Chanute, Kansas

Chanute Depot Restoration Project:
If At First You Don’t Succeed…

It didn’t happen by accident or luck. To raise $2 million in a town the size of Chanute, Kansas (population: 9,500 persons) took hard work, advanced planning and professional fundraising advice. The fact that we could do it at all surprised most of our citizens. The fact that it was accomplished in less than two years, from the announcement of the project in mid-April 1990, to the final pledge, which put us over the top in January 1992, gave us immense satisfaction.

We did have a head start with a pledge from local businessman Larry Hudson, whose family foundation committed $500,000 to get the Chanute Depot Restoration Project started. Originally, our goal was $1.5 million to restore the old Santa Fe Depot into new homes for The Chanute Public Library and the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum.

Mike Mitchell, president of Nu-Way Industries, a manufacturer of recreational vehicles and campers, was approached to head the campaign. Mitchell is a born leader and a prominent young businessman with a vision for Chanute. When Mitchell agreed to come onboard our steering committee as campaign chairman in late July 1990, he and Hudson decided on an aggressive approach to fundraising. They recommended pushing the goal to $1.75 million. Hudson, caught up in the enthusiasm of the effort, eventually agreed to match all funds between the original goal of $1.5 million and the new goal of $1.75 million, making the final goal $2 million.

A steering committee was formed with seven persons, three each selected by the library and museum and one representative from the city (as the depot was owned by the city). Robert F. Kinetic and Associates, a fundraising/philanthropic management consulting firm based in Wichita, Kansas, had been meeting with the library board on an earlier project and was brought in as our campaign consultant in early July 1990. Kinetic named Beth Fager (currently serving as director of development for Brewster Place in Topeka, Kansas) as his on-site counsel.

Case Statement and Campaign Plan

Immediately, the committee began the task of writing a campaign plan and case statement, which, in addition to plans for the renovation of the depot for a library and museum, now incorporated the history of the Santa Fe Railroad Company – for the railroad played an important role in the early life of Chanute.

Historians for these three entities were then asked to submit histories, provide descriptions of their needs, show how their needs would be met through the restoration project and demonstrate the economic advantages to Chanute.

Next, we planned a timetable, established how much money we needed to raise, determined where it would come from and what kinds of gifts we would accept. Concurrently, we designed a public relations plan to support our fundraising.

Refining a “final” case statement and campaign plan to which everyone (all the strong-minded leadership on the various boards and staffs of the library and museum) could agree, was no easy task. However, goodwill and determination prevailed, and by our first meeting in September 1990, all campaign documents were finalized and approved.

Prospect Research

Next, we began identifying prospective donors. Each of the committee members submitted as many names as possible, with many duplicates ending up on the cutting-room floor. As we continued the arduous process over several months, the list was refined to include 300 potential donors. We followed Kinetic’s “rule of thumb”: Three names for each gift sought. And, we allowed ourselves a few shortcuts. We didn’t do the traditional research on prospects, determining their interests, how they spend their money, etc. In a small town the size of Chanute, everyone knows everyone. We already knew all that information!
Initially, our timetable was short for a project of this size: just a year from the announcement (or eight months from the initial solicitations). April 1991, was the projected date for letting the contracts. We had our prospects, we were developing a visual presentation to nurture interest in our project – all that was left, before we could finally push into first gear, was for us “to step up and pat the pony.” Before we could ask for money, we had to put our own money on the line.

Chart of Giving

To precede our solicitations, we then put together a campaign prospectus, which we personally delivered to prospective donors.

The first contacts were made in October 1990, with each member of the Steering Committee selecting a number of the prospects to call upon. Our campaign chart of giving identified our needs as follows:

Gift Number Size of Gifts Total Gifts
1(gift of) $500,000 $500,000
1 200,000 700,000
3 100,000 1,000,000
6 50,000 1,300,000
8 25,000 1,500,000
0 10,000 1,600,000
0 5,000 1,700,000
5 1,000 1,735,000
Other Many $1,750,000

Remember, we had a $250,000 challenge gift if we made $1.75 million to reach $2 million.We were advised that if we raised money in this sequence, we would successfully complete 99 percent of our goal.

