AUG. 7, 2017 - VOL. 53 No. 11

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Investing in community
Community Appeals process helps direct fundraising

By Jennie Doyen
the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce

In every corner of our city, you can find evidence of the impact of the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Community Appeals program. On the north side of town, Special Olympics of South Dakota makes its home in a large red and white building that is the result of a successful 2014 Community Appeals campaign. Head east and you'll find Great Bear Recreation Area and the Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum, two nature areas that were preserved and improved in part due to investments from local businesses via Community Appeals. And right in the heart of the city, the DakotAbilities Longfellow Center showcases what can happen when a community comes together to repurpose a historic school building.

Community Appeals serves as a trusted guide for local businesses considering investments in community agencies. The purpose of the program is to qualify and provide for orderly scheduling of capital fund drives for non-profit organizations and accredited, non-profit post-secondary institutions. Since the program began in 1953, more than $60 million has been contributed to capital projects.

The process begins when organizations submit an application for a capital fund drive. A committee of roughly 30 volunteers representing local businesses reviews all the applications, and then invites each applicant to give a presentation on their request. The committee votes on and schedules campaigns based on the community's needs and capacity to support the projects. There are typically two campaigns per calendar year and campaigns are never scheduled during the months that the Sioux Empire United Way conducts their campaign nor during the Forward Sioux Falls campaign, which occurs every five years. Approved campaigns are scheduled 2-3 years in advance.

Community Appeals campaigns have been running for more than 60 years and many facilities in Sioux Falls are a direct result of those campaigns. Great Bear Recreation Park general manager Dan Grider credits their Community Appeals campaign with kickstarting growth and development of the park.

In the mid 1990s Great Bear's board of directors developed a master plan to improve the entire 220 acres of the park. This included expanding the chalet, adding a beginner area, new runs on the south side, a tubing hill and a 6 kilometer nature trail. Grider said, "The idea was to grow Great Bear from a seasonal park to a park for all seasons."

Financing those capital improvements through admission and rental fees would have been extremely difficult. Instead, they applied and were scheduled for a Community Appeals campaign in 1997.

"Community Appeals was the only credible way that Great Bear could reach out to the Sioux Falls community to help in developing the master plan," said Grider. "The Great Bear expansion committee, along with campaign manager Andy Cole, were able to convince over 400 companies and individuals that Great Bear Recreation Park is an asset to the community and the quality of life that it adds to our diverse community was worthy of the investment."

The "Greater Bear" campaign raised over $1.2 million for the project. Today, area residents are able to enjoy outdoor recreation year-round at Great Bear.

Preparation is crucial to success

Capital campaigns, by their very nature, require a lot of visioning from an organization's leadership. The long-range planning necessary to facilitate a successful campaign means that a non-profit must be looking about five years into the future. DakotAbilities, for example, began looking for ways to alleviate overcrowding at their Duluth Avenue facility in 2011. They conducted their Community Appeals campaign in 2015 and moved into their new facility in March 2016.

DakotAbilities CEO Robert Bohm stated, "When it was time to review our plans with the Community Appeals committee we had been actively working on our plan, financial needs and the overall strategy to reach our fundraising goals for more than 18 months."

It is natural for an agency to see a need and feel a sense of urgency, but the Community Appeals program works best for those who take the time to carefully plan. Bohm said, "A good plan is the road map to the success of the project because whatever bumps occur along the way – and there will be bumps – they won't be devastating to the project because many options will have been considered in the planning process."

A solid process builds trust

The Community Appeals committee has a responsibility to assure Chamber members and potential donors that a campaign approved solicitation is worthy of funding consideration. Organizational factors considered by the Community Appeals committee include the leadership and stakeholders in the project, financial projections and whether or not a feasibility study has been completed. The committee also weighs the project's economic impact, the degree to which the need exists in the community and quality of life factors.

Approved Community Appeals campaigns always include a specific fundraising goal. This reflects the final piece considered by the committee during the review process, and that is the estimated amount of funds available within the business community for philanthropic donations. An organization might begin the application process requesting a higher dollar goal than they are ultimately approved for.

Julie Choudek, The First National Bank in Sioux Falls, has been a member of the Community Appeals committee since 2008 and currently serves as committee chair. She believes that the careful thought and examination that committee members contribute to the process is part of what makes it successful. "The leaders on this committee are diligent about listening, asking questions, reviewing details and ultimately considering the big picture needs in our community," Choudek said.

