareStart in February. She had not yet made the transition at the time of taping.)
Listen to the full podcast or read the abbreviated transcript below:
Aggie Sweeney: Michelle is currently providing leadership for FareStart Rising Higher Campaign, which is very successful and will be continuing for another year.
We’re here today to talk about not only that campaign, but some of the previous campaigns that FareStart has had. Michelle, can you give us a quick overview of your organization?
Michelle McDaniel: FareStart is 25 years old this year, and we focus on doing culinary job training and placement for adults and youth who have barriers to employment.
We provide wraparound services for our students because we understand that the reason that people don’t get and keep jobs is not because they don’t know a skill. It’s really the other barriers and issues they’re dealing with.
We also have a program we call Catalyst Kitchens, where we take the FareStart model, and we help other communities around the United States develop programs based on our model.
Aggie: And our firm has just been honored to have partnered with FareStart not only in the current campaign, but previously too. Our first consulting engagement was about 15 years ago—the campaign planning study for the Futures Rising Campaign and now we’re in the Rising Higher Campaign.
Michelle: Truly, I think we consider you all kind of honorary FareStart staff on the development team. The Future Rising Campaign is really significant because that promise to the community was “help us purchase and renovate a building in Seattle that will allow us to double the amount of people that we are serving.”
For the organization at that time—a pretty small organization—that was a big undertaking and we were quite successful with your support.
Aggie: Why don’t you tell us, Michelle, about your partnership with Amazon and how it relates to the new apprenticeship program and the current campaign?
Michelle: We’ve been in communication with Amazon for a number of years as they’ve been building their campus literally around our main headquarters.
We certainly have a lot of Amazon employees and senior leadership who have come to dine in our restaurants. 50 percent of our revenue for FareStart comes from our food service businesses, 40 percent from philanthropy—and those food service businesses are on-the-job training for our students.
We got to the point where a gentleman named John Schoettler approached us. He is head of global real estate at Amazon and a regular diner in our restaurant and said “As we are building our campus out, we have the opportunity to have five food service businesses in one of our new high rises.”
The other part of what John said was “we wouldn’t charge you rent, we would do the buildout, and we would also covering many of your other operating costs.” So that’s what made it a viable opportunity.
Anytime we grow our social enterprise businesses, we always have to make sure that it moves our mission forward. It needs to be something that gives either new training opportunities or expanded training opportunities.
What we found with our graduates is that they’re not generally able to move up very far and they essentially become “working poor.” This gave us the opportunity to develop a whole new program that was focused on skilling up people who were already working in food service.
And that’s really where we started to come up with the idea that “I think there’s a fundraising campaign in here.”
Aggie: You mentioned, Michelle, that 40 percent of FareStart’s operating budget is contribution. That’s much higher than for many human services organizations. What does that work out to be annually now?
Michelle: Now, we’re at $5 million annually.
With this expansion, we’ve gone from about a $12.5 million operating budget to the budget we’re finishing now for 2018 is about $21 million. So, huge velocity of growth in a short period of time. But with that of course, is more need for private philanthropy.
Aggie: 10 to 15 years ago, as FareStart was preparing to own its first building, you weren’t nearly as well-known at that time. Can you share with us how you feel the leadership and the visibility of your organization has impacted your fundraising success?
Michelle: When you have not only stable leadership, but very well respected leadership as we have with CEO Megan Karch—17 years that she’s been at the helm. As far as senior leadership on our board, we have great stability there as well.
The other component is we have a very strong culture at FareStart and part of that culture is the mindset that “good enough is not good enough,” and we are leaning out in the community around the issues of poverty and homelessness.
That’s important when you have a CEO that’s out there, literally being part of not just the nonprofit community, but the for-profit community. It’s important that you have leadership that can make those connections and build those relationships.
And then also a leader that can speak with passion about what our organization is about and continue to steward the existing donors that we have. Through our Futures Rising Campaign with the building, we acquired a lot of new friends to FareStart that are loyal donors to this very day.
Aggie: Your current campaign, as well as the first one, really positioned FareStart for additional growth. How do you see the current Rising Higher campaign capitalizing on your organization’s desire for long-term growth and increasing your community impact?
Michelle: Well, we have our more short-term goal of this campaign which is a $6.5 million campaign. We’re wrapping up year one at 73 percent to our goal, so it’s going extremely well, but I’m thinking out three or four years ahead.
Now that we’re entering year two, I’m really focused on acquisition. And also, not just acquisition, but we have a new demographic that’s really emerging in this town—young professionals and folks who are coming from other areas.
We’re thinking about their first on-ramp to get involved with FareStart. How do we make a connection from someone being a diner to a donor and then have them continue to give? How do we on-ramp folks as volunteers and then have those folks as loyal donors at some point as well?
We are learning as fast as we can that a four-paragraph appeal letter is not going to be effective with this younger population. A lot of the younger demographic learn, get their news, are influenced, share information through a screen. So how can we be part of that media for them? We’re thinking a lot about 30-second videos rather than written documents.
One of the things we’re doing is asking those populations that we are targeting for acquisition, “what works for you?” We’re doing little focus groups with some of the folks that live and work in the Downtown and South Lake Union area.
Aggie: What advice do you have for development leaders that are considering getting ready for a major campaign?
Michelle: One: be very clear about what your focus is. We were very clear that our campaign is about providing the opportunity for low wage workers to be able to skill up for a living wage job.
Next, make sure you have strong leadership for your campaign—and that includes buy-in from your entire Board. I’m very lucky to have the same Board member, Bill Adamucci, who chaired our campaign to buy the building a number of years ago. He has signed on to chair this campaign.
As the Chief Development Officer, having leadership from not only Bill as the chair, but knowing that our entire Board is behind this is incredibly important.
Aggie: Anything that I haven’t asked you that you want to add?
Michelle: It’s too much to take on as a staff to think that you’re going to be able to develop a campaign. I think it’s really wise to invest in experienced counsel—and it’s particularly helpful that you have such a long history with FareStart.
Make sure that you are investing resources and not trying to do something on a shoestring. Someone who can see more objectively than you as an inside staff person but can bring a wealth of knowledge from other campaigns.