Major Gifts Campaign

When raising funds, generally you get most of the support from very few donors and less support from a great many donors.
We had 18 contributors of $25,000 or more, which made up about 87 percent of the total, of $1.74 million. Of the top 18 contributors, seven were individuals or families, seven were local businesses and four were national or regional corporations and foundations. Of the 99 other contributions, those between $1,000 and $20,000, 73 were from individuals, 24 from local businesses and two from local organizations. Individual or team solicitations were made for requests of $25,000 and more.

Public Campaign

With the major solicitations nearly completed in March 1991, we began to market the “Buy-a-Shelf Campaign.” Shelves were sold for $500 and brought in 72 donations for a total of $36,000.

We began our general public campaign on Depot Day in May. The day was filled with festivities, including tours of the depot (before renovation), train rides, a book sale, “Harvey Girl” hostesses and skits (turn-of-the-century vignettes by the local community theater group). There was an auction, homemade and concession food, antique cars, a fun run and many other events. All told, Depot Day contributed another $34,000 to the overall campaign, including several large contributions of $5,000 and $1,000. We kept up the momentum with many fundraising parties throughout the summer of 1991.

Our steering committee was small, 10 in all. As members of the committee had been selected by the boards of the library and the museum – and not particularly for their abilities to be major donors – not all felt comfortable or qualified to solicit major contributions, even though Hudson had agreed to serve as honorary chair.

Mr. and Mrs. Mike Mitchell, campaign co-chairs, provided one of the first major gifts and joined the committee, becoming two of the most influential solicitors.

Public/Private Partnership

The city’s involvement in the campaign was commendable. It was truly a public/private partnership. The city was able and willing to provide the up-front financing so that we could accept donations over a five-year pledge period. In addition, the city provided the land as well as purchasing the depot from Santa Fe.

As time progressed, everyone seemed to want to get in on the act. Our campaign treasurer was a local banker whose bank provided the bookkeeping for money and pledges before turning the funds over to the city. This, therefore, helped us provide accountability on the status of funds.

We also had tremendous support from the local newspaper. We were front-page news throughout most of the campaign with articles and many pictures to help get our story across.

Campaign Pace

When did the money come in? We reached $1 million November 1990. By February 1991, we were at $1.25 million. Then, in mid-April, we slumped with nothing but rejections. We were stalled at $1.33 million and feeling discouraged.

The campaign chair must have been feeling the pressure, for suddenly, without consulting the steering committee or campaign counsel, he lowered the campaign goal to $1.62 million and the “matching grant” from Larry Hudson who would now be matching the difference between $1.5 million and $1.62 million, giving us a new lower goal of $1.75 million.

As the campaign director, I never really went along with the lowered goal. I had faith in our efforts and continued to show on my reports how much we still needed to reach our intended goal (with match) of $2 million. By the end of May 1991, we had surpassed $1.5 million. Another $25,000 in local business donations a month later brought us to $1.6 million. By late August, we were shy only $140,500 to reach $1.75 million. With interest in the campaign still running high from all fundraising parties, donations continued to pour in with many in the $100 to $500 range, with some big donations to give us a boost. By October 1991, we needed only $127,000 when we met with our consultant. Planning for winding down the campaign was put into place.

And this, perhaps, was the hardest point in the campaign. Contributions of major gifts were still being sought, but things seemed to be reaching a plateau and we were all getting tired, frustrated and afraid people were avoiding us. We were so close, but not quite there.

Another Christmas holiday intervened and we still hadn’t quite reached our goal. So, on January 3, 1992, Mike Mitchell and I conferred and decided to see if Hudson would continue matching until January 15, since we were only $30,000 short. Hudson agreed, and in a frenzy of last minute negotiations, another business finally produced the gift which put us over the top!


How did we do it? Leadership, persistence and a sincere belief in the project. Mike Mitchell, a significant major contributor, saw the vision of what the project would mean to Chanute and shared that vision with the citizens and business leaders of the town.

I was determined. I knew the money was there and just couldn’t quit short of our intended goal! We all knew that the project was in the best interests of Chanute. We just had to educate the people to want to give to the project.

In the end, everyone did above and beyond his or her part. But this project never would have succeeded without the advice and counsel of a professional fundraiser. Without professional counsel, we would not have had the know-how or the confidence to proceed on our own. I was truly amazed that even without knowing the people, our consultant was able to keep them well in mind with regard to contacts we were making.

For those of you who are in the beginning or early stages of a fundraising project or capital campaign, let me urge you to get professional help. It’s worth it!