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 second episode in the series features Kate Roosevelt speaking with Betsy Troutman, Director of Development at KEXP 90.3 FM. Catch up on last week’s episode with Michelle McDaniel of FareStart, and look out for a new podcast each Tuesday at 7am CT.
Listen to the full podcast or read the abbreviated transcript below:
Kate Roosevelt: I’d like to welcome my guest, one of the heroes of KEXP’s campaign to build its new home at Seattle Center which opened in April of 2016.
Today we’ll be discussing what you and your team have learned from your campaign process over that 3.5-year period. When you look back on KEXP’s New Home Campaign, what would you say is the campaign’s lasting impact in the community, and what are you most proud of?
Betsy Troutman: That building still gives me goosebumps every time I walk through it. I am a lifelong music fan, I have been a fan of KEXP and its predecessor KCMU since I moved to Seattle 20 years ago, so working on this campaign for me was a passion project.
And when I first heard the vision for creating a home for music at Seattle Center, particularly contemporary music, I was just blown away. Not only creating a space where the KEXP community could have a physical space to be, and the fact that we would have a bigger commitment to our artists and supporting artists.
Having a bigger commitment to education and really having that space where people can gather. It’s full of people, people that are working, and people that are just listening to the radio, and moms with their babies, and there’s a record store, and a coffee shop, and it’s just a really great community hub for all things.
Kate: We talk a lot, in the world of campaigns, about delivering on the campaign’s promise, and I would say that KEXP has exceeded everyone’s wildest imaginations on what was possible.
I know that it was not all sunshine and roses, as is the case in most campaigns. Could you talk about a particularly challenging moment in the campaign and the lesson learned?
Betsy: KEXP is a really scrappy organization. And for various reasons, we were on a very compressed timeline. Although we had a great history throughout typical annual giving and on-air drives, we didn’t have a very extensive history of major gifts or a very cultivated pipeline of major giving.
Because we were losing our lease and getting kicked out of our building, it took a plan which originally, I believe, was a three-year plan, and because we just had to do it in two years, we were like “okay, let’s just get it done.”
So there were some assumptions in that first year of the campaign that didn’t quite pan out, and we needed to re-calibrate which led to what we called “the year of 6 million.” This was the second year of the campaign after we had asked our very generous Board for gifts as well as the folks that were closest to us.
We were at about $6 million at the beginning for 2014, and we didn’t get much further very quickly. We took a step back and really analyzed, what is it that KEXP does really well? How can we utilize not only development staff but also programming staff to play to our strengths?
The programming staff came together, the annual giving team really stepped up, and we created a program called ASK which was “Artists Support KEXP.” And so we did anything from big events to “hey, we have some bands, they want to come together and play Tom Petty covers.”
It really galvanized our community, and people could participate in any way that they could. That ultimately raised about $500,000 or $600,000. We also found that the tile campaign was great. And then we did our drive.
Kate: Again, playing to your strengths—you know you can connect with people on-air.
Betsy: Absolutely, and again, it was something very tangible. We did the drive around raising enough money to build out the live room. And that did not come without some reservation because, while the campaign was going on, we still needed to raise money for our operations.
And there was some concern that that would reduce money that we were raising for operations overall. Which I don’t think was the case.
Kate: I’d love to give you the opportunity to pinpoint a few other best practices that you used during the campaign.
Betsy: I think we demonstrated sound business planning because our donors are very data-driven. People were worried that we were going to build this big palace and then not be able to afford to live there.
Ultimately, the one that I think was really the most to our advantage was engaging passionate volunteers who will become the campaign’s heroes. We had a really, really passionate campaign advisory committee who could really speak to why they personally were supporting KEXP.
And that was the first time that we really had other people besides staff and programming staff out there making the case for us, and I think that was one of the key successes of the campaign.
Kate: Well, let’s talk a little about best practice number 10, “stay the course.”
I know that you did encounter a number of challenges along the way, yet you stayed on course. There was staff turnover, there was certainly really important and deep discussions at the Board level, particularly in that “year of 6 million” that you referred to about “can we really get to this goal?”
You had an interesting experience with the state legislature which perhaps you can talk about. So talk a little bit about how KEXP did stay the course to get into the new home.
Betsy: I think it also goes back to what I was saying prior about the “year of 6 million” and the ability to stop doing something and shift gears to the things you’re really good at and that you have the skills for in-house.
I think that shift to public giving, while it was a big lift for our team to do it that way, was absolutely necessary, and it really engaged people outside of the development team so that other people felt ownership of the process and the outcome.
Also, among that, the original plan, I think, called for about 100 major gifts. During that “year of 6 million,” we also realized that we were going to come in closer to 250 major gifts. And we did not have enough time or personnel to meet with enough people in order to make that many asks.
So we added personnel specifically for that $10,000 and above level. That really exploded, and the back of that campaign was really on that $10,000 level. I think ultimately we thought we were going to have 50 gifts at that level and we had 160, 170. That was just unbelievable.
Finding a way to focus on the good work and celebrating just a visit whether or not there was revenue coming from it was a challenge because we knew we had these goals.
But as a development officer, you have to feel really good about those conversations. And educating the board who was starting to get nervous that it was okay that the money itself wasn’t coming in but…
Kate: The relationships were getting built, and you have to trust in the process.
Betsy: Right. To be fair, many of our lead gifts were always planned for the end.
But then the BFA, the political situation you were referring to. Building for the Arts is a statewide funding mechanism from the state legislature for arts capital campaigns in Washington and, because it’s on a legislative cycle, it’s only every two years.
And our cycle was coming in 2015 and it was a $2 million gift which was a big chunk of our goal, and there was no way around that. We were number two in priority on the list and then at the very last minute, our organization was pulled off the list. And while that could’ve been a very devastating thing for the campaign, it enabled us to mobilize our base.
And boy, did we mobilize our base. People pulled off the road to make calls to the legislature. We had legislative aides eventually calling us, saying, “okay, we’ve got it, call off the dogs.” Because people are so passionate, it was just amazing to watch. Ultimately we got put back on the priority list—and got $1.8 million from that.
Kate: Passionate listeners.
Betsy: We are driven by passion. And as a board member just said the other day, “magic things happen at KEXP.”