To continue to accommodate the growing demand for its education, employment, immigration and advocacy services, it became clear that Tacoma Community House needed to expand.

History of Tacoma Community House

Throughout the mid-1800s and into the 1900s, immigrants from Europe were flocking to America to escape famine, disease and lack of economic opportunities and to search for a better life for themselves and their children. In Tacoma, Washington, by shortly after the turn of the century, significant numbers of Italian and Scandinavian immigrants had settled in and around the Hilltop neighborhood.

Recognizing the need to help their neighbors get established in an unfamiliar country and a new community, a group of Methodist women founded Tacoma Community House in 1910 along the model of settlement houses in Chicago, Boston and many other American cities. TCH had its start in the living room of a private home, and by 1913 it had expanded into its own space in a rented building. Over the years, TCH welcomed immigrants and refugees from dozens of countries and expanded into larger facilities, which at one time included a gymnasium and basketball court. For decades, TCH served as a de facto community center for neighbors from diverse backgrounds.

By the end of the 20th century, the client profile at TCH included immigrants and refugees from Mexico, Central America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. Like their predecessors more than a century prior, they too are looking for a better life for themselves and their children. Just as it has for every year since 1910, TCH welcomes these individuals and families and helps set them on a path to embrace the American promise.

The Need to Expand

To continue to accommodate the growing demand for its education, employment, immigration and advocacy services, it became clear that TCH needed to expand once again. The Board of Directors set an ambitious, long-term, strategic goal to build a larger, new building that would house classrooms and offices on its current site in the Hilltop neighborhood, where it all began.

Partnership with Alford Group

Feasibility Study

Alford Group was retained in 2013 to conduct a feasibility study in advance of a future capital campaign. This feasibility study discovered many important community perceptions and other factors critical to campaign success, as follows:

  • Tacoma Community House had low name recognition and low familiarity among residents of Tacoma and other nearby communities. None of the three words in its name accurately described the organization: 1) Tacoma – clients come from a broader geographic area; 2) Community – this term is vague at best; 3) House – TCH did not provide housing services.
  • The organization had a sterling reputation – bordering on reverence – among those who were familiar with it.
  • There was a high level of gratitude among former clients and their extended families.
  • In spite of a century of service, there was minimal history of fundraising at the “major gift” level, i.e. gifts of $10,000 and above.
Study Recommendations

At the conclusion of the feasibility study, Alford Group recommended that TCH proceed with a campaign and set a preliminary campaign goal of $8.5 million to modernize and upgrade the current facility, build a new two-story addition and encourage endowed scholarships. The recommendation further identified that there could be potential for a higher goal, depending on early lead gift solicitation efforts and campaign readiness work, and that TCH’s Campaign Committee, Board, Executive Director and campaign counsel evaluate results near the end of Phase 1 of the campaign and determine whether or not a revised goal was warranted.

Alford Group’s recommendations also focused on the importance of raising TCH’s profile among targeted populations in order to achieve success with the campaign.

As a result, rather than a “standard” three-year campaign, TCH committed to a four-year campaign timeline, with one year dedicated to awareness-building activities and campaign planning.

Campaign Launch & Results

The campaign launched in late 2014, and at the end of 2018 the campaign had raised just over $13 million. (The goal was increased multiple times during the campaign, as recommended in the feasibility study report, to a final figure of $13.7 million due to fundraising progress, project modifications and construction cost increases).

5 Key Success Factors

Here are five key factors that contributed to this success:

1. Leadership, leadership, leadership
    • TCH succeeded in securing a “Dream Team” of co-chairs for its Campaign Cabinet in Cathy Brewis and John Folsom. Both individuals were well-known, well-respected, personally philanthropic, tireless and tenacious.
    • The co-chairs helped to recruit a diverse Campaign Cabinet, including former clients, current and former Board members and other community leaders.
    • The “Liz Factor”: Executive Director Liz Dunbar was absolutely committed to the campaign vision, personally invested in its success as a leadership-level donor, conscientious and tireless. Over four years, she was consistent in attending all campaign meetings, making phone calls and personal visits, leading site visits, and following up with elected officials, foundation staff, prospective individual donors, and others.
2. Sound strategy, workable plan and flexibility
    • As mentioned above, a “typical” campaign plan and timeline would not have led to campaign success for TCH. Developed with guidance from Alford Group, the extended timeline and various targeted mini-campaigns were critical factors for raising awareness and engaging groups who were supportive of the mission but not currently donors.
    • Through the course of the campaign, it became evident that TCH needed to enlarge the scope of its project in order to best prepare for the future. This included expanding the project budget and increasing the campaign goal multiple times from $8.5 million to $13.7 million. Clear and consistent communication with the Board of Directors, campaign leadership and donors was the key to successfully managing these changes
3. Donor identification and development
    • Because TCH had a relatively small donor base and very few donors of any significant size, it was critical to identify a large pool of prospective campaign donors and develop and implement strategies to introduce them to the organization.
    • Over the course of the campaign, dozens of “House Parties” were held specifically for this purpose. These proved to be an invaluable tool for donor development and nearly everyone eventually yielded at least one major gift.
    • In addition to gifts from current and new individual donors, the campaign benefitted from broader support. This included significant funding from New Markets Tax Credits, public funding (from State, County & City coffers) and local and regional foundation funders.
4. Tenacity and consistency
    • A four-year campaign was a test of tenacity for campaign leadership. Not only did a majority of original Cabinet members remain in place for the duration of the campaign, but they successfully recruited others as the campaign unfolded, thereby bringing new enthusiasm and energy to the campaign as the years passed.
    • As new volunteer leaders joined the campaign, it was important to quickly orient them to the campaign, provide training in donor cultivation and personal solicitation and equip them with consistent campaign messaging.
    • Every campaign must strive to maintain enthusiasm and momentum throughout a multi-year campaign, yet TCH was successful in its four-year effort. In addition to the items listed above, greater public awareness helped to sustain campaign momentum, with new prospective donors coming to TCH for tours on a regular basis.
5. Luck: The crossroad of hard work and opportunity
    • Every major campaign experiences surprises and what seems like a bit of luck. This was true for the TCH campaign, but it didn’t just happen. Staff and counsel worked closely together to “make” it happen.
    • Staff researched likely foundation funders based on available information. In addition to applying for support from foundations where a connection had been made, staff sent requests to a few “far-flung” foundations headquartered in various regions of the country. Imagine the smiles all around when they received $50,000 from an “unknown” foundation and even $1 million from a foundation whose stated guidelines did not fit TCH’s mission!
    • Over the course of the campaign, many first-time TCH donors came forward with significant gifts. In several cases, on first visits to the organization and sometimes without even asking, donors made five- and six-figure commitments to the campaign.
    • Since early 2017, the campaign was likely helped by a national “force”: political opposition to immigrants and immigration, especially attempts at a travel ban. TCH was careful to communicate calmly and proactively, and establish its leadership role on the issue of immigration in the face of confusion.

In Conclusion

Tacoma Community House proves that good things happen to nonprofit organizations with a worthy mission and vision, strong leadership and a clear and compelling campaign case for support. But it also requires sound strategy, tireless follow-through, strong staff support and a little bit of luck.

VIDEO: Watch U.S. Congressman Derek Kilmer speak on the House floor in recognition of Liz Dunbar.