Tulsa, Oklahoma

YWCA of Tulsa: A Success Story

The Young Women’s Christian Association has been a caring neighbor in the Tulsa community since its arrival in 1914. After years of active service, the YWCA facilities were in need of substantial rebuilding and renovations, and a Capital Funds Campaign goal was set for between $3 to $5 million dollars.

Four million dollars. FOUR MILLION DOLLARS! The thought was absolutely overwhelming; but so was the need. Everyone knew how important it was to meet this fund-raising goal, but could it really be done? Still apprehensive, yet driven with conviction, no one could imagine what lay ahead for the YWCA of Tulsa, Oklahoma. What had been their destination became just another short stop on the way to something that surpassed even hidden hopes. By the time they were finished, they had reached six million dollars. SIX MILLION DOLLARS! Success is defined as finishing with a favorable outcome. This was beyond success. This was breathtaking!

The Young Women’s Christian Association has been a caring neighbor in the Tulsa community since its arrival in 1914. After years of active service, the YWCA facilities were in need of substantial rebuilding and renovations. Plans for a capital campaign began in the early 1990’s and years of fact-gathering followed. In 1993 the YWCA kicked off its first attempts with a Campaign Readiness Program.

Around this time, a Capital Funds Campaign goal was set for between $3 to $5 million dollars. The Capital Campaign Advisory Committee was established and after reviewing all available information, they concluded that there was a well-established need for new facilities. Unfortunately, the committee further realized that the YWCA was unprepared for such a huge campaign undertaking.

No one on the board had experience organizing or running a fund-raising campaign and records of past donors were incomplete. “It was hard continuing to sustain a belief in the campaign at that time and difficult to keep up the momentum. The whole process was so new to the organization, and a capital campaign is layered on top of the everyday things you must do just to keep the doors open,” offered Kathleen Page, who then served as president of the Board of Directors.

In February 1994, the campaign effort suffered another setback. Due to staffing changes, they faced an immediate need for effective leadership in both the organization and in a major fund-raising venture. For the time being, the Capital Campaign Advisory Committee was disbanded, and plans for a campaign were put on indefinite hold.

Although the focus of the YWCA shifted to internal operations during 1994 and much of 1995, the dream of a capital campaign still lingered. By April 1995, they were working on a new Capital Campaign Action Plan, which included a more comprehensive approach. By September of that year, a planning committee was in place. And by December, the YWCA further committed staff resources to the campaign effort by hiring Dixie Reppe as director of development and public relations, with the primary task of providing staff direction for the campaign. In February 1996, board members Pat Bailey and Mary Ann Meckfessel agreed to serve as campaign co-chairs.

With things moving into place, a real turning point came in March 1996 when board members met with Bob Hartsook, president of the fund-raising consulting firm, Kinetic and Associates. In May, the YWCA contracted with the firm, and immediately began formulating a more full-fledged campaign plan.

After an initial study, Kinetic confirmed that the YWCA lacked both individual and “institutional” fund-raising experience — after all, the organization had not staged a major capital campaign since 1954, and had never undertaken one of this proportion. Kinetic recommended how the campaign should be organized, helped set priorities and identified additional sources of funding.

“Up to that point, we frankly didn’t know how to ask for money, and we didn’t know who to ask,” says Meckfessel. “We had done very little in terms of going into the community, and didn’t now what foundations were out there and what kinds of programs they funded. Bob opened our eyes to all of that, and showed us how to set up a structure for the campaign.”

“We had to totally learn how to do it,” Bailey added. “In the beginning we approached people who we had some history with personally. But Bob gave us the confidence and know-how to approach others.”

In addition to coaching Bailey and others during regular campaign meetings, Kinetic “debriefed” team members after campaign calls and offered valuable feedback to hone their fund-raising skills. As the campaign gained impetus, Kinetic also helped the team develop increasingly effective strategies to reach and connect prospective donors with the important work being done by the YWCA.

“Bob always stressed the importance of respecting the donor — seeing things through their eyes, through their concerns and interests and converting that into something that was mutually beneficial,” shared Reppe. “He helped to build a team that functioned well together. Every meeting with Bob was like a class in fund raising. He asked questions and then gave us direction and instruction that increased our confidence and improved our fund-raising abilities.”

Although Kinetic had initially advised a goal of $4 million — owing to the organization’s lack of fund-raising history — campaign leaders felt that a larger amount was necessary to fully meet the needs of the YWCA. Due to the growing confidence of the campaign team as their efforts proved more and more successful, the goal was increased over time, first to $4.4 million, then to $5 million, and ultimately to $6 million.

The YWCA received several significant commitments, including major pledges from companies and foundations. Some of their requests were successful beyond their wildest dreams. In October 1997, for example, the campaign received a major boost with an $850,000 challenge grant from The J.E. & L.E. Mabee Foundation of Tulsa. In addition, in March 1998 the YWCA was notified that The Kresge Foundation was issuing a challenge grant of $500,000. This achievement was all the more impressive because the Kresge Foundation, based in Troy, Michigan, receives up to 9,000 requests a year from organizations across the nation — and awards only about 100 grants.

Gifts great and small were received with sincere appreciation and the YWCA experienced an outpouring of support from individuals, businesses and foundations throughout the community. The campaign leadership was particularly proud of the fact that 100% of the Board of Directors and staff were contributors to the campaign. A $1 million endowment from Pat and Keith Bailey served to further the level of enthusiasm and commitment for the campaign.

Another special gift is remembered by Dixie Reppe, “A woman who suffered with arthritis received some relief from the use of our aquatic facilities. Although she had limited assets, she wanted to show her appreciation and respect for the help that the YWCA offered others. She owned a piece of property just outside of Tulsa that she deeded over to the YWCA, which translated into a gift of $10,000. Greater than the amount of the gift, was the act of generosity and show of support that it represented.”

On October 1, 1998, the YWCA accepted the gift that “put them over the top.” A $125,000 check from Edward L. Gaylord completed their ambitious campaign goal and sealed their success. This poignant gift was made in honor of his mother, Inez Kinney Gaylord, who had served as the first executive secretary of the YWCA West Central Field Committee and played an important role in its beginnings back in 1913. Now, a generation later, her son was playing an important role in its future.

“This campaign was run by people who have a heart for the YWCA,” Reppe said. Clearly, a campaign of this magnitude took a lot of time and effort. “But,” added Reppe, “one of the most important things Bob Hartsook was able to convey to us in word and in deed, was to have fun through the process. With the help of Bob Hartsook, we learned to maximize our abilities and use them in various combinations as, in groups of two or three, we took our case to the generous people of Tulsa. Donors want to know everything about your organization — who you are, what your mission is and how you help people. That’s the story we never grew weary of telling. The tangible response we experienced suggests our message was heard.”