What Might One Massive Capital Campaign Do to Local Fundraising?

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April 10, 2014;Portland Tribune

On its website, the Knight Cancer Challenge writes, “Dr. Brian Druker (of the Oregon Health and Science University) proved it was possible to kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed,” but can a challenge grant to OHSU of unprecedented size be given without harming the network of organizations in the area? There has been a good deal of discussion recently about the unintended consequences of mega-philanthropy, but this one has a bit of a different twist and bears watching.

The Oregon and Southwest Washington chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals met last Friday and spent some time talking about what a $500 million challenge from Nike’s Phil Knight to Oregon Health and Science University might do to their own prospects. Because, of course, the challenge means that another half-billion has to be raised elsewhere, and as we know, big gifts tend to come from local givers.

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The challenge is, according to this article, the largest of its kind in U.S. history. More than $86 million has already been pledged, but that means that another $414 million must be garnered from local donors. A number of Friday’s attendees are worried about what this will mean for other nonprofit campaigns because even though new donors may be identified in the OHSU campaign, they will likely not be shared around.

NPQ is interested in any research or observations readers have in this kind of situation.—Ruth McCambridge

  • Lorna Visser

    Interesting conundrum. On the one hand, you have to salute a funder with this degree of vision and commitment. On the other hand, if the funds will be provided only after a match that plunders the local donor pool and hurts other groups, then perhaps it’s time to go back to the the funder to do some ‘splainin’ about how this could hurt the other worthy social-benefit groups in the local area.

    Another thought: given such a huge challenge, some of the match onus should be on the funder to use his/her network to help: Warren Buffet challenging Bill and Melinda Gates, that sort of thing. A lot of times these mega-funder types are sincere but don’t understand that the local charitable community is like an ecosystem. We need to speak courageously to these folks about what will REALLY help the most and not go along helplessly with what the funder may naively think is best.

    Lorna Visser, Principal, Carmanah Strategies

  • Keith Kerber

    This brief leaves out several important pieces of information that savvy donor’s and fundraisers should be asking:
    1) How long is the matching challenge good for? According to OHSU website: 2 years
    2) If the $500M in charitable giving is not reached in 2 years will Mr. Knight still match what is given? The OHSU website states Mr Knight “…pledged to donate $500 million to support this ambitious plan – if we can raise an additional $500 million…” To me this implies an “all or nothing” bet. If donor is motivated primarily by the match then that leaves a big question mark.
    3)The OSHU website intimates and a Portland Biz Journal article (1/23/14) states that $200M in municipal bonds designated for building cancer research facilities counts toward the $500M challenge. Bonds are not charitable giving. And what a coup for the university ….bonds passed to build buildings on their campus inspite of whether the balance needed comes through and Mr. Knight makes good.
    A solidly thought out capital campaign usually requires a planning and “ramp up’ period (commonly referred to as a ‘quiet phase) during which the fundraising organization thoroughly analyzes the community to determine whether the target is reasonable and if there are sufficient funders (both individuals and foundations) to reach the target. There is no indication that this has been done.
    The AFP professionals also might consider that donor fatigue may not just be in terms of dollars but that local donors to other organizations might respond with a sense that OHSU has more than it needs so I will give more to my favorite causes. If anything, we know that donors are motivated by a myriad of factors the biggest of which is belief in the mission or cause. Therefore, let this OHSU/Knight Challenge motivate all fundraisers and organizations to sharpen their own messaging and step up their game to reach the prospects who 1) aren’t that interesed in university cancer research facilities and 2) aren’t motivated by a match.