Organizations that are scheduled for Community Appeals benefit from the reputation of the process itself. Wendy Bergan, JDS Industries, is a member of the Chamber's Board of Directors and serves as the board liaison to the Community Appeals committee. Having previously worked for the YMCA, she has also experienced the Community Appeals process from the applicant side.

"A Chamber-approved Community Appeals campaign is so compelling, that it really makes organizations think twice before embarking on a major fundraising effort on their own," Bergan said. She compares it to the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. "It's not an endorsement, but you do have the approval of the Chamber to go talk to businesses. It is still your responsibility to tell your story and make your case to each business as to why they should support you."

There is no doubt that the business community values the work done by the Community Appeals committee. Many businesses include a Community Appeals line item in their budget for future years. And by designating dollars for Community Appeals, that business might end up donating to an agency with whom they were previously unfamiliar.

Bohm acknowledged that the Community Appeals campaign broadened the scope of corporate support for DakotAbilities. "We were able to not only target existing donors but many who may have not previously been part of our fundraising efforts," said Bohm. "The Chamber involvement lent added credibility to the project and the Community Appeals approval opened doors which may not have been available if we had attempted to accomplish the fundraising without that level of support."

The trust that the business community has in the vetting process used by the committee is inherent to the success of the program. Choudek notes that the work can be challenging because there may be several very strong applicants and typically not all can be approved for a campaign. "There is a lot of thoughtful discussion and I believe the committee truly makes decisions based on what makes the most sense for our community as a whole."

Ultimately, the Community Appeals program is designed to benefit everyone – businesses, the non-profit organizations, and the community as whole. Businesses can be confident that an approved campaign has been thoroughly vetted; organizations find that approval can help open doors and mobilize volunteers; and the community as a whole benefits from the investments that business make in projects that improve our city and region.

Bohm summed it up this way: "The process, discussion and ultimately the endorsement of the Community Appeals committee and the Chamber was invaluable – in many respects the level of success in our project to rehab the old Longfellow Elementary School would not have taken place without it."

Preparation is crucial to success

The Community Appeals program has been in place for more than 60 years; specific records about the projects have been kept since 1973. In some cases, the impact of those early campaigns is still present in our community today. Long-time Chamber employee and Community Appeals committee coordinator Betty Ordal said, "The best thing about Community Appeals is seeing the results of a campaign. Seeing a building going up, or a project come to life. Community Appeals really does have an incredible impact."

1973  Senior Citizens Center 1997  North American Baptist Seminary; Great Bear Recreation Area, Inc.
1974  Sioux Falls College 1998  Sioux Falls Community Playhouse; Union Gospel Mission
1975-76  YMCA 1998-99  American Red Cross
1977  Senior Citizens Center 1999  Sioux Falls Area Humane Society
1978  Augustana College 2000  Habitat for Humanity
1978-79  Boy Scouts 2000-01  Turning Point (Volunteers of America, Dakotas)
1979  Chamber of Commerce 2001  Augustana College
1980  No drive held 2001-02  YWCA of Sioux Falls
1981  Sioux Falls Community Playhouse 2002  University of Sioux Falls
1981-82  Volunteers of America 2003  Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation Endowment Fund Drive; Children's Inn
1982  North American Baptist Seminary; Girls Club of Sioux Falls 2004  YMCA
1983  Sioux Falls College 2005  Lutheran Social Services
1984  Boys Club 2006  Boy Scouts of America Sioux Council
1985  YMCA 2007  University of Sioux Falls
1986  Minnehaha Ice/Welcome House/Girl Scouts (combined drives); Food Service Center 2008  O'Gorman Performing Arts Center
1987  Sioux Vocational School 2009  Wegner Arboretum Society, Inc.; South Dakota Lions Eye Bank, Inc.
1988  United Cerebral Palsy of South Dakota and Southeastern Mental Health Center (combined drive); Volunteers of America 2010  Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History
1989  Children's Inn 2011  Sioux Falls State Theatre
1990  YWCA 2012  Children's Home Society of South Dakota; Volunteers of America, Dakotas
1991  Threshold 2013  Ice Sports Association; Sioux Falls Tennis Association
1992  Children's Home Society; Youth Enrichment Services 2014  Habitat for Humanity; Special Olympics South Dakota
1993  Kilian Community College 2015  Feeding South Dakota; DakotAbilities
1994  Sioux Empire Arts Council (Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science) 2016  Forward Sioux Falls; Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota
1995  Augustana College 2017  Friends of Levitt Shell Sioux Falls
1996  Center for Active Generations; University of Sioux Falls

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